Finding or suspecting you have a black mold infestation in your home can often leave you with a feeling of panic.
Just how toxic is black mold? Is getting rid of it expensive? Do I need to sell my home? (Yikes!)
What Is Black Mold?
Black mold, or Stachybotrys chartarum, is one of the most common indoor molds (1). It grows in damp, humid, and dark areas in homes. Like other molds, it releases spores into the air surrounding it, which can be inhaled by humans or absorbed through your skin, and can also allow it to be transported to other areas of a home.
Why Is Black Mold So Dangerous?
Black mold is commonly referred to as toxic mold, and for good reason. Aside from causing all kinds of respiratory reactions like coughing, sneezing, sore and itchy throats, and watery and itchy eyes, prolonged exposure can have serious health consequences.
One study found that exposure to mold during infancy led to asthma at 7 years of age, while others have linked exposure to brain inflammation, behavioral dysfunction, movement disorders, and neurological deterioration (2, 3, 4).
In short, black mold warrants its reputation as a toxin, and should be treated as soon as it’s discovered. Below are several signs it may be inhabiting your home.
4 Black Mold Signs and Symptoms
1. Musty Smell
Mold has a pungent, earthy, musty, and rather unpleasant smell. Even if you can’t see it, if you notice a weird smell when you enter a certain room, be sure to thoroughly check that room.
If you can’t find anything at first glance, you (or a mold inspector) may have to remove wallpaper, plastering, or tiles, as it could be hiding underneath.
Side note: Some people can become accustomed to the smells in their homes (even if they are bad). It might help to have a friend come over with a “fresh nose,” if you will, to tell you if anything smells off in your home.
2. Visible Dark Rings and Spots (Water Damage)
One of the early signs that mold could be lurking in your home is the appearance of dark rings or spots on the ceilings or walls. Even if these spots aren’t mold per se, they may be indicative of water damage or pooling water, which is a recipe for mold growth.
If you see anything like this in your home, it’s best to mop it up as quickly as possible and clean the area using disinfectants. If you can’t access the area, get an inspector to do it for you. Be sure to check other areas as well, since there could be more widespread water damage.
3. Respiratory Irritation
Common early symptoms of black mold exposure can cause itchy skin, sneezing, watery, itchy eyes, headaches, coughing, and skin irritation. If you suspect black mold is growing in an area in your home and you’re experiencing these symptoms, you need to get it checked out and removed quickly.
4. Visible Growths and Odd Colors
You may be able to visibly see a black mold growth in your home. While most black mold is indeed black, it can have a wide range of variations. For instance, you may notice a dark, furry growth or what appears to be a black stain, or there could be white, orange, brown, and even green specks.
A good rule of thumb is no matter what the color, get it treated to avoid damage to your health.
How to Get Rid of Black Mold
Once you’ve discovered where the black mold is hiding, either by doing a thorough search around your home yourself (checking in dark, damp places, in small cracks, beneath tiles and wallpaper, etc.) or hiring a professional to check for you, it’s time to get rid of it.
1. Kill It Yourself
Below are instructions on how you can kill black mold yourself, but first:
Protect Yourself: Wear a pair of latex gloves, goggles, a dust mask, and clothing that covers your entire body to avoid contact with the toxic mold spores.
Close off the area of the mold infestation using duct tape over vents and cracks, and close doors. You can also use a small fan to direct spores out an open window. You need to do this because spores can transport the mold to other areas of your home.
Clean the area with a scrub brush and soap and water. Don’t scrape it dry, as this can release it into the air. Bag up and throw away anything that was infested with the growth.
Apply a strong disinfectant to the infested area (see below) and, to be safe, a good amount of the area around it.
Ventilate the area and keep it dry.
Disinfectants That Banish Black Mold
The following disinfectants are antifungals that can be used to kill and prevent mold growth.
Grapefruit Seed Extract: Combine 20 drops of grapefruit seed extract with 2 cups water in a spray bottle. Spray on the affected area and let dry.
Tea Tree Oil: Combine 1 teaspoon with 1 cup water in a spray bottle, spray on the affected area, and let dry.
White Vinegar: Pour undiluted white vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray directly on the area and let dry.
Hydrogen Peroxide: Spray a 3 percent concentration on the area. Leave for 15 minutes, then rinse.
Note: Bleach will also work as a disinfectant, but it is not recommended. Bleach can burn human tissue and has been known to cause respiratory problems (while also irritating the mouth and eyes).
2. Professional Treatment
While it can be a little more costly to have your home professionally treated to remove black mold, it is a good option if the infection is widespread or in an area you can’t clean thoroughly. Professional removers will also ensure that the spores don’t spread by using air cleaners, so if you want total peace of mind that spores aren’t spreading, this may be your option.
How to Prevent Black Mold
Once you get rid of black mold, there are several steps you can take to keep it from returning.
Mold thrives in humid, damp conditions. Regularly check areas in your home that accumulate dampness, like in your bathroom or around heating and cooling systems. To take it a step further, invest in a dehumidifier to keep moisture levels in your home low.
Watch for Leaks
Be on the lookout for leaks around your appliances and ventilation ducts, as this moisture can accumulate and encourage growth.
If you don’t have access to a dehumidifier, make sure your home stays well-ventilated. This is important not just for preventing mold growth but also for removing spores from the air.
You might be wondering if you should test for black mold specifically if you do find it. This isn’t entirely necessary, since testing can only be done under a microscope and can be pretty costly. A good perspective to have is that “any mold is a bad mold,” and to get rid of it accordingly.
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