Hidden, Indoor Sources of Mold That Can Keep Mold-Sensitive People Sick
If you are someone who has dealt with mold or environmental illness, you know firsthand how difficult it can be to finally feel safe and secure again in your home, especially if your home is where you became sick in the first place. Even after a major mold remediation, it is easy to sometimes feel like you are just one step away from another mold catastrophe or from finding that one place inside your home that was not fixed and cleaned properly and that still triggers your symptoms. One statistic a heard mentioned during a podcast interview with Dr. Jill Crista, ND, is that one out of every three of her mold patients remain symptomatic due to failed or insufficient mold remediation. They thought they had taken care of the mold problem but remained sick and not improving until additional cleaning work was done, or they found the mold source that had been missed the first go around.
One in three odds that a mold remediation will fail is obviously a very scary statistic, especially since the cost of the work can be large and usually comes with zero guarantees or free do-overs attached. I know that when I returned to our home post mold remediation, I still felt symptomatic and like my throat and sinuses were closing and swelling when I would enter some rooms or be around certain belongings. At the time, I felt like my body had transformed into sort of a divining rod for mold. One whiff of a musty room or a piece of furniture that smelled “off”, and I would feel mold symptoms and anxiety build inside of my body. And, while I do believe that a lot of what I was feeling was brought on by “mold PTSD” and the fight or flight response triggered just by being back inside of my home at the “scene of the crime”, so to speak, where my life and my health had taken such a horrible downturn, I also know now that there were some lingering, hidden locations where I was still having mold exposures. Those areas turned out to be small and not major leaks or water damage, but they were exposures all the same, and my body, because it desperately wanted to heal, was NOT having it.
How Did I Know I Was Still Being Exposed?
It took almost 6 months for us to fully remediate our home and to make it safe enough for us to move back in. We literally gutted almost all interior walls and ceilings, and replaced the HVAC system, the ductwork, and all of the attic insultation. We also got rid of most of our furniture and belongings. We redid roofing, gutters, and downspouts, and even replaced our garage door. (Note: Now that I know so much more than I did back then, I do NOT think it is always necessary to discard all furnishings and belongings. While each case is different, many things can be successfully and safely cleaned.) In a sense, this made it easier to find where I was still reacting, because reentering a clean slate and an empty home made the rooms and items that were still irritating my body quickly apparent. More importantly, though, during the environmental inspection and remediation processes, I learned a lot about two important pieces of the puzzle when searching for the source of a mold exposure:
- Where mold likes to grow—anywhere there is moisture, less light, less airflow, and organic material to feed on;
- How my body reacts to mold when I am around it—throat closing, sinus pressure, highly agitated, and almost instant onset of brain fog.
Overtime, I was able to use those 2 puzzle pieces to put together where those lingering exposures were occurring. The cool thing is that when you know where the exposures are, you can usually use tools and proven methods to clean or fix them. Then, the result is not a failed remediation, but a home that you and your family can live in as you regain your health.
An Inconvenient Truth About Mold Remediation
Before I move on to telling you about where those hidden exposures were for me and my family, I do want to address sort of the dark secret of any mold remediation no matter who does it and how great that person or company is at their job: If you have mold or environmental illness, it sometimes takes more than the initial mold remediation to fully take your home back from mold. In other words, the best remediator can come in and do the best job fixing and removing the mold from your home, but after that, you will need to practice mold hygiene and mold maintenance to continue to progress yourself forward. Because your body is now sensitized to mold, avoidance in all forms will be your greatest ally. The effort and the amount of work required will definitely vary from home to home, person to person, and depends on how big the mold problem was and on how long it went on in the home, etc. No matter the details, though, I believe it is important to begin cleaning your home and maintaining your home with preventing mold in mind. The silver lining is that you discovered the mold and discovered it was making you sick. You have a leg up, because you know your enemy, mold. So, now you will need to take it seriously, and to look for and address it wherever it continues to pop up and affect your health.
Potential, Lingering Sources of Mold Exposure in Your Home
This leads me to my list of places where I encountered mold in our home after we had moved back in. None of these places were areas where we looked for major mold problems. Some of these places would have never even occurred to as potentially problematic before we got sick. Maybe if the mold had not taken us out, they would have never bothered us. I guess I will never know. The point is that when we returned, I discovered them because one or more of us was reacting and still had lingering mold symptoms, even though our home was now considered “safe” by environmental mold and mycotoxin testing standards. My hope is that by sharing my experience, it will enlighten anyone who is at home and still struggling to get and feel well. Reading this list may give you your “Aha Moment” that leads you to the source of the problem. Maybe I can help you save time spinning your wheels.
Places in Your Home Where You Could (Still) Be Getting Exposed to Mold:
- Your refrigerator water and ice dispensers. How many times, if ever, have you looked closely at where you are getting your ice and water? If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and take a good look. If there is mold growing there, and you are using those dispensers daily, they need to be cleaned. HERE is my post on how to do it.
- Your bathroom and kitchen sink faucets. This can be a big source of exposure for children especially. My kids used to drink out of our bathroom sink when they brushed their teeth or woke in the night. I never thought to look at the faucet until I saw my son drinking from it. His GI symptoms were still terrible when we moved back in. When I looked, I found that the aerator on the bathroom faucet was black with mold. When my husband opened and removed it, I could not believe the gunk. After I cleaned the kids’ faucet, I did our master bathroom and kitchen sink as well. Now each time I clean, I also clean the underside where the water comes out to prevent this from happening again. I steam blasted the aerator to clean it and then use the EC3 Spray on it weekly to keep it clean. I suggest cleaning them a few times a year, especially if you are mold sensitive.
- Bathroom/kitchen sink stoppers and drains. How many times do you pull up your sink stoppers and see hair and black gunk on them? Well, not only is it on them, but it is also is the drain itself and can even be in the pipes. If you are leaning over your sink to brush your teeth and wash your face and feeling mold symptoms, this is usually your culprit. It is a good idea to treat all your drains once per month with a enzymatic cleaner that dissolves hair and mold. Hydrogen peroxide is also a wonderful way to tackle this problem.
- Refrigerator drain pans and coils. A refrigerator can actually harbor a lot of dust, mold and bacteria, that you never see. Home and environmental inspector Jeff May clued me into this in our interview. Many people do not realize that when your refrigerator fan turns on, whatever is on the coil and in that drip pan is blowing all over your kitchen and into the air in your home. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to access the coil and HEPA vacuum all of the dust off of it and clean it thoroughly. If you have a handheld steamer that can blast concentrated steam, that is a great non-toxic way to clean it. It is also smart to move your fridge away from the wall periodically to check to make sure it isn’t leaking where you cannot see it.
- The undersides of furnishings. I don’t know what kind of a housekeeper you are, but until my mold ordeal, I dusted, vacuumed, and did “normal” cleaning. I never thought to look under furniture. If you ever stored any of your furnishings in an attic or basement before bringing them inside, make sure to turn things over to check them. If there is humidity, dust, and moisture, many times, mold can grow on the underside of wood tables, chairs, etc., and go completely unnoticed and undetected. Then, anytime you eat at that table or sit in that chair, you get mold symptoms. Walk around your home and notice these unseen places. If you see mold growth, not only address it by cleaning the furniture thoroughly with something like EC3 Mold Spray, but also address any humidity issues that could be contributing to the problem in the first place.
- Your dishwasher. Our dishwashers are designed to clean our dishes, but they need cleaning too. Periodically, you need to remove and clean the screen in the bottom of your dishwasher and the gasket around the door. This piece is usually rubber and creates the seal. These remain wet and with the addition of food residue can harbor lots of mold and bacteria. If you react every time you open the dishwasher, this is likely your culprit. HERE is my post on some dishwasher hacks. Dishwashers can also easily leak into the wall and cabinetry around them. If you clean your dishwasher and still notice lingering smells, you may need to investigate further.
- Your garbage disposal. Because we put both food waste and water in our garbage disposals, they can become reservoirs for mold and bacteria. Your garbage disposal needs to be maintained just like you maintain any other area in your home. It must also be treated with a cleaning solution designed to combat mold and bacteria periodically. One of the best and easiest ways that I have learned to clean ours is by using our kitchen sink stopper to fill the sink with warm, soapy water and one full cup of EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate. As the sink drains, run the disposal until all of the water is gone. Sometimes, if the situation is more pronounced and cleaning does not get rid of a smell or mold, you will need to replace the garbage disposal entirely–which is not hard, but is a bigger deal.
- Interior framing and ledges around windows. Windows can be sources of condensation and water intrusion. If your windows are leaking, are improperly flashed on the outside, or are broken, they will need to be fixed or replaced. This is a big job and is often looked for by an inspector as a source of mold. In fact, we had to have many of ours replaced. When replaced, usually the window casing and surround is replaced, but the wood frame on the inside of the home is left. If water ever came inside or condensed on the inside of your windows, all of the interior framing around the window needs to be thoroughly cleaned and wiped down with something that will treat mold. If the windows were properly fixed, cleaning will often solve the problem. If there is an ongoing water issue of any kind, the mold will return, though. My advice is to clean the entire window surround and frame with something like a peroxide cleaner, Benefect, or EC3 and then watch very carefully for any discoloration or mold growth afterwards. If it comes back, you need to look into where the moisture is still coming from and figure out how to solve it. Windows are wonderful, but not when they are making you sick!
Did reading my list turn on any lightbulbs? Did it make you go investigate and find a moldy culprit? In no way is my list meant to cause more anxiety and fear. I hope it will cause action and bring renewed health. I wholeheartedly believe that a home can be made safe for a “moldy” person. I made ours so, and believe that with enough knowledge, anyone can do the same.
Thank you for this article – I am in the process of a remediation and you added some other places that I need to be sure to clean. I would also add the toilet (to include the water tank) to this list. I’ve also read that mold in the toilet can be a canary in the coal mine of a different mold source, too (mold spores from another source land in the toilet and grow). Love your content!
Thank you, Bonnie!
My husband and I have heard conflicting information about mycotoxins. And it’s not quite clear, at least to me, what the differences are (if any) between mycotoxins and mold spores.
My husband seems to think (from different things he’s read) that even if you were to HEPA vacuum my little stuffed teddy bear, for example, and suck out all the mold spores, that it would still be soaked in mycotoxins. And that that is the real problem – that everything is soaked in mycotoxins. So even if you get the mold spores off, it’s still going to be creating a reaction with our bodies.
The only visible mold in our bedroom was in two corners, and all around the windowsill. If there isn’t visible mold on our belongings, is it OK to just vacuum them or dust them? Or do they all need to be thrown out? It’s quite confusing.
Could you comment on that? Or is that beyond your scope? Not sure who to ask or who would be an expert…
Mycotoxins are the secondary toxic metabolites given off by some molds. Not all molds produce mycotoxins. Ever heard of VOCs–volatile organic compounds? Well, mycotoxins are MVOCS. They are like the smoke damage after a fire. The flames are gone, but the smoke damage goes deep and lingers on even after the fire is put out. You have to take the mycotoxins into consideration with all of the cleaning done after relocation or remediation bec can cause lingering contamination or illness. Mold spores are not illness-causing or inflammatory to all people, but mycotoxins are. Mold spores just from the outside or from molds that are toxic can easily be vacuumed and cleaned. Mycotoxins need more care and consideration. That is why it is important to test and to know what type of mold you are dealing with to know how much cleaning and how extensive you need to get with your belongings. I hope that helps and makes more sense.
How often should peroxide be put down the drains? I have moldy drains and have used enzyme cleaner and enzyme sticks but the mold is still there….how do l get it to “stay” and clean the mold? The mold grows up the drain so the liquid just goes past it.
Hmmmm. Do you know why there is such a mold issue in the drains? I suspect you need to have your drains snaked first by a plumber. You might have some sort of build-up that needs to be cleared first. I do peroxide down ours twice a month. Basically every other week.
Take the shower head off of your shower and look inside the pipe. There will be slimy grey or black film in there. Apparently that is one of the places where Legionnaire’s hides, too.
Great tip! Thank you!