Since I am now frequently addressing reader’s specific “cleaning for mold” questions, I am often confronted with the same query:
“Can’t I just use bleach to clean up the mold?”
When I write back my answer, “NO. DO NOT USE BLEACH. BLEACH DOES NOT REMOVE MOLD—it only kills surface mold and does not penetrate to remove the underlying problem.” I am often met with an incredulous, “What?!!! That’s what I’ve always used!”
So, today I want to recognize and address that touchy subject in the mold clean-up debate. Many people, heck, most people who have not had a significant brush with toxic mold or mold at a level where their health has been affected—to their knowledge anyway—consider chlorine bleach their go-to cleaner when it comes to mold and mildew. I find that alarming and more importantly, it can be dangerous. Here is why:
- Bleach does just what the word bleach means: it removes the color from and blanches the top, visible layer of mold. The dark mold simply goes clear, and then returns with a vengeance. That is because the stain disappears, but the micro flora remain, and under conditions where there is moisture, the mold will just continuing to grow. (Here is a link to a scientific study that confirms that bleach does not effectively remove mold from wood.)
- Chlorine bleach that you purchase in the grocery or drugstore is 99% water. Therefore, when you use it to clean mold, it is actually providing moisture to the mold—which is similar to watering a plant. In areas where bleach was used to clean, mold and bacteria returned with twice the CFU (colony-forming unit) counts than were present before bleaching.
- Building on the statements in #3, molds have roots (hyphae) and chlorine’s ion structure does not allow it to penetrate porous materials. So, when you use bleach, it stays on the surface area of whatever you are cleaning, while the water part of the solution just soaks through, and continues to feed the mold.
- Mold is insidious, just like bacteria. Many strains of mold, like Aspergillus,are now resistant to bleach. Ever heard of antibiotic-resistant bacteria? Well, the same issue has occurred over the years with mold. (A great article about this from a healthcare perspective, not so much in terms of bleach, though, can be found on the CDC website at this link.)
- Chlorine can leech through the plastic walls of some containers. Thus, the bleach that has been sitting on the grocery store shelves can lose much of its cleaning power by the time that you get it home. For example, after 90 days, an unopened bottle of bleach can lose 50% of its chlorine cleaning power, just from the chemical leech. Now imagine that same bottle sitting in your laundry room or cupboard. Not only can it become more and more ineffective over time, but the chemicals can also leech into your living environment.
- OSHA is the first federal agency to announce a departure from the use of chlorine bleach in mold remediation.
- The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) actually quotes that “the use of chlorine bleach is not recommended as a routine practice for mold clean up.”
- This last one doesn’t address mold, but, to me, it is the most persuasive reason not to use bleach to kill mold on this list: Bleach is corrosive. It is a strong irritant. It can irritate eyes, skin and the respiratory tract upon inhalation. The dangers of bleach are significant to your health and the health of your family. Mixing bleach with other cleaners, like vinegar, ammonia, and alcohol can create gases that are extremely dangerous to your health . (This is a good article about what cleaning products not to mix and why.
Now that you have read my extensive list of facts on why not to use bleach, I want to offer a list of what products you CAN use to clean for mold and why they are effective and not harmful to your health.
- The entire line of EC3 products from MicroBalance Health Products. They had independent lab testing done with the products that scientifically proves their ability to remove mold and mycotoxins. You can reference many of my previous posts about how to use these products in your home. I swear by the products and use them everyday. I prefer them over any others in this list or that I have tried. It is also difficult to find true lab testing on other natural products and their mold-killing ability.
- Grapefruit seed extract mixed with distilled water. This should not be wiped off, but sprayed on the area and left to dry. Grapefruit seed extract also has a long shelf life and is odorless.
- Vinegar and baking soda. There are many formulations listed out there, but I do caution you on this one. Vinegar has only been proven to kill 82% of mold species. I suggest only using it in conjunction with the baking soda. Baking soda will work to kill other mold species that that vinegar leaves behind. Use CAUTION, though.
Make sure to rinse the vinegar residue away completely before applying the baking soda. The baking soda can be made into a paste or a scrub, applied to the area, rubbed in and then rinsed away.
- Borax mixed with distilled water. The usual measurement is 1 cup of borax to 1 gallon of water. Borax works well against mold, because it is extremely alkaline. Mold likes to grow in acidic environments with very low pH levels. Borax has a pH of 9.3, so it works well to make mold die. The real problem with Borax is that on porous material, like wood or drywall, the water that it is mixed with can feed the mold if you over-saturated the area.
- Tea tree oil.
So, there you have it—my case against bleach to clean for mold. If you have any questions or want to ask about an application for any of the products that I recommend instead of bleach, please comment on this post or shoot me a message through Facebook.