When faced with leaving a toxic home, the idea of having to sort through your things before you embark upon your “new” life can be overwhelming. If you are also very sick, the tasks, even simple ones, can pile up, leading to anxiety, depression, and sometimes more illness.
I can definitely empathize. I lived this scenario. I was faced with leaving our home, all of our things, memories and personal items, even though I KNEW it was for the best. At that time, my husband was unwilling to concede. The mold just made me much sicker than it made him, so my body didn’t give me a choice. I took one bin of photos, scrapbooks and toiletries and our children and moved in with my sister for a few months.
My husband stayed behind and attempted to come to terms with what we were facing. Those were very hard times. I believe we both had to experience a grieving process before moving forward. Some of the emotional trauma that incurred still remains. I have made the choice for my sanity to move forward and live in the present and in thankfulness for my reclaimed health, rather than in the past dwelling on what I could have done differently.
If you are experiencing this, I am sure you have come up against conflicting advice in “expert” opinions about remediation, and what you can safely save and clean for mold and what you must discard. It felt “almost impossible” to know where to begin. For example, we all have many possessions that we love and have sentimental value, but we also don’t want to further risk our health by trying to save things that could make us sick or that could contaminate a new, safe environment.
The questions remain:
Who should you listen to?
Should you cut your losses no matter what or try to “clean” things for mold?
Recently, I got a version of these exact questions from a reader. Here is that email:
Hi! Thank you for all the valuable info on your website and Facebook page!! I have been sick for a few years. After many doctor visits and lab tests, we have finally just recently discovered that all of my problems are most likely due to mold in our home. We have been living in a 100-year-old cabin for the past four years that has a had a roof leak off and on for the last 10 years or so. We noticed one 5-foot spot on the living room ceiling recently turning dark and looking suspiciously moldy. Long story short, we ordered air test kits and found mold present in several rooms. The test kits showed Candida, cladosporium, aspergillus, microsporum, and nocardia present. We assume that the mold has probably gotten into the HVAC system. I have also been to the doctor, and my lab tests show I am suffering from mold toxin. We are building a new house and hope to be moving within the next few months. My doctor has recommended that we throw away everything “soft.” After doing our own research, we feel comfortable washing clothes and some furniture with the EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate. I wanted to ask your opinion about books and photographs. We homeschool, so books will be such an expensive replacement especially when we will need to be replacing some furniture and mattresses. I’m overwhelmed with the thoughts of all this. We are planning to move in with a friend until we can move to our new home. How would you recommend we protect ourselves while packing and cleaning out the cabin?
Also, just to clarify, we have not visually found any mold to be on any furniture or books or clothing. Just on the ceiling. Still trying to wrap our minds around the mycotoxins and how it’s like dust in the air. We are currently planning to trash all clothes except a few items we feel like we can manage to clean. Baby blankets, quilts for granny
Thank you so much for the info!! I’m so sorry for the lengthy message!!
Before I share my answer, in an effort of full disclosure, I want you to know that we basically got rid of everything, or left it behind. I didn’t know then what I know now, or have the tools that I have now to clean some things for mold successfully. I didn’t even know if saving anything was an option. I was at the very beginning of my mold journey.
Today, I look at things very differently. I have done years of research. I have tried hundreds of remediation products and have tested their efficacy, and have spoken with many remediation professionals, doctors, naturopaths, Building Biologists, and researchers in the field about what actually works and what is safe for human health. All of this has changed my perspective and has given me the ability to answer this reader with an informed opinion—not a professional opinion in anyway.
It is also important to note that every person is different. Mold affects each of us to varying degrees, and while I may be able to clean something that was exposed to mold and live with it without issue afterwards, another person may continue to react to something even after multiple cleanings. Thus, I strongly advise you to listen to your body first. Your body wants to be healthy and to protect itself. It is a beautiful machine. Trust it, and let go of anything that seems to make you sick.
With that said, here is all of the information I included in my reply to this reader:
First, even though you cannot see “visible” mold on the clothing, books, or other contents of your home, this does NOT matter and does NOT mean that those items are safe. Here are 2 reasons why:
1.) Mold spores, especially those of mycotoxin-producing molds like some that were found in your cabin are often invisible to the human eye. Mold spores are approximately 3-40 microns. A human hair is approximately 100 microns thick. Mold spores are so small that as many as 250,000 can fit on a pin head. A person can breathe in as many as 750,000 spores in an hour. The mycotoxin gasses emitted by the molds penetrate materials, are very sticky, and can make you very sick. Mycotoxins are proven to cause oxidative stress, permanent and irreversible DNA damage and are even linked to cancer in human beings. Many mycotoxins are also very potent neurotoxins, causing cognition, memory, and other debilitating neurological problems.
2.) Like all fungi, molds get their energy, not through photosynthesis but from the organic matter in which they live. They play a major role in decomposing organic material, enabling the recycling of nutrients throughout ecosystems. Many molds also secrete mycotoxins for protection, which, together with hydrolytic enzymes, inhibit the growth of competing microorganisms. Although molds grow on dead organic matter everywhere in nature, their presence is only visible to the unaided eye when mold colonies grow. These colonies can have Billions of spores. So, if you are actually seeing the mold on a wall, flooring, or on objects inside your home, you are dealing with a huge health issue.
During our ordeal, some of the items in our home with the highest mold counts looked perfectly clean and safe. Here is a link to a post that might explain this concept of how mold, even when not seen, can spread throughout your home: https://moldfreeliving.com/2017/12/23/diy-mold-remediation/
To this effect, anything that was inside of your cabin either needs to be cleaned properly, professionally sanitized, for mold and mycotoxins or be discarded. The price of miscalculation is very high, so you will need to test as you go and be diligent and careful. I cannot stress this enough. In other words, treat everything like it has lice, bedbugs, or a virus. If you frame it this way, the magnitude of the effort is harder to ignore.
As far as packing up the contents of your home, your health and safety are paramount. In order to safeguard your body from exposure, here is my advice:
1.) Do not enter the cabin without proper gear–Tyvek suit, disposable gloves, hair coverings, shoe covers, and a N95 mask. You can order a supply of this stuff from Amazon or get it from Home Depot or Lowe’s.
2.) Each time you enter, suit up outside first, and then enter. When you exit and are not re-entering anymore for that day or time, remove and discard all of the protective gear in a plastic garbage bag. Seal the bag and throw it away.
3.) Remove and bag all of the clothes that you wore underneath the gear. Change into clean clothing. When you get to where you have a washing machine, wash all of the bagged clothing with detergent and EC3 Laundry Additive. Do not return any of that clothing to your drawers or closet until you have done this.
Here is a link to a post about using the EC3 Laundry Additive, it also contains other links for laundry and one about cleaning your washing machine for mold, because you will need to do this to help prevent it from getting contaminated too.
4.) While you are cleaning or working with anything from your home, even outside, stay in your protective gear until you are finished. Lessons learned from the many good Samaritans that went to New Orleans to help Katrina victims demonstrate necessity of protective gear. Many who did not use it fell very sick.
Now for my suggestions about removing, remediating, or discarding the contents of your cabin:
1.) When in doubt, throw it out!
That should be the first pillar of your thinking throughout this process. No tangible item is worth losing your health nor all your new items and home. You have already come this far. You don’t want to have to start all over again, because of some contaminated item.
2.) Something to consider: A quality, licensed, mold remediator who is worth their salt will have all of these “contents” procedures set up for when they do this work for clients. They may not do it my way and with the same tools, but they will go through your home with you and attempt to remediate the items that you want to try to save. They will also help you determine which items are most likely to be successfully remediated. All of this does come with a price tag, but for some people, this may be the only way to go, because you do not have to purchase equipment, products, and tools or to re-enter the contaminated home. If you are very sick, I would recommend that you hire someone.
If you decide to allow the professionals to do this, make sure they are testing any items they remediated for mold, so that you can make sure they are safe before bringing them into your new home. If a remediator does not offer this as part of their services, do NOT hire them. I would also rent a storage unit, where the remediator can deliver the items after treatment. You can then be around them there to see if you have any issues before returning them to your new home. Does that make sense? Sometimes, you will find that you react to things, even after they have been treated. Trust your body. Discard anything that you react to. Nothing is worth debilitating mold illness.
As far as getting items you would like to try to keep out of the home, here is what I suggest:
Prior to beginning:
1.) Set up a “staging area” in your garage, carport, or other covered area outside of your home where you can physically get things out of the home, assess them, and attempt to remediate the things you feel are worth it.
2.) Purchase large plastic bins with lids that seal to put contents you wish to try to save inside. The lids must completely seal to keep things air tight. This will allow you to transport things inside the bins without the risk of cross contamination.
3.) You will also need a HEPA vacuum with a hose and upholstery attachments and a handheld steamer. (I like the Housmile Anti-Bacterial UV Vacuum Cleaner with HEPA Filtration, because it provides antimicrobial and mold protection, and the Smart Living Steam Jr., because it is very mobile and retains steam heat at 135 degrees F.) The vacuum and steamer are for cleaning upholstered items.
4.) The last major item you need before you begin is a Sanitizer Fogger and EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate. You will need multiple bottles of the EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate. One bottle makes about 1 gallon of cleaning solution to be used in a spray bottle or in the fogger. The fogger is a must if you are going to attempt to do remediation yourself. (If you use the link, you can get a special package discount for MoldFreeLiving.com readers.) I use mine weekly, so realize that this is an investment that you will continue to need and to use. I use mine for mold maintenance in our home.
5.) I would also suggest fogging your staging area prior to starting, if any part of it is enclosed.
Contents Removal and Remediation Process:
1.) Remove all clothing and linens from the house. Take it out of the closets and drawers and put it into the plastic bins. Close the bins and get them all outside into your staging area. Most dry-clean only items should probably be discarded. If there are dry clean only items, that you would like to save, HERE is a link to a technique that does work for dry clean items that can be fogged and dried at a high temp. There are also some dry-cleaning companies that offer a “mold treatment” for these items. I personally have never had success with items treated by the cleaners. It may be worth checking out, though.
2.) Once in the garage, fog the outside of the bins, and keep them sealed. Allow them to air dry. (All of the fogging is to make sure you aren’t putting the mold into your car when you are trying to transport this stuff.) Then, transport the clothing to a place where you can launder it. Wash all clothing in the hottest water it can handle with detergent and EC3 Laundry Additive. All clothing we have treated this way has been fine for us. I even treated some of my daughter’s stuffed animals this way with total success. HERE is a link to treating stuffed animals for mold, if you are interested.
3.) Get rid of all pillows, comforters and duvets, and mattresses. Discard lampshades as well. These items are extremely difficult to save. Some professional remediators do have techniques, but anything with an inner stuffing has many layers to remediate, and it is almost impossible to reach all of those layers. I wouldn’t chance it.
4.) For any other “contents,” suit up, go inside, place it in a bin, seal the bins, and bring it into the staging area. Once there, remove it from your bin, fog it, and allow it to air dry.
5.) If you can utilize the sun, bring things out into the sunshine to dry. Sunshine on a hot day is often the best sanitizer.
6.) For wood or non-porous furniture, remove it from the home and bring it to your staging area. Non-upholstered furniture can be wiped down with a spray made from the EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate and distilled water, or can be fogged. Just make certain to get every nook and cranny and underside.
7.) Upholstered furniture is more difficult. You must HEPA vacuum it first. The dust that gets into the upholstery has lots of mold spores in it. Some items can be fogged. Remember, though, that upholstered items have “stuffing,” so not only is the mold in the fabric, but also in the insides of the item. The only way we were able to save any upholstered pieces was to fog them, and then thoroughly steam them with a handheld steamer. HERE is a link to a post on cleaning upholstered furniture for mold.
8.) I would get rid of any loose cushions and area or throw rugs that are not washable. I have not had success with cleaning any after several tries.
9.) For books, magazines and some photos, I’ve heard of using the microwave, or an oven at 180° F. I’ve also heard of freezing to make the mold dormant and then HEPA vacuuming. I encourage you to research this, because I have not done much experimenting or cleaning these items myself. I would throw out any you do not absolutely love or need. If possible, you could try removing the books and photos from the home as you have done before with other things. You could lay them out and fog them. Then, allow them to air dry. I would remove the outer cover of the books first, and possibly even remove the binding, so that the moisture can escape easier. When they dry, you can have them rebound, or do it yourself. Regardless of what you decide to do, just make sure to TAP test the books and photos with EC3 Mold Screening Test Plates afterwards to make sure they don’t have mold before you bring them in your new home. I did deal with some textbooks and had success calling our local school and reaching out to the textbook publisher. I told both our situation, and was able to get some replacement books free of charge. They were incredibly understanding and generous. You just have to ask.
- Additionally, for photos, I scanned all of the photos in our photo books, and then reprinted those I wanted in our new home. I actually discarded all but a handful of our photo prints. This is a time-consuming process, but one that is necessary to preserve memories. If you don’t have a scanner, you can take the photos or photo books to a Kinko’s and they will copy or scan and print the whole lot for you, if you like. Just make sure they discard the originals. If you are transporting any of these materials in your car, make sure they are safely contained in an airtight bin.
I know this process is tedious, and will take multiple sessions and days. I encourage you to stick with it. You should only be doing this with things that you really want to save. It is healthier and easier to discard things that you don’t absolutely need or want to preserve.
Have I helped?
A long post, but I hope it benefits some of you. If you have any questions or a situation that you would like help with and to share, please comment here on the blog or on Facebook, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.