Finding a cure for the common mold

Posted: Sunday, February 09, 2003

Molds are a form of fungi, usually microscopic in size. They reproduce by releasing spores into the air that settle on surfaces and under the right conditions, grow. Mold often can be seen and is sometimes detected by a musty odor. Mildew is a common mold.

Molds thrive on natural fibers, paper, wood, leather and surfaces coated with the slightest amount of food, grease or soil. A surefire formula for mold growth is for mold spores to settle on the right surface, plus warm temperatures, plus humidity levels above 70 percent, plus an oxygen supply. When the relative humidity is low, the temperature is too high or too low, or the organic material is gone, molds go dormant. But when relative humidity gets high, they can regenerate.

Mold may be found anyplace where moisture or relative humidity levels are high.

In the kitchen, mold growth can be found on walls if household cooking involves large amounts of boiling water and no exhaust fan is used. The cooking spatters and grease film on walls are the source of nutrients for the mold combined with the high humidity levels in those areas.

Floor-level pans that collect the condensate from automatic defrosting refrigerators often have mold growing in them. Window condensation can result in mold growth where the moisture runs onto the sill or wood trim.

The cure: keep it clean; keep it dry. According to Rich Seifert, housing and energy specialist for the Alaska Cooperative Extension, the ideal relative humidity levels for Alaska homes is about 50 percent.

Seifert encourages the use of ventilation in the home. Use exhaust fans vented to the outside when taking baths or showers or when cooking.

After a flood, fire or water leak, wall and floors that were soaked for more than a few hours may have absorbed large amounts of water. These areas must be cleaned, dried and disinfected. Disinfectants kill mold growing on hard surfaces such as walls and hard floors.

One of the most effective and least expensive disinfectants is chlorine bleach. Following the directions on the label, a bleach solution can be applied to hard, clean surfaces.

For additional information about preventing, killing and removing mold from textiles and interior and exterior surfaces, request a copy of the free publication, "Controlling Mold Growth in the Home," by calling Cooperative Extension Service.

Another source is the American Industrial Hygiene Association. On its Web site, you will find a publication entitled, "The Facts about Mold -- For Everyone." The address is

Linda Tannehill is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension Office. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Develop-ment programs. The Kenai Penin-sula District Extension Office is at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Suite A, Soldotna, AK. The phone number is 262-5824 or toll-free at (800) 478-5824.

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