Kicking off with a disclaimer here…I am not a mold expert. I’m sharing my experience and general research about the mold that’s cropped up in my home, and what I’ve learned though helping my clients detect mold in their homes. My intention is to build awareness and inspire you to take action if you know, or suspect, that you may have mold in your home. What follows may not be accurate and applicable to your situation, so please consult a professional!

Mold can be a major factor in all kinds of illnesses. If your health isn’t getting better while you’re following a gut healing diet, and you’ve addressed other sources of toxicity in your home, like those in cleaners and body care products, mold is something to investigate, even when you don’t see or smell it, or have active signs of water damage.

Consider mold testing if you’re in any of these situations:

  • You have visible mold in your home, or a musty smell
  • Eczema that’s bleeding or oozing
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome, POTS, or dysautonomia
  • Non-verbal autism spectrum disorder
  • Chronic sinus or other respiratory infections, or immunodeficiency diseases
  • Dramatic degradation of your health within months of moving into a new place
  • Mystery illness or debilitated to the point where you can no longer work

Not all types of mold and mycotoxins are dangerous to humans, but it must be ruled out, especially when it’s visible. Not every person becomes ill with mold exposure, so it may be that one member in the house if very ill, while the others appear to be completely healthy.

Think of mold spores as the organism and mycotoxins as its excrement. Mold and mycotoxins can’t be “killed” – the infected material must be carefully removed and the nearby areas specially sanitized afterwards. The improper removal of mold can be a trigger for health issues.

Mycotoxins are toxins. They require detoxification. If you have ongoing exposure to mold, you have ongoing detoxification needs and your liver can easily become overwhelmed. Even if you’ve moved away from the moldy situation, your body can be dealing with the ramifications for years.

If you have visible mold or a musty smell (no, this isn’t ‘normal’ when you’ve been away for a while), have a mold inspector come in to inspect the area, run appropriate testing, and give you a plan for remediation, if necessary.

What I look for in a mold inspector:

  • An inspector only, not also a remediator (that way they aren’t looking for problems)
  • Conducts ERMI or HERTSMI (dust) testing, in addition to visual inspections
  • Understanding of the Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) protocol is a plus

If you don’t have visible mold and need to test for any of the other reasons, you can order your own EMRI or HERTSMI2 testing. These two tests use dust samples to determine the overall mold load in a home. ERMI tests 36 species and HERTMSI2 tests the five most toxic to humans. If you order an ERMI test from Envirobiomics (affiliate link) you will automatically get the HERTSMI2 breakdown with it. Each test includes a score and chart to breakdown the results. You will very clearly see the level at which you need to move out or have remediation done immediately. You will need a separate test for each floor of your home, or individual areas, if you want to test them separately.

If the test comes back with high levels and you’re unsure of the source, you’ll need to hire a mold inspector to do some investigation and create a remediation report. You must hire professional mold remediators to remove and clean. This cannot be done by a handyman or general contractor. There are very specific protocols that must be followed, or your mold problem could end up worse (see our personal story below).

If the mold is localized to a certain area, like a bathroom, or part of the basement, you can probably keep your furnishings in the rest of your home. Your mold remediation professionals may be able to replace the materials there and sanitize the area appropriately.

If you find that toxic mold is in your HVAC system, that means you’ll have to throw away everything in your home that can’t be properly sanitized. If you really can’t part with some things that can’t be sanitized (like old photo albums), store them in sealed plastic bins in a storage until, where you can take them out and visit on occasion. Never open the box indoors, and plan to sanitize your clothing and anything else you had with you afterwards.

I’ve had multiple clients with high ERMI scores leave home to stay with friends and family and they’ve felt much better within days.

Cleaning Mold in the Meantime

If you find active mold growth and you can’t immediately remediate it, there are steps you can take to keep yourself safer. I always recommend moving somewhere else, but if that really is not an option, try this:

  • Wear gloves to avoid excessive exposure to the mycotoxins.
  • Surface clean with a mold sanitizing agent. Benefect Decon 30 is a botanical extract of thyme. It’s used full-strength and doesn’t require personal protective equipment. Spray it so that it coats the entire surface you’re working on, and let it sit for 10 minutes, then wipe with a microfiber cloth. Repeat this process three times in a row.
  • Wash what you can in the washing machine with EC3 to clean spores and mycotoxins off clothing, bedding, etc. 
  • Air purifiers: Mr. Body Wisdom has done extensive research and there are the top three brands he’s found, that are also pretty affordable:
    • Choose a model that has carbon pellets for the best filtration of gases. 
    • Model choice depends on the aesthetic and the size of the area.
    • We prefer machines without Wifi, for lower EMF’s, and that have a ‘night mode’ so all lights can be turned out, if used in a sleeping area. 
  • Be outdoors, or away from home, as much as possible.
  • Contact your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance to see if you have mold coverage, which can include relocation.

Do not use bleach. It’s predominantly water and doesn’t kill or clean as well as the botanical options. You cannot cover up mold with paints that claim to kill mold.

Our Mold Experience

An unpleasant surprise was brewing under our bathroom flooring: MOLD.

Several months prior, I noticed that the flooring at one corner of the bathtub was warping. Even though I often work with GAPS Diet clients experiencing the effects of mold exposure, I avoided investigating it because I knew that I’d probably be opening a can of worms.

I worked up the courage to pull up that corner of the vinyl flooring and…yuck!

I reached out to a local friend who I knew had dealt with mold and she recommended Mold Inspection Sciences for testing. We decided to have the house thoroughly screened to be sure there aren’t other areas that may have silent issues, and feel lucky that the inspector who came out has 20 years of experience, including with old homes like ours, which was built in 1902.

Homes built in that era tend to have a lot of hidden surprises due to additions, remodels, and redecorating over the years. Our house is definitely not tightly sealed, and built from old-growth cedar, which we’ve always considered a benefit when it comes to the possibility of mold and indoor air pollution.

A week after our inspection, we received a lab testing report with the results mold testing results, and a mold inspection report detailing the recommended protocol for mold remediation and retesting.

Our mold inspection indicated that we had a serious mold in the bathroom floor: Chaetomium.  Sometimes referred to as “the other black mold,” with Stachybotrys being the species we commonly think of as “black mold.”

Chaetomium is commonly found in water damaged areas and loves to eat cellulose. It’s found on many different materials, including drywall, carpet, baseboards, and in our case, the particle board used under the vinyl flooring.

Chaetomium mold also produces large quantities of mycotoxins, which are what causes mold-related health issues. Chaetomium spores are heavier than others, and less likely to become airborne, until they are disturbed by their material being moved.

According to the website Mold Advisor, “This type of mold can cause skin and nail infections, cerebral infections, allergic reactions, and asthma. Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis have been linked to Chaetomium mold exposure. Other symptoms could include coughing, memory loss, nose bleeds, seizures, dermatitis, fever, and internal lesions.”

There’s no way to determine how any individual person may be impacted. Some people are more sensitive and living with even small amounts can take a big toll on your health.

Our mold inspection didn’t identify any moisture in the walls, but as we took off the baseboards next to the shower and toilet, there was mold under them, growing up both of those walls. We had absolutely no idea that mold was hidden there, since our baseboards and paint were in good condition, with no discoloration. There was also mold underneath the flooring of the toilet.

When we ripped up the flooring, we could see that these same areas had been replaced before. That leads me to believe that water issues and mold were present there before and had been remediated by previous owners.

Seeing this, I became paranoid about how much mold exposure we may have had over the years. I regret not ordering the dust testing. It was costly, but I think the knowledge would have given me a valuable peace of mind.

Since we aren’t suffering from any serious or chronic illnesses, and Mr. Body Wisdom and myself are very handy around the house and choose to remediate the mold and put in new flooring ourselves – WHICH I DO NOT RECOMMEND to others, especially if you’re chronically ill. We happened to have Tyvek suits, respirators, and goggles from other projects, and have set up negative air systems in the past.

The mold remediation itself was straightforward and pretty quick. We got completely suited up in Tyvek, respirators, etc. We closed up the room and set up negative air. We cut around the mold as carefully as we could and placed it directly into heavy duty contractor bags, so less of the mold spores could spread around. Then we sanitized every square inch multiple times with Benefect Decon 30.

During this process we realized that we were probably the ones who spread this mold. Five years prior we’d replaced our bathtub and shower tile. There was black mold on the wall behind the tile, which we cleaned and shined UV lights on, but didn’t think too much of it. We didn’t do any special cleaning or sanitization of the rest of the bathroom, which means that the Chaetomium we uncovered was able to spread throughout the room and infect other areas. 

Shortly after completing the rebuild of our bathroom (7 weeks later!), we had our HVAC vents professionally cleaned, in order to remove dust and debris that could be food for any errant spores that escaped.

After our remediation and sanitization was done, I waited months for a proper build-up of dust, then retested our home with the HERTMI2 test. The main floor came back with a score of 4, which falls within the low-risk section, which in only 1.7% of cases can result in a relapse in CIRS. Interestingly, another type of mold was detected, aspergillus penicillium, so we chose to sanitize the whole area with Benefect Decon 30 again, for good measure.

 

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