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Controlling Mold Without Toxic Chemicals

Posted: House & Home » Natural Cleaning » Green Living » Green Cleaning | November 1st, 2005



By Debra Lynn Dadd

Mold can grow anywhere there are damp conditions, from a windowsill to a bathroom to a whole house. While the health effects of most common molds are minimal, the chemicals we commonly use to remove the unsightly growth can harm our health. Mold cleaners can contain toxic chemicals such as pentachorophenol, which can be harmful through skin absorption or inhalation, and formaldehyde, which can cause cancer as well as irritate eyes, throat, skin and lungs. Many mold cleaners carry the “DANGER” warning label and state that they should be used only in a well-ventilated area — but the next time you want to clean mold from your shower, look around for the ventilation …

Fortunately, there are ways to clean and even prevent mold that are natural and safe for you and your family.

Mold is a living organism that needs certain conditions to stay alive. A moist, dark environment with little moving air is perfect. Mold just can’t live in an environment that is dry, light or breezy. The solution to any mold problem of any kind is to introduce heat (to dry the moisture),
light or moving air (such as from a fan).

A moldy story
I used to live in an old house in a forest next to a creek, in an area that has a lot of rainfall in the winter. One year was particularly cold and rainy and so to conserve heat, I closed the door on my extra bedroom, which contained books and research papers, a bed and out-of-season clothing. By the end of winter, there was so much mold in that room that it was literally growing on my clothing. My cotton espadrille shoes and cloth-covered binders were covered with blue fuzz. What to do? Mold was covering literally everything!

In my situation, I opted to use heat. I put a portable space heater in the room and closed the door. After several hours, I peeked in. Steam was rising. It was like a sauna. After 24 hours, however, all was bone dry and I was able to brush visible mold (now a dry powder) from walls, clothing and other surfaces. The moral of the story: if you live in a damp environment that doesn’t get much sun, make sure your heat circulates completely around the house. Even though it may take more energy, it’s needed to keep your home dry and safe. Mold can do damage to material possessions and human health, so it’s better to stay warm and dry.

Mold tips
If you have just a small area of mold, use a hand-held dryer to dry it up in just a few minutes.

You can prevent mold from growing by keeping areas dry. Find the source of moisture and control it. Mold in an under-sink cabinet, for example, may require fixing leaky pipes. Controlling mold in a bathroom may involve installing a small space heater to run after a shower to dry out the room, or using a fan for the same purpose. No moisture — no mold.

In a closet, hang garments with space between them to allow for air flow and install a small light, both to dispel darkness and provide a little heat. If you live in a very humid area, a dehumidifier may be necessary.

To remove mold from shower tile or other hard surface, mix borax and water or vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray it on and the mold wipes right off. Borax inhibits mold growth, so wash down the walls in your bathroom with a borax solution and just leave it on, or sprinkle borax in damp cabinets under the sink. If you need something stronger to remove stubborn mold, use hydrogen peroxide.

Steam cleaners, which clean, sanitize and deodorize using only hot water, also work great on mold. You can purchase small, hand-held steam cleaners in the housewares department of discount stores for about $50, or find larger units on the internet.

Read more about controlling mold without toxic chemicals in my new book, Home Safe Home: Creating a Healthy Home Environment by Reducing Exposure to Toxic Household Products. Buy the book on Powells.com, Amazon.com“>Amazon.com or www.dld123.com/homesafehome.html.

© Debra Lynn Dadd

Hailed as “The Queen of Green” by The New York Times, Debra Lynn Dadd has been a leading consumer advocate for products and lifestyle choices that are better for health and the environment since 1982. To find nontoxic products online, visit Debra’s List at www.debraslist.com.

Visit her web site for hundreds of links to thousands of nontoxic, natural and earthwise products and sign up for her free e-mail newsletters. For details on planning your simple, small, green wedding (including choosing flowers, rings, clothing and reception items and photos of Debra’s wedding), visit Debra’s Green Weddings and click on “You are invited to … My Simple, Small, Green Wedding.” Debra is also available as a wedding consultant.

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