A leaking or overflowing toilet is a household calamity that can initiate the perfect environment for mold incubation and growth. Most people react by resolving the clog, and thoroughly cleaning and mopping the floors all around the toilet and bathroom—anywhere the overflow water touched. Areas that may be overlooked are the baseboards behind and/or to either side of the toilet, that also come into contact with the dirty water. Because the baseboards are made of porous, natural material—usually wood—they tend to absorb the water and become Petri dishes for mold and bacteria.
Fragrance is a huge thing for me. It has actually been one of the hardest things to let go of when going non-toxic and natural in our home. I miss the lovely floral, fresh linen and ocean breeze scents of some of the old cleaning products I used to use. Most of those smells in store-bought cleaning products are from chemical and synthetic sources, though, so they are no longer an option for my family.
Now that I am making a huge effort to combat mold, in addition to removing toxins from our cleaning products, I am in an even harder position. Those “clean” smells that most people are used to in their laundry, are not a choice for me. In fact, most of those fragrances actually permeate your clothes and can be hard to remove. The perfumes can also seal in bacteria, making biological odors, like body and food odors difficult to remove. So, even though your laundry is fragranced with “fresh linen,” it is, in fact, full of biological odors. That’s pretty gross, right?!!
It is also notable that, because many fragrance compounds are considered “trade secrets” in the fragrance industry, companies are not required to display the list of what comprises the scent on the packaging. For example, on the back of a Crystal Rain-scented Windex bottle, the list of ingredients reads as follows: Water, cleaning agents, carriers, wetting agent, pH adjuster, fragrance, dyes, SCJ formula #35 17344. What? Does that tell you anything about what is in the product? Not me. I have less understanding than before I read it!
After concerns started to arise about these chemicals and how much was unknown about them, in 2008, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) issued a master list of over 3,100 known chemicals that are used by the fragrance industry. Among those on the list are carcinogens, hormone disruptors like galaxolide and tonalide (both synthetic musks), the phthalates diethyl phthalate (DEP) and di-isononyl phthalate (DINP), which have been shown to cause reproductive and developmental harm in laboratory animals, and are linked to similar impacts in humans, and disinfectants, like triclosan and ammonium quaternary compounds, which might contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs, interfere with hormone regulation, or be harmful to the immune system. Not surprisingly, numerous allergens are also included in the list. That list alone is enough to terrify me. Unfortunately, there is no data provided on how commonly these chemicals are used, by what amount, or even by type of fragranced product. That’s even scarier to me.
In my previous post, I discussed properly cleaning your washing machine the “mold-safe” way. Honestly, though, even if you are not focused on mold, having a clean, disinfected washing machine will do wonders to improve the health of your home, and the smell of your laundry room, clothing, bedding, towels, etc.
In today’s post, I will focus on actually cleaning your clothes and other textiles, in order to combat all of the odors that sometimes seem to stick with us a little more than we would like. Also, now that we have discussed the two types of odors—chemical and biological—we are going to try to tackle getting rid of the odors that become trapped in your clothing and other laundry. The smells that people tend to be most adverse to, seem to be the biological ones, but I also want to discuss chemical odors in textiles.
First, I want to say that my nose has become extremely sensitive to any sort of chemical smells. I think it is a result of being a watchdog for my son. His skin reacts with an allergic response almost instantly to some chemicals, and his sensory processing issues become magnified and inhibit him from functioning normally when chemicals are in his food and in the air around him. As I understand it, the chemical smells most commonly found on clothing and textiles are plastic odors from packaging and odors due to the presence of chemicals applied to the fibers during their cultivation or manufacturing. For example, a non-water-soluble form of formaldehyde has become a common chemical treatment applied to some 100%-cotton items. Most of these items are labeled “wrinkle resistant,” and if you are chemically sensitive, I would avoid these types of fabrics. Chemical pigments and dyes can also be odor-causing culprits.
I know from experience that packing things incorrectly can lead to mold and to the ruin of many treasures. Moving elevates mold awareness to a whole new level, because you are moving from an environment that you have safeguarded against mold into a new environment that is sometimes unknown or open to mold. Moving also introduces mold-conducive environments to your things in trucks, packing materials, storage units, the list can go on and on. Here are my dos and don’ts to packing, storing, and doing it correctly to avoid bringing mold into your new home:
Do—Get Rid of Unnecessary Items: Before you start packing, make yourself get rid of things! Go through rooms, closets, and current storage. If you don’t use it now, haven’t used it in the past year, or didn’t even know it was there, I suggest you give it away, sell it, donate it, or throw it out. Anytime items are lying around unused, they promote dust. Dust is organic material; thus, food for mold and mites. If you have rooms that are full to the brim with storage, many times, you do not notice mold until it has already become a problem. Getting rid of unnecessary things will reduce your workload, ensuring that you do not take mold into your new home. Also, when you go through your storage before moving, or when you are unpacking your things in your new home, check for anything that smells musty. If it smells, get rid of it. It already has mold, and you don’t want that in your new home. (Note: there are some items that can be safely cleaned. I have included advice for that later in this article.)
Do—Make sure all clothing and textiles are completely dry before packing or storing. This step is imperative to prevent mold and mildew from forming, especially in sealed containers. I would also advise washing your clothes with the EC3 Laundry Additive, or a homemade mold solution, like adding half a cup of Borax to hot water, fully dissolving the Borax, and then pouring the solution into your washing machine, to ensure mold is removed, prior to packing. If you have mold in your home and are moving away from it, washing clothes in a machine separate from the home with mold solution is advised.
Do—Use plastic tubs and containers to pack and store your things. Corrugated cardboard boxes can absorb and retain moisture; thus, they also deteriorate over time. If there is any type of moisture intrusion where they are stored, they can get wet. If this happens, everything inside the boxes will potentially be ruined, because the boxes absorb the water. Worse yet, if you have wet boxes, unless they are completely dried out, you will eventually have moldy boxes. Whenever possible, use bubble wrap to wrap your breakables over newsprint or paper. Both newsprint and paper have been shown to harbor mold. If you have to use cardboard boxes for the short-term to just get things from one place to another, try to unpack them as quickly as possible, and dispose of them outside of your new home, rather than storing them in a basement or an attic. Empty boxes lying around can create a serious mold issue.
Do—Make sure any self-storage units you are using are climate controlled. This feature will help to keep the air temperature constant, and your things better ventilated.
Do—Place a dehumidifier and an electric fan in your basement, attic or storage unit to help keep moisture out and the air moving. Also helpful are moisture-absorbing desiccants, like cat litter and charcoal grill bricks. These items can be placed in an open plastic bucket in your basement, or storage space, and will absorb excess moisture. You will need to empty the bucket and restore it with new litter or bricks every 30 days.
Do—Clean, dry thoroughly and treat any kitchen appliances for mold prior to packing or storing. These items should be cleaned and treated with a solution to kill mold, like, peroxide, baking soda, or EC3 Mold solution. Any of those solutions will also prevent mold growth while your items are not being used and stored.
Don’t—Stockpile newspapers, paper bags, or magazines. Try to keep only what is necessary and has sentimental value. Store these in labeled plastic containers. Any kind of organic material sitting around is potential food for moisture and mold. Just use discretion with what you keep, and scan the rest or store electronically.
Don’t place storage boxes directly on the floor. When placing your things in a storage unit or in your basement, place the boxes on raised pallets or on top of a moisture barrier over the flooring. This will prevent all of your things from being ruined if there is a leak or flooding. If your storage boxes are off of the floor, they are safer from water intrusion.
Don’t—Crowd closet walls with storage or packed boxes. Ventilation is critical, even in closets! After those boxes are packed, try to leave them spaced out in open rooms, rather than all stacked on top of one another in a closet. If the air cannot move, moisture can take hold and produce mold and mildew.
Those are my tips, and I will be using each and every one as we ready our family for our move. I will also follow up with checklists for finding a new home or rental to ensure that you are not entering a moldy environment. If I happen upon any new tips in the moving process for packing and storing, I’ll be sure to update the blog.
“More than 6 million children in the U.S have asthma and children’s asthma risk more than doubles if their homes smell of mold, as much as 2.5 times.”
Sometimes it can be easy to ignore my body when it starts displaying symptoms of illness. I tend to push onward in the hopes that it will just go away, or that I will feel better on my own. But, when my children appear to be getting sick, or seem negatively affected by something in our home environment, I am all over it. It’s funny how when it involves my children, I am a lioness protecting my cubs.
We’ve all been there—at the gym, in the supermarket, or at a sporting event, and that all-too-familiar musty, mildew smell is coming from someone’s clothing. I was once in a boot camp class at our gym, and a woman’s clothing next to me smelled so stinky that I had to move away from her to continue the class. I was working hard and breathing heavily anyway, so the added odor was hard to take. My point here is that anyone can fall prey to mildew and moldy clothing, towels, fabrics. I don’t want that to be me and my family. Today, I’m going to teach you how to clean your washing machine for mold and bacteria. (This will be Part I of a two-part series on laundry.)
This happens to me more often than I’d like to admit, because I’m so conscious of my environment and mold, but I’ll be cleaning my kitchen and come over to where I keep my dish sponge and counter sponges and I’ll smell it—that funky moldy, mildew smell. The minute it hits me, I know I have let my sponges sit too long. They are full of mold, and they smell really bad. Now what? How can I clean my sponges for mold and bacteria?
Shoes can be gross. We wear them everywhere. They pick up everything on them from everywhere, and then we think nothing of walking straight into our homes without removing them, only to track everywhere and everything all over our carpets and rugs. Get the picture? So, although the practice seems to be relatively uncommon in most Western countries, you may want to be the first of your friends to start a trend of taking your shoes off before entering your home.