Mould – what is it, why is it dangerous and how can you prevent it?

Mould is everywhere but lots of people remain unsure what it is or how to prevent it
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An outbreak of mould usually comes with many different questions. What is mould? Is mould dangerous? How can you prevent mould forming? Is there a way to treat mould once it’s in place?

When most people think of mould, they associate it with an unsightly growth in the corner of a room. The uncomfortable truth is that there is much more to mould than it just being unpleasant to look at.

It can have a devastating impact on the health of both humans and buildings – which is why it is important to take action to treat and prevent it before it develops and spreads.

What is mould?

Mould is a type of fungi which is present everywhere on Earth, with the honourable exceptions of under water and in parts of the Arctic and Antarctica. Mould’s job is to decompose of dead organic material and as such, it plays an important role in nature’s recycling process.

Not that you want it present in your home. It can grow indoors and outdoors and on a range of different materials. Wood, fabrics, wallpaper, carpets, furniture, food, plumbing – think of a surface inside the home and it’s likely that you’ll find mould on it.

Most of the time, the organism remains dormant. Many properties have mould hiding within their darkened corners, but it never becomes a problem because not all of the four conditions needed for mould to thrive are present.

For mould to spread and grow, it requires oxygen, a temperature between 5°C and 40°C, a food source and most importantly – moisture.

When all these conditions are present, then mould can spread quickly by producing spores inside of 24 hours. Once it starts growing, it can penetrate surfaces, making it difficult to eradicate.

Is mould dangerous?

In extreme cases, mould can be a threat to the structural integrity of a building. If left untreated, it can eat away at both wood and drywall.

More concerning though is that the conditions which allow mould to grow and spread are the same in which wood-decay fungus thrives – if you’ve got mould, then chances are something even worse could follow.

What mould will do is leave unsightly stains and unpleasant odours. It comes in a variety of colours, ranging from bright red to dark green to black. It also gives off a pungent, foul smell.

The potential structural impact of mould is nothing though compared to the affect it can have on human health. As mould spreads, its spores release allergens and irritants into the air.

When inhaled by humans who live or work in buildings in which mould is present, these allergens and irritants can lead to serious health complications, including:

  • Throat, nose and skin irritation
  • Symptoms similar to a severe allergic reaction, such as sneezing and coughing
  • Respiratory infection and breathlessness
  • Sinus congestion
  • Irritable eyes and redness
  • Rashes
  • Tiredness
  • Fever-like symptoms

The World Heath Organisation has said that a large number of the 300 million cases of childhood asthma worldwide can be attributed to exposure to mould.

Those who already suffer from asthma and other breathing problems are far more likely to have severe reactions to the presence of the organism. Mould can even grow inside the lungs of individuals who suffer from severe respiratory conditions such as emphysema and tuberculosis.

The elderly, those with existing skin conditions such as eczema and people who suffer from weakened immune systems may also find themselves strong affected by mould.

How to prevent mould?

Given the speed at which mould spreads, prevention is always better than a cure. You prevent the development of mould by removing one of the four conditions which it needs to grow.

Only one of these can be eradicated with any great success – moisture. Unless you live or work in an airtight property, oxygen will always be present. Most buildings are going to be heated to somewhere between 5°C and 40°C and mould’s food source is the surface which it lives on, be that wood, fabric, wallpaper, carpet, furniture or anything else.

There are numerous ways to prevent water and damp fuelling the growth and spread of mould. Repairing faucets and fixing leaking pipes using a pipe repair kit as soon as you become aware of a problem will instantly remove the opportunity for moisture to feed mould.

Leaks aren’t the only source of moisture. Condensation where hot air meets cold air at places such as windows and doors can also lend itself to the spread of mould.

It’s therefore important to take reasonable steps to prevent condensation which leads to mould, such as opening a window to let air into a room, ensuring your property is well ventilated and avoiding unnecessary amounts of steam produced through processes such as drying clothes indoors and using saucepans without the lid on.

How to get rid of mould?

What if mould has already taken hold and your problem is now getting rid of it? Your first step is still to identify and fix the source of moisture which is causing the mould, be that a leaking pipe or condensation. There’s no point in removing the mould you already have if conditions remain ripe for it to return instantly.

You should only remove mould yourself if it has been caused by uncontaminated water or condensation and is covering an area less than three square feet. If the mould is as a result of a leaking sewage pipe or is over a large area, then you should contact a mould removal specialist.

When removing mould, what you must always do is wear goggles, long rubber gloves and a mask which covers your nose and mouth. Open the windows in the room in which you are working to allow for ventilation but make sure the doors are shut so that the mould spores cannot spread to other areas.

  • Start by removing any furnishings, clothes or soft toys which are mouldy. These should be placed in a plastic bag and taken to a dry cleaner for a professional wash
  • Fill a bucket with water and some mild detergent such as washing up liquid or soap used for hand-washing clothes
  • Dip a rag or cloth in the soapy water and use it to wipe the mould away from the wall or surface in question. Be careful not to brush as this can simply transfer the mould to other parts of the wall
  • When you have finished wiping the wall down, use a dry rag or cloth to remove any moisture. Both rags should then be placed in a plastic bag and thrown away
  • Thoroughly clean every surface in the room by either wet wiping or vacuuming. This ensures that any remaining mould spores are removed

At its best, mould is an unsightly blemish on a household wall. At its worst, it can have a long-lasting, negative impact on human health.

You should take the necessary steps to prevent yourself from exposure to mould – fixing leaking pipes, reducing condensation, removing the mould itself – before it becomes a major problem.

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