15 Ways Your House Mold Is Making You Sick
You've seen it in your bathtub, on your sponge or washing machine, and likely in your teenager's musty sock drawer: It's mold, the microscopic fungus that loves to live in damp, dark places. But did you know the stuff isn't just gross?
It can be harmful to your health, leading to nausea, comas, even cancer.
According to the EPA, molds can grow on almost anything if moisture is present (including your mouth). Eat This, Not That! Health scoured the latest journals and medical studies to uncover 15 ways house mold might be making you sick—and how you can deal with it.
It Might Be in Your Peanut Butter
If you love a good PB&J, think twice about the brand you're using: it may be moldy. According to the Society of Toxicology, peanuts are the food most likely to be contaminated with aflatoxin, a dangerous species of mold. While some of these molds can be killed off by roasting the peanuts, it doesn't work every time. Aflatoxins are acutely toxic and in large amounts can cause vomiting, convulsions, liver cancer, hemorrhaging, coma and death.
The Rx: "You can reduce your aflatoxin exposure by buying only major commercial brands of nuts and nut butters and by discarding nuts that look moldy, discolored, or shriveled," advises the National Cancer Institute. "To help minimize risk, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests foods that may contain aflatoxins, such as peanuts and peanut butter. To date, no outbreak of human illness caused by aflatoxins has been reported in the United States, but such outbreaks have occurred in some developing countries."
It Lurks in Your Coffeemaker
How do you take your coffee? Milk? Two sugars? Mold? No thanks. According to a study by the NSF, your coffee maker is the fifth dirtiest thing in the average American home. Fifty percent of all coffeemakers (the kind with a basket and carafe) had mold, yeast and bacteria growing in the reservoir. The dark, damp environment is a perfect breeding ground for mold—sometimes enough to make us sick.
The Rx: Clean your coffeemaker thoroughly—with vinegar. Fill your carafe with equal parts vinegar and water, brew until it's half empty, turn off and let it sit for a half hour, then turn back on and finish brewing. Vinegar sanitizes your coffeemaker and removes buildup, so your cup of joe will taste better, too.
He's Cute. His Toy Isn't.
According to a study by the NSF, 55% of all pet toys were found to have mold growth. It makes sense. Since pets carry toys around in their mouths, they get covered in saliva and stay moist. That's the perfect environment for mold to breed.
The Rx: The ASPCA advises washing plastic toys in soapy water and drying completely before giving back to Fido. If you're cleaning a plush toy, place it in a garment bag and run it through the wash on cold with light soap.
Your Pet Bowl Isn't Much Better
You put a lot of thought into what your pet eats—but what about the bowls the eat from? One study found that 45% of all pet bowls had mold growing on them, compared with 27% of toilet seats. So, it's actually healthier for your pooch to drink from the toilet than eat their dinner from their bowl.
The Rx: You wash your own plates every time you eat—do the same for your pets.
Clean That Humidifier
Humidifiers are great for keeping your throat from getting dry while you sleep. They create water vapor and disperse it into the air, which raises the air's moisture level. Cool mist humidifiers are particularly good for easing symptoms of the common cold. The problem comes when the humidity levels get too high.
The Rx: The Mayo Clinic advises keeping your home's humidity levels between 30 and 50 percent to avoid problems. And, be sure to clean your humidifier every week to prevent mold from growing inside.
Ditch the Dishtowels
If you think your kitchen is the cleanest place in the house, you'd be wrong. A study by the NSF found mold growing on surfaces throughout the kitchen. A whopping 77% of all cloth dish towels tested positive for mold.
The Rx: Ditch the dish towels. While it may seem less environmentally friendly to use paper towels, it will keep your kitchen (and your family) healthier.
Change Out the Dish Sponge
Dishtowels? Your dish sponges are just as bad. The NSF study found 86% of all dish sponges harbored molds. That's because you scrub dirty bits of food off plates with the sponge and let it air dry – but it often stays damp, leaving a perfect place for mold to grow. Do you want to rub that all over your clean dishes? We don't either.
The Rx: Change out your dish sponges regularly—at least once a month, maybe every two weeks (don't wait until they're crumbly and smelly).
Clean Out Your Dirty Mouth
Your toothbrush holder is actually the filthiest thing in your bathroom (not your toilet). According to the NSF, 64% of all toothbrush holders tested positive for molds. Because, think about it—when's the last time you actually cleaned your toothbrush holder? And since your toothbrush sits inside it, you're putting that mold straight into your mouth.
The Rx: Wash your toothbrush holder in sudsy water once a week.
You Might Be Eating Infected Grains
People have known about the nasty effects of ingesting mold since the ancient times. In the Middle Ages, there was a massive outbreak of ergotism caused by eating contaminated breads. These people suffered gangrene, headaches, vomiting, and all sorts of other side effects because of moldy bread. While this strain is rare today, the WHO warns of other molds that can cause illness and even death if you accidentally eat them.
The Rx: If the food smells musty or moldy, throw it out.
Banish Black Mold
It's sinister sounding for a reason—black mold is an infestation that appears in the parts of your home that are especially warm, humid, and damp. These mold spores love growing on wet paper, wood, drywall and insulation. Exposure to black mold is linked mold poisoning and illness in humans. According to the CDC, it can cause coughing and wheezing in otherwise healthy people. In fact, there is some evidence that exposure to mold in childhood can lead to asthma later in life.
The Rx: Toxic black mold is – as its name suggests – black. Other molds are green or gray, so it's easy to identify. Preventing and controlling mold growth is your best defense. Keep moisture levels below 50% and fix leaky pipes quickly. If you do find black mold in your home, wear a respirator or mask rated for working with mold to avoid inhalation. Here are some tips for cleaning up a mold infestation:
- Wash hard surfaces with soap and water, or use a bleach solution (1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water).
- If you're dealing with a moldy carpet, it will have to be removed. Same goes for mold in insulation and wallboards – they'll have to go.
- Flood-damaged flooring and walls need to dry out quickly to prevent mold growth – but if your home is flooded, it may also be contaminated with sewage (ewww). Take moldy items out of living spaces ASAP to avoid spread.
Your Houseplants Might Be Making You Sick
Between two ferns? Make sure they're clean, because they can sometimes invite an unwelcome guest—mold. This contamination happens in on the plants or in the potting soil, since mold flourishes anywhere there's food and moisture along with a warm temperature. When mold grows on your plants, it might look white and fuzzy or dusty. These spores are released into the air, where you can inhale them and suffer from allergic reactions or even chronic illness.
The Rx: If you see mold on your houseplants, wipe down the leaves and stalk with a moist towel. Take the plant outside and spray with a fungicide made to kill mold (check with your garden center first). Then scoop out the top layer of potting soil and replace it before bringing the plant back inside. And don't overwater your plants!
Your Remote Control Could Be Infested
The next time you get ready to binge-watch Marie Kondo, you might want to wipe your TV remote. According to the NSF, it's one of the dirtiest things in your house—I mean, when's the last time you thought to sanitize your remote? In one study, 14% of all remotes had mold growing on them along with other nasty things that can cause illness.
The Rx: Wipe down your remote control once a week. Remove the batteries first, then rub the remote with a cloth soaked in rubbing alcohol. Use cotton swabs soaked in the same solution to gently clean around the buttons.
Same Goes for Video Game Controllers
Gamers know what it's like to power through a tough level (or ten). But what happens to the controller after it's been clenched in your sweaty palms for hours? Mold and bacteria start to grow. And most of us don't think to clean the controllers after a boss fight—59% of them had mold growth. Yuck.
The Rx: Clean your controller with an antibacterial wipe every now and then.
All This Mold Triggers Asthma Attacks
If you suffer from asthma, watch out for mold. According to the EPA, inhaling or touching mold can cause an asthma attack. That's because touching a source of mold can send the spores into the air. People with asthma who inhale mold tend to have lower lung function to begin with, and the body perceives mold as an invader – so their lungs constrict and produce more mucus. This reaction can cause chest tightness, coughing, wheezing and the inability to breathe—an asthma attack.
The Rx: The American Lung Association advises staying away from mold if you have asthma. Keep your bathroom clean, use a humidity monitor in your home, and don't go outside if mold counts are high.
And it Damages Your Sense of Smell
Michigan State University researchers found that a toxin produced by the black mold Stachybotrys chartarum can kill the nerve cells essential for the sense of smell, at least in mice. Even scarier, the team found this happens even with a low-dose. Black mold is also linked to a dangerous respiratory disease in infant humans called pulmonary hemorrhage, a bleeding disorder in the lungs caused by inhaling spores in the home.
The Rx: Studies on the effect on the human sense of smell are ongoing, so there's probably more to come. Just try to stay away from black mold if at all possible. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 100 Ways Your Home Could Be Making You Sick.
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