Black mold strikes fear into the heart of many homeowners. It has a reputation for being a sinister, insidious bringer of disease. However, the truth is a little simpler. While black mold is a nasty presence in your home – and can bring some health issues – it’s not necessarily worse than any other type of mold.
In fact, more often, the cause of health issues is the same as the cause of the mold; damp, musty environments that are not properly cleaned. Black mold is, therefore, a symptom, not a cause.
If you have black mold in your home, you should aim to remove it as soon as possible – it can spread quickly and colonize a home within a couple of weeks. However, while it may be an unwelcome presence, it doesn’t mean that you and your family are in serious, immediate danger.
This guide will walk you through the myths (and the truths) about black mold, talking about the health problems it may or may not cause. Most importantly, it will talk about how you can remove black mold from your home because, while it’s not as bad as it may seem, you’ll still want to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
WHAT IS THE TAXONOMY OF BLACK MOLD?
Black mold is a fungus with the Latin name Stachybotrys chartarum. It is most commonly found in buildings that have experienced water damage or are generally damp. It consumes cellulose, meaning that it can live on things like:
Gypsum (or drywall)
Black mold is very rarely found in nature, as it struggles with fluctuations in temperature, humidity, and sunlight. A home, therefore, is the perfect environment for it to grow.
HOW DANGEROUS IS BLACK MOLD?
One of the most pervasive beliefs about black mold is that it is toxic; that is, that having black mold in your home is extremely dangerous and can lead to severe health problems. However, the reality is, in some ways, more complex.
The CDC actually suggests that the connection between black mold and health problems is unproven, stating:
“At present, no test exists that proves an association between Stachybotrys chartarum and particular health symptoms.”
There is some research that shows that black mold may have a link to health problems, although this hasn’t been definitively shown to be connected with the mold itself. Although the link hasn’t been proven, there seems to be some anecdotal evidence that black mold is connected with some health problems.
Mycotoxins are toxic substances produced by all fungi. It’s not entirely clear why fungi produce mycotoxins, but they do – and the toxicity is dependent upon the specific humidity, temperature, and organic matter that the fungus consumes.
Some evidence shows that mycotoxicosis can cause the following:
However, as mentioned above, the connection between these and mycotoxins are anecdotal. In general, if you have any of the above symptoms, you should speak to your physician and make an effort to remove mold from your home.
ALLERGIES AND GENERAL IRRITATION
Mold spores can cause allergic reactions for some people. More generally, inhaling or coming into contact with mold spores can cause irritation. The most common symptoms of this are:
For those who have severe allergies to mold, or who have other respiratory conditions, mold can cause major problems with breathing. Moreover, those who are exposed to mold at a young age have been shown to have an increased risk of developing asthma.
Despite this, however, black mold is not always the main culprit. As with foods, different individuals have allergies to different types of mold – it doesn’t mean that one mold is inherently more ‘poisonous’ than another.
For immunocompromised people – such as those with HIV, those on immunosuppressant medication, or those who have just had transplants – the presence of mold of any type can cause major health problems.
Black mold’s bad reputation stems from the fact that it produces and releases mycotoxins. However, this is not unique to black mold – it may simply be that black mold looks more daunting because of its color and the speed with which it spreads.
Mycotoxicosis is a major risk to health, although, according to an Institute of Medicine report in 2004, the majority of mycotoxicosis cases stemmed from eating food that was moldy, rather than inhaling spores or coming into physical contact with mold.
WHO IS MOST AT RISK?
In general, you should make an effort to remove any mold from your home – ideally before it spreads too much. This is particularly true if you have vulnerable individuals in your house.
Those who are most affected by the presence of mold are the following groups:
In general, anyone who has problems with skin irritation, allergies, or respiratory problems can be susceptible to mold spores. If you do live with one of the above groups, you should be especially aware of mold; if anyone demonstrates symptoms you should immediately consult with a physician.
HOW CAN YOU REMOVE BLACK MOLD?
You can remove black mold yourself, without the need for professional help, although it can be a laborious process. You will also need some protective gear so as to avoid too much direct contact with the mold.
Make sure that you have:
Either a respirator or a face mask that has been specifically rated for black mold spores
Clothing that covers the entirety of your legs, face, and hands
ONCE YOU ARE READY, TAKE THE FOLLOWING STEPS:
Remove all sources of moisture from the affected room.
Seal the room that you are working in.
Cover the doors and windows with heavy plastic, and then hold that down with duct tape. You don’t want spores escaping into other parts of your home as you clean.
Gently spray the area you’ll be working with water.
This will prevent too many spores from becoming airborne as you clean.
Use a specialist black mold cleaner on a brush to scrub the area.
Be sure to scrub not just the area where the black mold is visible, but also the area around it. If in doubt as to how far the black mold has spread, clean the entire room (be careful as some cleaners contain bleach, which may cause discoloration).
Place all the items you have used in a heavy-duty garbage bag.
Duct tape up the top of the bag so that it is as airtight as possible.
Safely dispose of the garbage bag
If possible, take the bag out of the nearest exit (even if it is a window) rather than taking it through the entirety of your home. There’s always a chance that mold spores are on the outside of the bag, and you don’t want to track it into other rooms. Then, dispose of the bag immediately.
You may also need to check back in on the site of the black mold and repeat the process. If you haven’t removed 100% of the mold, then it will spread again. This may be a multi-step process.
Of course, if the above sounds like too much work or if you have concerns that you won’t be able to do a thorough enough job, then you can hire a professional to do the job.
For full mold remediation by a professional, you are likely to spend between $500 and $6,000, depending on how far the mold has spread. If it has entered a duct, for example, your entire home may require cleaning. If in doubt, it’s best to call a professional and get a quote.
Black mold is not inherently worse than any other form of mold. It has a worse reputation, although there is no conclusive evidence to show that it causes health issues in either greater numbers, or to a greater degree than any other form of mold. Repeated studies from the Institute of Medicine and the CDC have found no evidence to suggest that black mold is inherently dangerous.
That is not to say that it’s good to have black mold in your home. The speed with which black mold spreads, combined with its unsightly presence, means that it should be a priority to get rid of. You should also address any issues of moisture or dampness that helped it to grow.