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Spring Cleaning Makes Mold Spores and Dander Airborne: When Cleaning Makes You Sick

By: Beth Jarrett

Now that it’s warm outside it is time to put up the winter clothes and pull out the mop and broom. Spring is here and that means spring cleaning, As good as the final results might be, there are some precautions you should take. Sweeping and pulling things off of shelves can stir up dust, airborne dander, and mold spores, and many household chemicals need proper ventilation as well.

For many people, spring cleaning could mean increasing allergy and asthma attacks or experiencing the side effects of exposure to toxic household chemicals. To prevent problems from chemical exposure, make sure that there is adequate ventilation in the areas that you will be working. If you are treating mold or mildew in a bathroom, be sure to open doors and windows, and turn on the fan to ventilate the room. Leave the fan running for several hours, if possible.

Wear a dust mask if you are going to be doing a lot of sweeping, especially if you are working in basements where there is a higher risk of stirring up mold spores. Stop working if you experience dizziness, headaches, or respiratory problems, If the problems persist or get worse, see a doctor.

Perform an Inspection for Mold Spores

You may also want to use spring cleaning as a time to perform routine maintenance for your home. In warm climates with high pollen counts, it is a good idea to check your HVAC filters to ensure you system is operating efficiently. Do a visual inspection around your home for signs of leaks or water damage, and clean out gutters and inspect around the foundation of the home for any sign of water intrusion.

As the temperatures climb, energy-efficient homes can become breeding grounds for mold spores and mildew. Homes are being build tighter now to reduce energy loss, but because of their efficiency, the quality of the indoor air may be compromised. According to the EPA, the air inside your home may be more than five times as polluted as the air outside. Increasing the amount of fresh air inside the home will dilute any buildup of toxins from volatile organic compounds (VOCs), but bringing in hot and humid air can increase the amount of mold found inside the home.

Signs of mold inside the home include a persistent musty odor, excessive dust or airborne dander and particles, and a gray or black coating on wood or wood-based materials such as drywall. Light brown spots on ceilings and walls can also indicate the presence of mold in the home. Other signs include water stains on walls, ceilings, or under carpet pads.

Tackling the Mold Spore Cleanup

If your home has visible signs of mold, it is possible to clean it yourself if you take the correct precautions. According to the EPA, if the affected area is less than ten square feet, you may be able to clean it yourself. If you choose to clean it yourself, you will need to wear long rubber gloves and clothing that covers your arms and legs completely. Be sure to use a respirator-type dust mask, such as an N-95 respirator, available at hardware stores. Cleaning mold can send potentially harmful mold spores into the air, so follow EPA recommended guidelines carefully to minimize your exposure. For complete guidelines on how to clean mold, call the EPA Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse at (800) 438-4318, or go to: http://www.epa.gov/mold/mold_remediation.html

Hiring a Professional

If you decide to hire a contractor to clean the mold in your home, make sure to check his or her references. Ask for an exact plan that follows the EPA guidelines for mold remediation. Get more than one estimate before embarking on any mold related home repair.

Keeping a Healthy Home

Cleaning around the home and removing any mold that you find is a good start, but problems will recur if the home is not properly maintained. If the humidity levels in your home are rising above 45%, mold can, and will, reappear. Mold colonies hiding behind walls can produce mycotoxins that migrate through cracks and even penetrate the drywall. These mycotoxins can affect your health if you are exposed to them for long periods of time. To dilute mycotoxins and other VOCs, the EPA recommends bringing in fresh air from outdoors. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends exchanging the air in your home with outdoor air eight times a day. If you are considering purchasing a whole-house air system, be sure to ask about both filtration and ventilation. By filtering and exchanging the air and maintaining the proper level of humidity, you can create an environment that is optimum for your health.

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