How to Outsmart Mold

New research links household mold to asthma. But some simple mold-fighting tactics will keep your family breathing easy.

By Joanna Poncavage

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how to reduce mmold in your houseMold isn't all bad. It's key in a compost pile, for example, where it helps breaks down organic matter into nutrients usable by plants. In our homes, however, mold is fungi non grata, as research conducted in Germany and published last month reminds us.

THE DETAILS: The analysis looked at 61 studies since 1990, and found that children living in homes with water damage and visible mold were more 49 percent more likely to have asthma and 39 percent more likely to have nasal allergies, and they also had more wheezing problems than children in less-moldy homes. The review was conducted by the German Research Center for Environmental Health in Neuherberg and published in the European Respiratory Journal.

WHAT IT MEANS: More than unsightly patches of fungus, molds have the potential to cause health problems because they can produce allergens, irritants, and, in some cases, potentially toxic substances, says Laureen Burton, chemist/toxicologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Indoor Environments Division. “Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions,” she notes.

But don't reach for caustic mold cleaners or chemically loaded sprays to clear up mold in your house. Many household cleaning products contain respiratory irritants and other chemicals that can worsen your home's indoor air quality and jeopardize your health.

The EPA has lots of advice (EPA.gov/mold/index.html) for mold control. The key is moisture control; master that, and you won't even need to bust out a bottle of mold cleaner. Burton offers these prevention tips:

• Fix leaky plumbing. Repair bathroom and kitchen leaks and other building leaks as soon as possible.

• Minimize dampness. Clean and dry wet or damp spots within 48 hours. And prevent condensation by warming surfaces with insulation, or increase air circulation. Turn on bathroom fans during showers and baths, and wipe water from stalls and tubs afterward. Dry wet towels promptly.

• Maintain indoor humidity. Keep relative humidity below 60 percent, ideally 30 to 50 percent. (Buy a hygrometer—an inexpensive thermometerlike device that measures humidity.) Reduce air moisture level with increased ventilation (if outside air is cool and dry), or with a dehumidifier (if outside air is warm and humid).

• Maintain your HVAC. Perform regular inspections and maintenance of your heating/cooling system as scheduled.

• Keep things clean and clear. Make sure all heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning drip pans are clean, flowing properly, and unobstructed.

• Vent 'em right. Keep moisture-generating appliances, such as dryers, properly vented out of the house.

• Don't let foundations stay wet. Provide drainage, and slope the ground away from the foundation.

For detailed clean-up strategies, including mold-busting cleaners you can make yourself from mild, safe ingredients, see How to Get Rid of Mold Naturally.

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