Issues Cleaning The Moldy Building And Belongings

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A photo of mold growing on the floor, under the refrigerator.

Cleaning Up Moldy Homes And Moldy Stuff - Important Points

People beginning to consider how to clean up moldy homes quickly realize they are not sure what to clean or how to clean it. I have created some additional articles to help with both the house as well as personal belongings as far as how to do the cleaning. This article is to help you sort out what needs to be cleaned and why.

Advisors often give different advice as to what to clean and how to do it. You have to make a decision as to what to do but you don't have the education to know what to do. To figure out how to clean your home and belongings you really need some back ground information on what is taking place. Please realize there is much that is not known for sure and I would be lying to tell you I have all the answers. I can however, help you think through it. This will take a while for you to read and if you are having brain fog, I relize it is a lot to take in, but education in this matter is key, or you will find yourself remediating more than once.

Water Damage

First there is the actual water damage. That needs to be repaired. We can all agree that the water damage needs to be stopped and repaired. After that there are different opinions you will get on everything else, but I will take you down the road on how to make decisions.

Active Growing Mold

I realize you might not see the mold. You might have active mold behind a wall or it has started to grow but the colony is too small to see as of yet. I do discuss finding mold in other articles.

However, if you have mold actively growing on a building material, or belonging that means it is starting to digest that material and penetrate it. If it is new, you may be able to kill the mold and clean the surface of the item.  If it is non-porous this will be true. However, where mold is usually growing is on a porous item such as grout or flat paint, or sheet rock or wood. This is because there is something there that is organic and the mold is able to get a hold on the item and begin to feed upon it. The mold will actually break it down over time as it feeds on the organic items. The mold will also penetrate that item as best it can. Consider that molds can grow on almost anything. Yes, even metal. You will  find them more often on organic materials that are porous, but they can be found on metals and plastic also. The fact is that if mold is actively growing on something, it is being fed somehow. The spores landed and found enough moisture and food to grow. If there is a lot of dust and/or debris, the mold could be growing on the material in the dust and debris, and not on the building materials, or belongings. If you can clean the mold up easily with soap and water or some other method not involving bleach or hydrogen peroxide, with no sign of it having been there, then it may not actually have penetrated the object. (I mention bleach and hydrogen peroxide as they can both bleach out the dark spots of mold and may or may not have killed the mold. However, the area looks clean of mold. Bleach is especially known for doing this and then the mold just regrows later. However, on a porous surface using these cleaning items, the cleaners can not reach down into the deeper layers where mold may have sent its tentacles.) Magnifying glasses can help by the way. Get a good one. Look closely on anything you suspect as being moldy, but you can not see the mold. The magnifying glass gives you the ability to see mold starting before you  would usually notice it.

The Tenacity Of Fungus

1) The Russians found a fungus growing in their space station. It was behind control panels, in the stations air conditioner, communications unit, and on many other surfaces. It proved to be hard to eradicate. They thought the radiation in space made the fungus more aggressive possibly.

2) A new fungal strain of Aspergillus tubingensis, was recently discovered and it was found breaking down the plastic called polyurethane in just weeks instead of the decades it usually takes to break polyurethane down. Now this is good news to get rid of plastics, but what if it is growing on the plastic materials that make up your home or your kitchen appliances?

3) NASA did some experiments with fungus on metal and plastics and they noted that the plastics bubbled, released fumes, and broke apart. Fungi ate through the metal, creating microscopic fissures and pits that weakened the surface.

How Fungus Attaches

Biomolecules of fungi membranes allow them to attach on any surface and form a biofilm. Even fungicidal additives in plastics or building materials only exert their antifungal properties on the initial fungi adsorbed.  2nd, 3rd or 4th layers of fungi start to grow eventually. Fungi become resistant to antifungals also over time. The fungus secretes enzymes that break down the materials chemical bonds and uses its mycelial filaments (like projected fingers that allow the fungus to grow over an area) to break apart the material even further.

What To Consider Besides Active Growing Mold

So, you had a mold event in your home but it was in the attic or in wall cavities or only in one room. So, do you need to be concerned about other rooms in the house? What about the house hold belongings? Nothing but that area in question had active mold in it, so why do people say everything should be cleaned?

In a water-damaged house where mold has grown, the issue is usually not confined to the space where the mold grew. Just as cigarette smoke has a gas and particulate phase to it which can go beyond the room where the cigarette is being smoked, so can the gas and particulate toxins from a water-damaged house.

This is where you are going to have to sleuth this out yourself to some degree. First, we have to understand what we are dealing with. So, lets learn a little about what is taking place in a water-damaged building. Read this link called "More than a moldy building" before we go any further.

Now that you have read that, you understand that we are dealing with mycotoxins, bacterial toxins, volatile organic compounds from the fungus, bacteria and the building materials. (there are also semivolatile organic compounds in building materials) All of these tiny particluates can get onto your furniture, they can get on the walls, they can be carried by HVAC systems to distant parts of the house. You can move them on your clothing to other areas of the house. The dog can move them. You get the picture. The volatile compounds easily evaporate into the air and move around. Tiny particulate matter that is not volatile can also get into the air and move around through the HVAC system, or they can be transported by other methods. These VOCs/toxins have been found to be adsorbed into other building materials as well as your belongings making it hard to remove them sometimes by normal cleaning.

Only you know what takes place in your house. If you have a moldy bathroom that was never used for a whole year, and had no vent going to the rest of the house and the mold was minor, well perhaps you did not get much contamination anywhere else. However, if you had a moldy kitchen area where the whole wall behind and under the sink grew into a big mold mess that was growing out of the wall visibly, that may be a different story. It is especially worrisome if you tell me that you had an intake air vent to your HVAC system in that kitchen. Now I will be concerned your HVAC system and every room it leads to is contaminated with mycotoxins and a variety of volatile organic compounds.


What Does This Mean

So, what does this mean that you may have mycotoxins, mold spores, bacterial toxins, volatile organic compounds, and goodness knows what inflammagens we have not yet identified floating around the house and landing on everything?  In my humble opinion, it means everything that is suspect of contamination needs to be cleaned or if not cleanable, thrown out.


How Do You Figure Out Which Items Need Cleaning

This is an area where people pull their hair out as they get different stories from different advisors again. They want to clean everything but it is costly and different advisors claim different methods need to be used. Often advisors disagree on what needs to be done. The people who own the house want to clean themselves but can't always as they are often sickened by it and cleaning will make them sicker as they are dealing head-on with the toxins.

For sure anything that has a bad smell needs cleaning and if the smell can not be removed, out it goes. I don't care what anyone else says, as a person with a mold sensitivity I know that any musty smelling item I can't clean of the smell, needs to go away, be used by someone not bothered by it or something. I am not living with it. Many folks living in a moldy environment can't smell the musty smells on their items until they themselves are well. If this is true for you, find someone who can smell musty smells and ask them to sniff out your house for musty smelling rooms or personal items that are contaminated. A good sniffing nose is the best locating device you have for toxins created from a water-damaged house.

Here is some logistics advice: When having someone sniff your stuff for mustiness, have them sit outside where the air smells good. Make them comfortable and give them a clean glass of water. Take the items to them one at a time. If you take them into the house, and there is mustiness in the air of the house from either a musty house, or musty items, the persons olfactory system will become resistant to the smell quickly. It can happen in seconds or minutes. However, it is quick. If however, they are in clean air and the items are brought out to them, they will be able to one by one, sniff and tell you that they smell musty or clean. Someone with a refined sniffer will be able to tell you that it is old mold, new mold smell or a stink of some other chemical or other smell that they might recognize. I would also advise you to bring the items to them slowly, giving them a break in-between so their system is not overwhelmed or it will shut down, just like it does if they go into the smelly house.

What We Know About These Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile organic compounds are carbon-compounds that easily evaporate at room temperature. With the exception of a few of these compounds, the studies on concentration and especially exposure data are limited for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in general. Most studies remain focused on single compounds, and thus may also underestimate cumulative exposures and risks arising from coexposures of VOCs. The composition of VOC mixtures has not been thoroughly investigated, and it is known that mixtures of components show varying and complex dependencies which can change how they penetrate items and this is not studied. The people who classify these things are not even sure how to classify the VOCs found in water-damaged buildings, making it hard to even talk about it.

The toxins from water-damaged buildings emit blends of VOCs from the fungi, bacteria and building products. The qualitative and quantitative composition of these volatile blends varies with the species of fungus (and some bacterias) and the environmental situation in which the fungus is grown. The fungal VOCs, produced as mixtures of alcohols, aldehydes, acids, ethers, esters, ketones, terpenes, thiols and their derivatives, are responsible for the characteristic moldy odors associated with damp indoor spaces. When we talk about a moldy or musty smell. This is what we are talking about. There is increasing experimental evidence that some of these VOCs have toxic properties.

As I read the research, I find scientists are not clear on what is in many of the the VOCs, what the risks are, how they may or may not penetrate objects and what to even call them, so we can communicate about them. This leaves you and me in a world where we have to learn through each others experiences.

Pertinent Points

So, lets look at some things that seem to be true for people who have went through this experience. First, they note that items that were not in the moldy room may have odors that they either notice right off the bat, or that they notice after they get well (if they can't smell it in the beginning). Most of us who have went through this, either know or assume those items have went though one or both of the following scenarios.

1) They have been in a moldy room at some prior time.

2) They have particulate matter such as bits of mold, spores, mycotoxins or VOCs on them and possible adsorbed (penetrating) into them since often HEPA vacuuming and normal cleaning does not remove the musty smell, especially if it is porous.

Indeed people have items that they do not think have had actual mold growing on them now or ever, but they can not clean the "musty smell" out of them. What is that "musty smell" that all us moldies can smell? Is it the VOCs or is it mycotoxins or endotoxins or other toxins from the water-damaged building. I and others who go through this would say, "Yes it is all of this."

We know from research that there are toxins from the building products and bacteria and fungi that are volatile. There are many VOCs both from mold as well as bacteria associated with moldy places and the building materials off gassing themselves and new chemicals created through these critters/material interaction. Any of this that gets into the air can get onto/into other things and even penetrate into porous items. I would agree with those advisors that say most of it can be washed off if not penetrating a porous material yet. A good example to help you relate to this is cigarette smoke. If you go into a building or room where people are smoking, and you are there a few hours,  your clothing and hair smell horrid, and you need to wash it off with soap and water and presto, it is gone and you smell great again. (although some people need to clean their clothing more than once to not smell the smoke or use H2O2). If a smoker smells up your house after renting it for a few days to them, you can with some hard work, get rid of the smell usually too. However, try to clean that same smell off of walls in a room or building where someone has smoked every day for months and it becomes much harder to remove that smell from the walls, the furniture and other belongings. The stuffed pillows smell like smoke forever as do the kids stuffed toys and the mattress. However, the kitchen glass ware and dishes can be put through the dish washer a few times with soap and water as there was no place for the smoke VOCs or particulate matter to penetrate. The stainless steel items, the laquered table are all easier to clean up, although not as easy as the glass or painted ceramics. The porous items are the worst to clean. The walls with washable paint are easier to clean than flat paint. Ozone will help take the smoke smell out of the room, but for someone like me, or anyone else with a good nose and sensitive to smoke, we smell it the minute we walk into the room no matter what you do. This means you did not get it all.

This is the same for a building that has been moldy. It is exactly like the cigarette smoke scenario. The longer it has been moldy and the worse it is, the more VOCs will have moved around everywhere and penetrated porous things. This means a vacuuming and scrubbing with soap and water as some advisors tell you to do may help, but will not be an end all for sensitive folks. If the contaminated items are few and far between and not near the individual, they might be able to deal with it. We all think the type of mold/building products makes a difference too, but that is just our opinion.

For every room you consider, think to yourself if tiny mold particles, VOCs or other particulate matter could have reached that room. Realize that these particles can get in and out of areas that you think are too tight for anything to get through, such as a tiny crack in the wall or from behind molding on the wall. They come down from the attic and up from the crawl space. They get rides in the HVAC system or on the family cat. Also, don't forget that a good nose is the best mold detecting device you have available.

For details on cleaning personal objects in the house including furniture, please see this article.

Cleaning Products

Be aware that cleaning products themselves can be toxic. The items you use to clean your house of mold need to be decided on carefully with your personal needs considered.  I discuss them in links I have included on this page to clean your home and personal stuff, although I feel I need to give more details than I have.

The next issue is that research has shown that none of the commonly used methods for cleaning water-damaged materials such as bleach, ammonia, ultraviolet (UV) light, heating, and ozone were found to completely remove mold and mycotoxins from water-damaged building materials.

Please be aware that light toxin exposure may be able to be vacuumed with a HEPA vac and may be cleanable with even simple soapy water (the cloth or paper towel or microfiber etc. can only be used once as it is contaminated after use). If the smell disappears, you have a clean item. However, if the smell is not gone, it is not cleaned well enough. This is when people go to using hydrogen peroxide,  95% alcohol, or other items that will remove the musty smell and more importantly, our experiences have shown it stops people from reacting to the items. (I have used quaternary ammonium products such as Benzarid in the past and although it is the best product to use, it has recently been found to cause neural tube defects in a rodent study. So, I am concerned about using this product. The quaternary ammonium products may also persist in the environemt.) However, there may be nothing that will clean the item. I have had items that I used everything on and finally after using various cleaning methods including ozoning them for days, I simply gave up. These were items that were very porous and could not be washed well or raw wood items that were very ingrained with mold smell. They simply were not salvageable. It is possible a hydoxyl generator might have helped, but they were not availalble at that time.

Please be careful about dry cleaning. Some folks do fine with dry cleaning and may find their clothes are acceptable to them. Many people report having items dry cleaned and it does not remove the musty smell according to them.  Others find the toxic products used by dry cleaners to be as bad as the moldiness. Dry cleaners do use some products known to be carcinogenic.

 A Last Word About The Musty Smell

I hear people say that they want to build up their ability to withstand being in moldy buildings. I think this is crazy talk. No one should be in a moldy building. Just because we are building structures that tend to mold these days does not mean this is normal or something to strive to be able to live within. Yes, you do want to have a healthy, flexible biotransformation (detox) system. However, just because your body becomes better able to remove toxins does not mean you want to live in a toxic dump.

These VOC smells that people are reacting to in a negative manner are toxins, and everyone's body was built to smell them (except for a few genetic differences) and recognize them as unpleasant as a defence mechanism. This ensures your survivial as it tells you to flee the area. However, living in a constant toxin soup as found in todays buildings and cities makes you slowly get use to the smells, and less likely to notice or react to them. It does not mean you are not being harmed by them. Just as a child who is use to smelling their parents cigarette smoke and thinks it is normal, may one day show harm from this exposure, so will they show harm from a musty/moldy building that they do not recognize as being a toxic buidling. Their genetics will dictate how much harm is inflicted upon them in both instances.

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