Black Mold

Hygiene is two thirds of health.”

  • Lebanese Proverb

Black Mold (Stachybotrys chartarum) 101:

I’m a big Lord of the Rings nerd. Those movies are full of nasty creatures that seem scary, like orcs, but when you realize that they only live in the darkness and shrivel up in sunlight, you realize they aren’t scary at all.

Black mold is like that. If it gets established, it’s bad news for you and your family. But you can easily deny it the conditions it needs to get nasty. Shed a little sunlight and the orcs won’t grow!

Not all black mold is toxic, and not all toxic mold is black. While a spore analysis is the only way to know for sure, if you clean up any mold you find, you know you’re safe.

Here’s what black mold looks like:

  • The surface is slimy, which is rare for its group of fungi
  • It often has a dark green tinge to it
  • If it dries out, it becomes gray and powdery

Here’s what people have reported black mold to smell like:

  • Stale and musty
  • Rotten wood or paper
  • Dirty wet socks

Black mold isn’t visible until the colony is well established, so you’ll be able to smell it before you see it. If you have a damp area where you think it’s growing, tackle it right away.

Black mold largely happens because our houses are built from a smorgasbord of mold-loving treats (wood products, paper products, fabric, etc). It thrives in persistently damp conditions (especially fresh water damage), still, stale air, and no direct sunlight.

It’s most commonly found on:

  • Drywall
  • Insulation
  • Wallpaper
  • Carpet
  • Wood
  • Ceiling Tiles

Keep in mind that, for toxic mold to grow, the area needs to be persistently wet for at least a week. That could be as dramatic as a flood or as subtle as a leaky pipe with a steady, hidden drip.

Black Mold and Your Health:

I won’t get into the weird and disgusting world of different molds, but needless to say there are many types of toxic mold and they vary in terms of the symptoms they cause. Here are the basics:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest

Other health effects, like a chronic cough, eye irritation, fatigue and headaches, tend to happen with prolonged exposure.

Black mold is especially worrying for seniors, people with suppressed immune systems, pregnant women, and babies. Infants consistently exposed to black mold are three times more likely to develop asthma than infants who aren’t.


Dealing with it Safely:

The best way to deal with black mold is not to let it grow. Here are tips:

  • Check your plumbing lines regularly, especially in older houses
  • Make sure the ground slopes away from your house’s foundation so rainwater flows away
  • You don’t want indoor humidity over 50%. If it feels muggy in the house, open windows and make sure your dryer and bathrooms are properly vented to the outside
  • Don’t install carpet where it’s going to be damp, like in that hidden, depressed corner of the basement

Mold is like a nasty little orc and black mold sounds scary but it can only live in the shadows. If you notice that a room, maybe one you rarely use, is smelling musty, open some windows and get some sunlight into it.

If you find mold, and it’s in one spot, resist the urge to start tearing down wallpaper and ripping out wood panels. You’ll spread the spores into your vents and do more harm than good. Here’s what to do:

  • Invest in some safety goggles, safety gloves, and an N-95 respirator (you can find them at most hardware stores)
  • If it’s a small, contained area, mix up a strong bleach solution (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) and let the bleach soak on the mold for 15 minutes
  • Clean with a stiff wire brush and rinse
  • Collect your cleaning materials in a plastic bag, seal and dispose of it.
  • If absorbent materials are moldy, like ceiling tiles or carpet, throw them away
  • Vacuum the surrounding area to pick up any spores

If your mold has already spread to several areas, and is not contained, call a professional right away.