What is black, brown and green and grows from neglect? Mold. And though it is from the fungus family, which also produces very healthy types of edible organisms like mushrooms, mold can be seriously harmful to your health.
Mold contains threadlike filaments called hyphae that grow visibly on the surfaces of food and drink that have lost their freshness. These filaments then multiply through vegetative reproduction. This reaction is pretty universal: very few foods and drinks are 100% safe from fungus.
Why does mold choose to grow on our food and beverages? Since the multicellular organism lacks the ability to feed itself through photosynthesis, it leeches itself to organic hosts and specific kinds of organic matter, to derive the nutrition it needs to live and grow.
Mold begins its life as a single microscopic spore. Spores eventually float in the air and settle in a new, inviting area with the perfect conditions for its growth and reproduction (moisture, oxygen, sunlight). If they accidentally land in somewhere dry and hot, they can last for years until the conditions change, or the wind picks up the spore and moves it to a more hospitable environment.
Mold in shower or your bathroom is not only unsightly…but it’s dangerous for your health too!
Once the spore has settled into its ideal conditions, it begins reproducing by absorbing moisture and nutrients from its new home. This process continues indefinitely until some sort of intervention kills the mold or stops its growth.
But just like humans, mold needs oxygen to stay alive, too — so it only grows in oxygenated environments. Furthermore, mold requires temperatures between 10 – 35 degrees Celsius. These two points help explain why sealing your food and then putting it in the refrigerator keeps it fresher, longer.
Mold can be categorized into three general groups: allergenic, which is the type of mold that’s unlikely to cause illness; pathogenic, meaning it can cause infection in people with poor immune systems; and toxigenic, which is — you guessed it — toxic to all who come into contact with it.
Types of mold
This is what a single mold spore looks like — much prettier close up, isn’t it?
One of the best ways to get rid of mold is to first know exactly what you’re dealing with. Scientists have identified more than 100,000 types of mold, but, don’t worry — you’re only likely to encounter one of 12 of the most common types. Here are the most common types of mold you might come across:
This type of mold changes shape (and color) over time. At the start of its life, it’s a miniscule moist mold, which transforms into a fine powder that’s pink, grey, orange, or white. The most common places for acremonium mold to thrive usually contain condensation — think humidifiers, cooling coils, window sealants and drain pans.
Over time, Acremonium mold can morph into other types of mold, like stachybotrys, which is toxic black mold. But even before that, acremonium is a carcinogenic, dangerous mold; contact with the substance can lead to illnesses developing in the bone marrow, immune system, or particular organs, including the brain.
The most common allergenic mold in the world, alternaria mold is velvet textured, made up of dark green and brown hairs, which usually grows in damp areas like showers, bathtubs, and underneath leaking sinks. To this point, this mold is commonly seen in areas that have been heavily water damaged.
Alternaria can cause upper respiratory asthma-like symptoms that show up in the nose, mouth and chest.
This type of mold is most frequently found outdoors, but it can be picked up by the wind and enter your house, looking for a nice, moist new home. Since this toxic mold spreads fast, it must be dealt with swiftly when it’s seen inside a home or work space.
Another common mold is the aspergillus mold. This type of mold has long, flask-shaped spores that rapidly grow in thick layers, creating walls that make a long chain of mold growth on whichever surface it’s chosen for its home. It comes in a variety of colors, dependent upon which of the 185 species of aspergillus has taken hold.
While aspergillus mold is indeed allergenic, the strength of its toxicity is determined by both the species and its chosen environment. This can lead to symptoms that range from asthma-like attacks, lung infections, respiratory inflammation, and increased risk of liver cancer.
This is the mold that you’ll most frequently find hiding behind wallpaper, or on painted or wooden surface. Aureobasidium mold tends to be pink, brown, or black, turning a darker brown color (and increasingly velvety to the touch) as it ages. This is a hardy, resilient moss that can grow in extreme heat or cold, as well as other difficult conditions like those that are highly acidic, or in water with a high concentration of salt.
While not as toxic as the other common molds listed here, physical contact with aureobasidium mold should be avoided. This is because this type of mold tends to cause eye, skin, and nail infections when touched with bare skin.
Most commonly found in homes and buildings plagued by water damage (think: leaky roofs or damp basement), chaetomium mold is recognizable by its musty odor. The mold grows with a cotton-like texture, with its color varying from white to grey to brown, morphing to black as it ages.
Knowing what to look for to identify mold will help you assess its danger…and how to get rid of it.
While the most well-known side effects of chaetomium are topical — usually in the form of skin and nail — it can also produce mycotoxins. This can lead to acute toxicity, which shows up in the form of gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea, and even acute liver disease.
The best way to deal with this type of mold is to cut off the moisture problem at the source to prevent chaetomium from returning repeatedly.
- Cladosporium mold
Another highly adaptable form of mold goes by the name of cladosporium, which can grow in both warm and cold conditions. Still, it tends to prefer indoor areas, and has a particular affinity for fabrics, upholstery, and carpet, as well as floorboards and the inside of cupboards. It can be identified by its suede-like texture and color that ranges from olive green to brown.
When cladosporium attacks, it tends to infect topically like chaetomium. The main difference is that in addition to skin rashes, cladosporium can also cause lesions, as well as lung and sinus infections and asthma. As such, it should never come into direct contact with bare skin.
- Fusarium mold
Fusarium mold tends to favor colder conditions, particularly those where there is water damage present. It’s often found in carpets and wallpaper, usually tinted pink, white, or red. Fusarium latches itself to decomposing food matter, and so is often found in the compost.
Skin infections are the most common ailment caused by fusarium, though it can also cause sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, and other cold-like symptoms. But that’s not all — if the exposure to fusarium is prolonged, bone infections, brain abscesses, hemorrhaging and internal bleeding are among the far more severe conditions exposure to this type of mold can cause.
This type of mold must be dealt with swiftly before it takes over an entire house.
- Mucor mold
Mold spores reproduce fast, and can lay dormant for years, so it’s best to get them cleaned ASAP when you spot them.
Mucor mold has an affinity for condensation-prone areas like air conditioning, HVAC systems, old, damp carpets, and ducting. It grows thick and fast, usually showing up as white or greyish mold.
This type of mold can cause all kinds of health problems if inhaled or handled without proper safety gear. It can cause asthma, or exacerbate asthma symptoms, and flu-like symptoms including fever. Worst case, mucor mold can cause Mucormycosis — a fungal infection that causes damage to sinuses, lungs, and the brain, as well as potentially the eyes and nose, and can even make its way into the blood, digestion, or renal system.
Many will be surprised to know that, though this form of mold is used to create the antibiotic medication by the same name, it can be incredibly harmful to the health when it grows indoors, unchecked.
You can identify penicillin mold by its blue or green colors and velvet texture, usually taking shape in water-damaged areas. Penicillin mold is most commonly found in carpets, wallpaper, ducting and mattresses, and it spreads quickly.
Penicillin spores become easily airborne and, when inhaled, can cause lung infection or inflammation, as well as asthma. When inhaled over long periods, it can even lead to the development of chronic sinusitis. Anyone who suffers from an immune disorder should take extra care to stay away from penicillin mold, as it can cause further complications in these cases.
Everyone knows about black mold (in some way, shape or form), and this is its scientific name. Despite its name, this type of mold can actually appear as dark green at times, and its texture tends to be slimy. Like most molds, stachybotrys prefers damp, wet areas that are prone to humid conditions over long stretches. It’s particularly attracted to cellulose material, like wood, cardboard, paper, wicker and hay.
Exposure to black mold, or stachybotrys, can cause breathing problems, sinusitis, fatigue, and even depression. The most common symptom experienced by someone who has been around black mold is dull aches and pains in the mucous membranes of the sinuses. Beyond that, burning in the airways, tightening in the chest, persistent cough, and even nosebleeds and fever are all symptoms of black mold exposure.
- Trichoderma mold
Found mainly on or around wallpaper, carpet, and damp fabrics, as well as air conditioning, HVAC system ducts, and anywhere prone to condensation, trichoderma grows as wooly-textured clusters that become more compact over time. This allergenic mold is made up of five different subspecies. It’s identifiable by its color, which is generally white, with green patches.
Most types of Trichoderma mold are non-pathogenic, but not all — the mold has been known to cause pulmonary and liver infections. If that weren’t bad enough, it contains an enzyme that can also cause serious harm to building materials, like wood, paper, and textiles. Over time, this can cause structures to crumble. As such, it’s really, really important to deal with trichoderma as soon as it appears.
Ulocladium mold tends to be found in houses and buildings that have had extreme water damage. Usually black, this type of mold likes to live in kitchens, bathrooms, and basements, and around condensation-heavy windows. It isn’t a loner mold, preferring to come in pairs or groups together with stachybotrys, fusarium and chaetomium molds — which is perhaps why it’s often confused for other types of mold.
Unlike other types of mold, ulocladium has only two subspecies, both of which can be extremely harmful to human health. Hay fever, skin infections, general asthma-like symptoms, and difficulty breathing are all signs of exposure to ulocladium.
Methods for cleaning mold from your shower
Go on, get in there and get that mold out of your bathroom, to keep it out of your lungs!
Vinegar mold cleaner
- Vinegar — we like this Heinz Cleaning Vinegar
- Spray bottle — we like these Uineko Plastic Spray Bottle
- Scrub brush — we like these MR. SIGA Scrub Brush
Vinegar is an excellent natural solution for killing mold — studies have shown that it kills 82 percent of mold spores, and it’s most effective when sprayed straight from the bottle, directly onto the mold’s surface. Once you’ve thoroughly sprayed the mold, leave it be for a good few hours, and then scrub off with a brush.
Bonus: Vinegar also prevents mold, so if you don’t mind the smell, go ahead and leave it there to stop the mold from coming back.
💡Tip: If you can’t stand the pungent smell of vinegar, feel free to dilute the solution with water. Of course, the more you dilute it, the less powerful (and therefore, effective) it will be. You can also add a few drops of essential oil to the liquid. Clove oil is best for killing fungus.
Tea tree oil mold solution
Tea tree oil is an excellent natural remedy for mold.
- Tea Tree oil — we like this Quality Tea Tree Essential Oil
- Spray bottle
Method: Mix two teaspoons of tea tree oil with two cups of water in a spray bottle. Spray it onto the mold and leave it there — don’t wash it off. Tea tree oil has a nice fresh, pepperminty scent, so it’s far less offensive to leave on as a permanent solution than vinegar. The scent will linger for a few days, but no longer.
Hydrogen peroxide mold solution
- Hydrogen peroxide (3%) — we like this Hydrogen Peroxide Solution
- Spray bottle
For areas where mold is particularly bad, get some chemical help from hydrogen peroxide.
Method: Pour hydrogen peroxide into a spray bottle and spray it onto the mold in question. Leave for 10 minutes before scrubbing clean. Wipe with a damp cloth to remove all traces of mold spores. To make this solution even more effective, add vinegar.
💡Tip: If you’re going to store the bottle, store it in a dark area, since light tends to break down hydrogen peroxide’s potency, rendering it less effective.
Baking soda mold solution
- Baking soda — we like this Arm & Hammer Baking Soda
- Spray bottle
- Microfibre towel — we like these Microfiber Towel Cleaning Cloths
Method: Baking soda, being a natural disinfectant, cleans mold without leaving any scent behind. To achieve this outcome, dissolve baking soda into water (the more you use, the more potent the solution will be), or into a vinegar and water solution, and spray onto the mold. Leave it for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, and then scrub and wipe clean with a damp cloth.
Baking soda is mold’s worst enemy.
Citrus seed extract and water mold solution
- Grapefruit extract — we like this Grapefruit Liquid Extract
- Spray bottle
Method: Those with delicate sensibilities may prefer citrus seed extract (like grapefruit), since it’s odorless. Mix 20 drops of the extract into a spray bottle with two cups of water, and spray onto the mold. Then, leave it alone and let it do its thing — you don’t want to wash this off, so that it will prevent mold later.
Who knew that the extract of grapefruit seed would be so effective at killing mold, and keeping it at bay?
How to keep your house mold-free
Now that you’ve gotten rid of the mold in your home, you’ll want to keep your house mold-free, right? Great! Here are some tips and tricks for keeping mold at bay in the home:
- Make good use of that bathroom fan when you’re in the shower or bath — and keep it on for 30 minutes following the end of your bath. If you don’t have one already, have one installed.
- Ensure that all appliances that produce moisture, from clothes dryers to stoves, have vents that direct their output air outside.
- You want your household humidity level to stay below 50%. Purchase a moisture meter from your local DIY shop, and if they’re consistently high, grab yourself an air conditioner or dehumidifier.
- If you don’t have or don’t want to purchase a moisture meter, simply keep an eye out in your home for telltale signs of too much humidity, like condensation on the windows, pipes and walls. If you see this, be sure to dry the surface immediately, and locate the source, and address the problem head on.
- If you use an air conditioner or dehumidifier, have it serviced regularly to ensure that it isn’t producing moisture of its own.
- Open a window when you’re cooking or washing dishes.
- Encourage good airflow in your house. Here are some good tips in this article we wrote on how to cool down a room.
- If you’re just building your home or perhaps doing a refurb, select mold-resistant drywall, which is paperless and highly water resistant.
- When selecting shower curtains, choose on that’s mildew-resistant, and wash it around once a month.
- Wash your bathroom rugs about once a month too.
- If you must keep your shampoo, shower gel, loofah, or toys in the shower, clean them often with your daily spray solution, as mold loves to grow on these items when they’re constantly damp.
- Buy a squeegee and use it daily with your homemade spray solution — running it along your shower walls post shower can reduce the moisture in the room by as much as 75%!
- If any leaks spring up, don’t wait to get them fixed. These are breeding grounds for mold.
- Keep an eye on your houseplants — and grab some Taheebo tea to add to your water. The oil from this tree withstands fungus in rainforest conditions, so adding some to the water you feed your plants should help them stay resilient against mold too.