What is Mold?

What is Mold?
Molds are simple, microscopic organisms that are needed for breaking down dead materials, acting as nature’s decomposers. Molds produce microscopic cells called “spores,” which are very tiny and lightweight, allowing them to travel through the air.

Live spores act like seeds, forming new mold growths (or colonies) when they find the right conditions. Growths can often be seen in the form of discoloration, ranging in color from white to orange and from green to brown to black. Most people believe that mold exists only when they can see it growing; however, the fact is that mold spores are always present.

Molds can multiply by producing microscopic spores, similar to the seeds produced by plants. Many spores are so small they easily float through the air and can be carried for great distances by even the gentlest breezes. The number of mold spores suspended in indoor and outdoor air fluctuates from season to season, day to day, and even hour to hour.

Mold spores are found both indoors and outdoors. Mold spores cannot be eliminated from indoor environments. Some mold spores will be found floating through the air and in settled dust; however, they will not grow if moisture is not present.

Mold is not usually a problem indoors — unless mold spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing. As molds grow they digest whatever they are growing on. Unchecked mold growth can damage buildings and furnishings; molds can rot wood, damage drywall, and eventually cause structural damage to buildings. Mold can cause cosmetic damage, such as stains, to furnishings. The potential human health effects of mold are also a concern. It is important, therefore, to prevent mold from growing indoors.

What is Toxic Mold?
Toxic mold is a type of mold that produces hazardous byproducts, called mycotoxins. While individuals with asthma and other respiratory problems may have reactions to many types of mold, it’s thought that mycotoxins are more likely to trigger health problems in even healthy individuals. These toxins are believed to be linked to memory loss and to severe lung problems in infants and the elderly.

Floating particles of mold are invisible to the naked eye, so it’s impossible to see where they might have landed until they begin to grow. Loose mold particles that accumulate on items within a house are easily inhaled and can be a constant irritation to the people and pets who live there.

The toxic mold we hear most about is Stachybotrys chartarum, a slimy, greenish-black mold that grows on moisture-laden materials that contain cellulose, such as wood, paper, drywall, and other similar products. It does not grow on tile or cement.

Even if the mold in your home is not toxic mold, it can still be a problem, because any mold growing on organic materials will in time destroy them–and too much mold of any type smells bad and degrades air quality.

Why and Where Mold Grows
Mold can grow on virtually any organic material as long as moisture and oxygen are present. There are molds that grow on wood, paper, carpet, food, and insulation. Because mold eats or digests what it is growing on, it can damage a building and its furnishings. If left unchecked, mold eventually can cause structural damage to building materials.
Molds gradually destroy the things they grow on. You can prevent damage to buildings and building contents, save money, and avoid potential health problems by controlling moisture and eliminating mold growth.
Eliminating all mold and mold spores indoors is virtually impossible, but controlling indoor moisture will control the growth of indoor mold.

How Mold Grows
Like all living things, mold spores need certain conditions to reproduce and grow. Mold needs water, food, and the right temperature range. Mold grows better in a dark environment, and with an organic, porous material to grow on. Such material often provides a source of both food and water.

Unfortunately, buildings provide an almost ideal environment to support the growth of mold. The typical temperatures are right, and there are plenty of dark places and organic substances. Just add water, and you’ve created a perfect mold breeding ground.

Sources of Indoor Moisture
The following are sources of indoor moisture that may cause problems:

flooding
backed-up sewers
leaky roofs
humidifiers
mud or ice dams
damp basement or crawl spaces
constant plumbing leaks
house plants
steam from cooking
shower/bath steam and leaks
wet clothes on indoor drying lines
clothes dryers vented indoors
combustion appliances such as stoves not exhausted to the outdoors

While mold needs only water, food, and the right temperature to begin growing, the following characteristics can influence growth:

Relative humidity of approximately 50% or higher
Stagnant air
Airtight structures
Damp areas or products (towels, rags, clothes)
Incompletely/improperly cleaned areas where mold has infested
Low nitrogen concentrations in the air or soil