Controlling Mold Without Toxic Chemicals
By Debra Lynn
Mold can grow anywhere there are damp conditions--from a
windowsill to a bathroom, to a whole house. While the health
effects of most common molds are minimal, the chemicals we
commonly use to remove the unsightly growth can harm our health. Mold
cleaners can contain toxic chemicals such as pentachorophenol, which can be harmful through skin
absorption or inhalation, and formaldehyde, which can cause
cancer as well as irritate eyes, throat, skin, and lungs.
Many mold cleaners carry the "DANGER" warning label and
state that they should be used only in a well-ventilated
area (next time you want to clean mold from your shower,
look around for the ventilation...)
Fortunately, there are ways to clean and even prevent mold
that are natural and safe for you and your family.
Mold is a living organism that needs certain conditions to
stay alive. A moist, dark, environment with little moving
air is perfect. Mold just can't live in an environment that
is dry, light, or breezy. The solution to any mold problem
of any kind is to introduce heat (to dry the moisture),
light, or moving air (such as from a fan).
I used to live in an old house in a forest, next to a creek,
in an area that has a lot of rainfall in the winter. One
year was particularly cold and rainy and so to conserve
heat, I closed the door on my extra bedroom, which contained
books and research papers, a bed, and out-of-season
clothing. By the end of winter, there was so much mold in
that room that it was literally growing on my clothing. My
cotton espadrille shoes and cloth-covered binders were
covered with blue fuzz. What to do? Mold was covering
In my situation, I opted to use heat. I put a portable space
heater in the room and closed the door. After several hours
I peeked in and steam was rising. It was like a sauna. After
twenty-four hours, however, all was bone dry and I was able
to brush visible mold (now a dry powder) from walls,
clothing, and other surfaces. The moral of the story: if you
live in a damp environment that doesn't get much sun, make
sure your heat circulates completely around the house, and
even though it may take more energy, it's needed to keep
your home dry and safe. Mold can do damage to material
possessions and human health, so its better to stay warm and
If you have just a small area of mold, use a hand-held dryer
to dry it up in just a few minutes.
You can prevent mold from growing by keeping areas dry. Find
the source of moisture and control it. Mold in an undersink
cabinet, for example, may require fixing leaky pipes.
Controlling mold in a bathroom may involve installing a
small space heater to run after a shower to dry out the
room, or using a fan for the same purpose. No moisture--no
In a closet, hang garments with space between them to allow
for air-flow and install a small light, both to dispel
darkness and provide a little heat. If you live in a very
humid area, a dehumidifier may be necessary.
To remove mold from shower tile or other hard surface, mix
borax and water, or vinegar and water, in a spray bottle.
Spray it on and the mold wipes right off. Borax inhibits
mold growth, so wash down the walls in your bathroom with a
borax solution and just leave it on, or sprinkle borax in
damp cabinets under the sink. If you need something stronger
to remove stubborn mold, use hydrogen peroxide.
Steam cleaners--which clean, sanitize, and deodorize using
only hot water--also work great on mold. You can purchase
small hand-held steam cleaners in the housewares department
of discount stores for about $50 or larger units on the
Hailed as "The Queen of Green" by the New York Times, Debra
Lynn Dadd has been a leading consumer advocate for products
and lifestyle choices that are better for health and the
environment since 1982. Visit her website to learn more
about her new book Home Safe Home, to sign up for her free
email newsletters, and to browse 100s of links to 1000s of nontoxic,
natural and earthwise products.