Anyone who has dealt with mold knows that it's smelly, hard to remove, and can cause headaches — literally and figuratively. You don't have to accept its presence in your home! Mold exposure can lead to health concerns, from rashes to respiratory ailments, so eliminating mold safely and effectively is important. If you want to get rid of mold without harsh chemicals, read on.
"If you find mold in your home, don't panic," explains Dr. Lauren Tessier, a Naturopathic Physician in Vermont. "Stressing over things just activates our flight or fight system, which can make us feel worse. Simply make a plan and get to work."
If you've found mold in your home, you can use environmentally and budget-friendly DIY cleaning methods. "The reality is, you will find a solution that will work for you," says Tessier.
What Is Mold Exposure?
Molds are fungi that grow on materials in homes and buildings. You may hear it referred to as "black mold" or "toxic mold." but there are many types of mold, and they can be almost any color. Molds give off a musty odor and often look like a stain on surfaces such as wood, fabric, carpet, and drywall.
Mold thrives in damp and moist environments. It reproduces by releasing tiny spores into the air that people and pets inhale. Cladosporium, Penicillium, Chaetomium, and Aspergillus are common molds you may encounter indoors. Many people are worried about black mold (usually Stachybotrys chartarum); you can remove it as you do other species.
Like all forms of fungus, molds are living organisms that grow and reproduce. In the right conditions (warm, moist), most molds go through a four-stage life cycle: spore, germ, hypha, and mature mycelium.
Mature molds produce microscopic spores and release them into the air, similar to plant seeds. The spores land on a surface where they grow (germ stage). Hyphae are long, thin branching structures. These hyphae join together to form a mycelium, which is a name for multiple hyphae together. As the mold mycelium grows and expands, it eventually "fruits," producing new spores and releasing them into the air to repeat the mold life cycle.
Mold thrives if your home has water damage from rain, flooding, or a water leak. The best way to break the mold life cycle and prevent exposure involves thoroughly cleaning all surfaces in the environment that have mold. After that, remove excess humidity in the air to prevent it from taking hold again.
How Does Mold Affect Health?
When you inhale mold — usually the spores — or get it on your skin, this is considered mold exposure. The delicate mucous membranes of the nose, mouth, and ears are particularly sensitive to mold exposure. People who live in homes with mold and damp conditions are more likely to experience health issues from mold exposure.
Some people call it "toxic mold" because of the health issues people may experience after exposure. Many molds produce mycotoxins, naturally-occurring toxins produced by mold spores that pose a serious health risk to people.[3, 4, 5]
The most common symptoms of mold exposure include:
- Chronic coughing
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Skin rash
- Itchy skin
- Eye irritation
- Worsening allergies and asthma
- Brain fog
Infants, children, the elderly, and those with existing health conditions such as asthma are at higher risk of developing health issues from mold exposure. Symptoms can occur immediately or show up later. Chronic exposure to mycotoxins can wear down your immune system. They may cause abdominal pain, fever, headache, vomiting, and more. All mold has the potential to cause allergic reactions, leading to dry, scaly skin, watery eyes, and a runny or stuffy nose.
Take mold seriously. It’s not only harmful to your home, but also to your health.
Eco-Friendly Ways to Get Rid of Mold
Since we spend so much of our time at home, we want to make sure our homes are healthy environments. If you know you have mold inside of your home, it’s important to get it cleared away as soon as possible.
Before beginning any mold remediation, take steps to ensure that you don’t expose your skin or mucous membranes to mold and mycotoxins during the cleaning process. Look for these items:
- An adequate breathing mask or respiratory protective device (e.g., N95 mask)
- Safety goggles
- Rubber gloves
- Old rags and a scrub brush
An N95 mask is designed for a close facial fit that provides efficient filtration of airborne particles such as mold spores. You can purchase these at most home improvement stores.
Don't pull out harmful chemicals like bleach to get rid of mold. Plenty of natural remedies work. Here are some of the most effective and safest ways to remove mold from surfaces in a healthy way.
These recipes are in quantities you would use for indoor cleaning. If you have outdoor surfaces to clean mold off of, you may require larger quantities for these recipes.
Tea Tree Oil
Of all the natural solutions, tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) may be the most effective. A natural fungicide, even small amounts of tea tree oil can kill stop spores on contact.
Tea tree oil has many uses and is environmentally friendly, which makes it a great choice.
How to Use: A little goes a long way. Mix one teaspoon of tea tree oil with one cup of water in a spray bottle. Be sure to wear gloves, as undiluted tea tree oil may irritate your skin. Mist the affected area with your solution and wipe away.
Vinegar (acetic acid) has an antimicrobial effect on fungi and can eliminate many mold species. Regular white vinegar — the kind you can cook with — contains 5 percent acetic acid. To get rid of mold, buy cleaning vinegar with at least 6 percent acetic acid. You can get it at most home improvement stores. This extra 1 percent of acidity makes the solution much more effective.
Vinegar can also stop viruses and bacteria in their tracks, so cleaning your home with it can help you and your family stay healthy!
How to Use: Pour white distilled, undiluted vinegar into a spray bottle. Spray the vinegar directly onto the moldy surface and let it sit for an hour. Use a scrub brush to loosen any mold and wipe the area clean with warm water. Any smell from the vinegar should clear within a couple of hours.
Hydrogen peroxide is a powerhouse cleanser. With its antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, it is lethal to most types of mold — but safe for people.[10, 11]
As a non-toxic cleanser, you can use hydrogen peroxide around pets, children, and anyone experiencing respiratory discomfort because it's not a lung irritant. You can use it on any surface, including walls, sinks, countertops, and other hard surfaces.
How to Use: Saturate any moldy surface with generous amounts of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide and let it sit for 10 minutes, or wait for the peroxide to stop bubbling. Scrub the area to remove all mold remnants and stains, and wipe the surface to remove any residual mold and spores. You may want to repeat this step after your initial clean-up to ensure complete mold removal.
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a white mineral powder that you can safely use to remove mold on most surfaces. In addition to eliminating mold, it will help absorb moisture to prevent further mold growth. Never mix baking soda with vinegar, or you might get a dangerous chemical reaction.
How to use: Add one-quarter tablespoon baking soda to a standard spray bottle. Mix with water and shake until the powder has dissolved. Generously spray the moldy area with the solution. Use a scrub brush to get mold off of the surface. You may want to repeat this process the following day.
If you have mold in your grout, mix a 50 percent water, 50 percent baking soda paste solution. Place the paste on the grout and let it sit for 10 minutes. Scrub and rinse thoroughly to remove all mold. Wipe dry.
How to Prevent Mold
Mold can grow on anything that holds moisture. It can sometimes be difficult — but not impossible — to avoid. Keeping your home dry and controlling humidity is the key to a mold-free home. Here are some tips.
Experts recommend keeping the humidity in your home between 30 to 50 percent to prevent mold growth. A dehumidifier can reduce the amount of moisture in the air, which makes your home less mold-friendly, particularly if you live in a high-humidity climate.
Keep in mind that dehumidifiers can help prevent mold growth and spread, but they can’t remove spores that are already there.
Keep Your House Ventilated
Keep your home well-ventilated, ensuring that air moves freely throughout the home; this deters mold. Use ventilation fans in bathrooms when showering, and exhaust fans in the kitchen when cooking. Clothes dryers should be properly ventilated to the outside, too.
Other things you can do to prevent mold growth include:
- Seal bathtubs and sinks with caulking to prevent water from leaking and pooling.
- Re-grout tiles to help deprive any remaining mold of oxygen and prevent growth.
- Remove excess water left on shower doors and walls with a bathroom squeegee, available at home improvement stores.
- Check window sills, walls, the roof, and the foundation regularly for condensation, moisture, or leaks.
- If you find any leaks or experience a flood, dry the area within 48 hours to prevent mold growth. Use fans to speed drying.
- Ensure good air circulation throughout the home. Open windows when possible.
Points to Remember
If you want to know how to get rid of mold, there are simple, natural remedies that can work. Tea tree oil, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and vinegar are four easy-to-use, healthy choices for mold remediation.
Mold thrives in moist and damp environments, and exposure to this fungal species can cause health issues — particularly with your respiratory system. Cladosporium, Penicillium, Chaetomium, and Aspergillus, as well as black mold (Stachybotrys chartarum) are common indoor molds. The most important measures for mold prevention are controlling moisture and keeping your home dry.
Generally speaking, mold exposure symptoms clear up once it is removed — then you will likely feel better and have a healthy home once again. If your living space has significant water damage and the drywall has been wet for more than 48 hours, it may be too mold-damaged to simply clean the surface. Porous materials like drywall can harbor mold below the surface. In these cases, you should seek a professional mold remediation company.
If you continue to experience long-term health effects from mold exposure, talk with your healthcare provider.
- Mold. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated 12 Dec 2019. Accessed 12 Feb 2020.
- Cole GT. Basic Biology of Fungi. In: Baron S, ed. Medical Microbiology. 4th edition. Galveston, TX: University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston;1996.
- Mold and Your Health. Illinois Department of Public Health. Updated 2020. Accessed 15 Feb 2020.
- Mold. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institute of Health. Updated 17 Jan 2020. Accessed 12 Mar 2020.
- Omotayo OP, et al. Prevalence of mycotoxins and their consequences on human health. Toxicol Res. 2019 Jan;35(1):1-7.
- Peraica M, et al. Toxic effects of mycotoxins in humans. Bull World Health Organ.1999;77(9):754-766.
- A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Updated Sep 2010. Accessed 15 Feb 2020.
- Rogawansamy S, et al. An evaluation of antifungal agents for the treatment of fungal contamination in indoor air environments. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015 Jun; 12(6):6319-6332.
- Rutala WA, et al. Antimicrobial activity of home disinfectants and natural products against potential human pathogens. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2000 Jan;21(1):33-38.
- Ivanova AE, et al. The effect of hydrogen peroxide on the growth of microscopic mycelial fungi isolated from habitats with different levels of radioactive contamination. Mikrobiologiia. 2005 Nov-Dec;74(6):756-765.
- Orru G, et al. Evaluation of antimicrobial-antibiofilm activity of hydrogen peroxide decontaminating system used in dental unit water lines. Open Dent J. 2010;4:140-146.
- Letscher-Bru V, et al. Antifungal activity of sodium bicarbonate against fungal agents causing superficial infections. Mycopathologia. 2013 Feb;175(1-2):153-158.
- You Can Control Mold. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated 29 Aug 2017. Accessed 16 Feb 2020.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.