Fans of the animated series “South Park” have watched young Kenny McCormick die over 100 times in a variety of ways. This has got us wondering – Could mold kill Kenny? In this article we will explore what causes mold, how to remove it, how to prevent it, the health risks related to exposure to mold, and finally, weigh in on the question “Could mold kill Kenny?”

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What is mold?

What is Mold?
Mold growing in a Petri dish.

Mold is a multicellular fungus that grows and multiplies as microscopic spores, attaching itself to walls, flooring and other materials in your home. Some species of molds are beneficial to mankind but in certain places and circumstances, mold can be quite harmful. When you see or suspect mold growing inside your home, would you know what to do? Your health could very well depend on it.

Where does mold grow?

Where does mold grow?
Mold growing on the back of drywall.

Mold grows year-round, inside and outside, on dead plant and animal matter, and particularly in warm, moist places such as basements, crawl spaces and shower stalls.

Other places that mold is commonly found are:

  • in air ducts
  • behind walls that house plumbing
  • on drywall, baseboards and flooring that have been exposed to leaks
  • around water heaters, bathtubs and showers
  • in refrigerators, dishwashers and washing machines
  • on carpeting and carpet pads that have gotten wet
  • on furniture and drapes that have been exposed to moisture
  • under kitchen and bathroom sinks
  • in bathrooms, saunas and other places that are exposed to moisture or warm, moist air

What creates mold in our homes?

What causes mold to grow in a house?
Mold caused by moisture in the house.

Mold requires the following ingredients to grow and thrive:

  • Warmth
  • Food
  • Oxygen
  • Moisture

Warmth

Mold spores can grow and spread in temperatures between 32 and 120°F but they thrive best in warm temperatures between 70 and 90°F. Temperature is not a major factor in preventing mold, except in food storage. Freezer temperatures should be set below 39°F to prevent mold growth in food.

Food

Environmental food sources for mold growth are any organic-based materials such as wood, drywall, tile, stainless steel, fabrics, insulation, and paper products.

Oxygen

Mold is a living organism and needs oxygen to survive. Access to air, even in small amounts, allows mold to grow.

Moisture

The main ingredient necessary for mold to grow and thrive is moisture. Moisture is the variable that is not constantly present in the home, so controlling moisture is essential in preventing the growth of mold. High humidity areas like the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, and basement, are areas that are susceptible to mold growth. Besides high humidity, other causes of moisture collection include poor insulation, roof leaks, pipe leaks, leaky appliances, and flooded basements.

How Do I Know If I Have Mold in My Home?

Detecting mold in your home.
Mold is visibly present in this kitchen.

There are some simple ways to tell if your home has possible mold growth. Three ways to assess for molds are sight, smell, and water damage.

Sight

Mold spores are what give mold their various colors. Mold colors will depend on the type of mold and where it is growing but you’ll recognize it when you see the tell-tale splotches of black, brown, green, and other colors in moist, humid areas.

Smell

Indoor mold smells like a damp, musty, old room. The odor can vary depending on the type of mold and where it is growing. The smell is produced by organic compounds in growing mold. These compounds have been linked to certain health issues, including headaches, dizziness, and nausea.

Water damage

Evidence of water damage from leaky pipes, leaky roofs, past flooding, and other forms of water intrusion are indicators that mold is very likely to be present, even though it may not be visible.

Should I Try to Remove Mold Myself?

DIY Mold Removal
Homeowner removing mold with sponge and an over-the-counter mold removal product.

You observe mold growing in your shower or in the grout around your tub and you are instantly grossed out. However, is it safe to remove the mold yourself?

Visible mold growing in high humidity areas, such as bathrooms and laundry rooms, can usually be safely removed. Wear gloves and a mask, and use an over-the-counter mold removal product to get rid of mold on tiles and grout. Replace the calk if necessary.

If mold is growing in a small area of porous material, such as drywall, it can be wiped down with a mold removal product and the affected area removed and placed in a sealed bag before disposal. Mold on porous surfaces that covers an area greater than 10 sq. ft. should be handled by a mold remediation specialist.

DIY Mold Removal – When is it Safe to Remove Mold?

You should always consider your options carefully when deciding how to handle mold removal due to the potential health risks involved. Removing mold yourself should only be attempted in certain circumstances, such as when

  • the mold is limited to visible areas,
  • the mold is growing on hard, non-porous surfaces, such as bathtubs, sinks and tile,
  • the mold growth on a porous surface is limited to a small area,
  • you are aware of the proper precautions, for example, wearing masks and enclosing the affected area with plastic, and
  • you do not have health problems that can be exacerbated by exposure to mold.
Can’t I Just Use Bleach?

Your first impulse may be to grab a bottle of bleach when you find mold growing on surfaces in your home, but that is generally not a good idea. Why? Three reasons are:

  1. Bleach is corrosive and can be harmful to surfaces in general. Although bleach can kill surface mold on hard materials such as porcelain, it is ineffective on porous materials such as wood, drywall, and carpet where mold has spread deep under the surface.
  2. After the chlorine has evaporated, the water in bleach will penetrate into a porous material and actually promote further growth of mold, making your problem worse than when you began.
  3. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has stopped recommending bleach as a safe way to remove mold, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has changed its recommendations on the use of bleach to kill household mold as detailed in their comprehensive guide about mold (See EPA’s Mold Guide).

Should I Get a Mold Inspection?

Mold Inspections and Testing
Mold Inspection – Measuring the moisture of a moldy wall.

Mold inspections or mold testing is really only necessary if you have reasons to suspect that you may have a mold problem, but you have not SEEN the mold. You may want to hire a mold inspection company if you experience any of the following:

  • You detect the smell of mold
  • You have water leaks from plumbing, appliances, or other sources
  • You have other water issues such as basement flooding
  • You have health concerns that lead you to believe you may have mold in your home
  • You have had mold removal done and want to ensure that mold counts are normal
  • You want to ensure that there are no issues with mold when buying or selling a home

If you do need to have a mold inspection done, it is advisable to hire a professional who is experienced in evaluating mold samples and interpreting results. It is not advisable to use Do-It-Yourself home test kits which have been shown to be unreliable and difficult to interpret.

When Should I Call a Mold Remediation Service?

Mold Removal and Remediation
Mold removal specialists with respirator mask.

You notice a large area of mold growing on your drywall and the surrounding trim molding. Your first impulse is to call your handyman, who always gives you a reasonable estimate. However, mold removal is a serious issue and should be done by a professional who is trained in nationally recognized industry guidelines. This will prevent possible contamination of your home. Mold remediation specialists have the expertise, experience, and equipment to evaluate the extent your your mold problem and remove it safely so that it does not become airborne and spread throughout your house.

Call a mold removal specialist when:

  • you detect the odor of mold but cannot find the source of the smell.
  • you have experienced a leak from plumbing pipes or appliances, or have other water issues.
  • you are experiencing headaches, respiratory problems, and other health issues that may be associated with exposure to mold.
  • mold on porous surfaces covers an area greater than 10 sq. ft.
  • you have a health issue that can be exacerbated by exposure to mold

How Do I Find a Mold Removal Specialist?

Mold Removal - Mold Remediation
Mold Removal – Professional removing mold from a wall.

Now that you have identified a mold problem, you’ll want to find a mold removal specialist but you soon realize that you don’t know the first thing about mold remediation companies. There are a number of good ones out there but how do you know which ones to trust?

Mold remediation is largely unregulated. In most states, licensing is not required, so anyone can refer to themselves as an expert on mold removal. When looking for a mold removal professional, you should:

  • check ratings and reviews online before calling and jot down the top rated companies.
  • get references from friends and family, realtors and home inspectors.
  • look for an established company with at least 10 years of mold remediation experience.
  • ask if they have completed industry-approved courses and verify certifications with the American Board of Industrial Hygiene or the American Council for Accredited Certification.
  • get them to clearly explain their process in terms that you can understand.
  • ask for a written estimate that includes each step of your specific project.

How Much Do Mold Removal Services Cost?

Mold Removal Costs
Mold remediation costs for areas that require demolition, electrical or plumbing involvement, or mold removal from air ducts, will generally cost from $4 to $6 per sq. ft.

The cost of professional mold removal services will depend on several factors, including the extent of mold growth and level of development, the possible structural damage that has occurred which will require replacement of structural materials, and the use of equipment for protection from and disposal of contaminated materials.

Mold testing costs can range from $200 to $600, depending on the type and extent of testing required. Mold and mold remediation costs can range from $2,000 up to $10,000 for issues that include structural damage. A good rule of thumb is to expect a cost of around $2 per sq. ft. for easy to access areas without structural damage.

Mold remediation costs for areas that require demolition, electrical or plumbing involvement, or mold removal from air ducts, will generally cost from $4 to $6 per sq. ft. There may be added costs for treatments to prevent future mold growth and post-treatment testing to ensure that mold counts fall within normal ranges.

Will Insurance Cover Mold Removal?

Will Home Insurance Pay for Mold Removal?
If you live in an area with high humidity, you may want to purchase additional coverage for mold damage but be aware that the cost of additional coverage may be quite expensive.

Homeowners insurance typically does not cover mold damage unless it is the result of another covered claim, such as water damage. Standard homeowner’s insurance will pay for damages resulting from water damage caused by unforeseen circumstances, such as a burst water pipe or the overflow from an appliance or a malfunctioning air conditioning unit. There may be other situations in which mold may be caused by water damage. For example:

  • You may experience mold damage to walls and molding due to water damage from a leaky water heater.
  • Your dishwasher or washing machine floods your kitchen or laundry room resulting in mold growth on the base cabinetry or base molding and drywall.
  • A house fire leads to mold damage caused by the water used by firefighters or from sprinkler systems.
  • Your basement pipes burst due to freezing weather and floods the entire room, resulting in mold damage.
  • A tub or toilet overflows, flooding the room and causing mold to develop, even if the overflow was caused by negligence.

Homeowner’s insurance generally will NOT cover mold damage caused by leaky pipes and plumbing that has developed over a period of time. The homeowner is expected to be aware that there was a problem and to correct it in a timely manner. It also generally does not cover damage caused by flooding from heavy rains, mudslides and overflowing rivers and streams. You will need to purchase separate flood protection in order for flooding from outside to be covered. Your insurance company may also put a cap on the dollar amount that a claim will cover for mold damage. If you live in an area with high humidity, you may want to purchase additional coverage for mold damage but be aware that the cost of additional coverage may be quite expensive in these areas.

What Health Problems May Be Linked To Mold?

Mold Removal - Health Concerns
Mold may actually cause the development of asthma in children who did not previously suffer from the disease.

Exposure to mold has been associated with headaches, rhinitis, allergies, and infections in children and adults. Bacteria and dust mites present in areas infected with mold could be responsible for infections and respiratory problems. Numerous studies have been done to determine the specific correlation between exposure to mold and illness in humans with varying and conflicting results.

However, recent studies by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and World Health Organization (WHO) have concluded that there is now sufficient evidence to show that exposure to mold may actually cause the development of asthma in children who did not previously suffer from the disease, although further research needs to be done in this area. They also concluded that long-term exposure to mold may be particularly harmful to certain groups of people, including

  • infants
  • children and adults with respiratory ailments
  • elderly people
  • people with compromised immune systems
Is Mold a Silent Killer?

There are a number of indoor species of mold that contain mycotoxins, but the species considered to be the most dangerous of these is Stachybotrys atra chartarum, also known as black mold. There have been several deaths reported in people who have been exposed to black mold. Between 1993 and 1995, in Cleveland, Ohio, there were an unusually large number of infants who developed bleeding lungs. Several deaths were reported among these infants. Researchers determined that these children had been exposed to black mold that resulted from water damage in their homes. Other deaths have been reported in adults exposed to toxic mold. In 2008, a New York man who had been exposed to toxic mold six days a week at a health club collapsed and died.

So, did mold kill Kenny? Probably not, but long-term exposure to toxic black mold in certain people could be deadly.

How Can I Prevent Mold Growth in my home?

How to Prevent Mold in Your Home.
Use a hygrometer in your home to measure the moisture levels, and try to keep humidity at less than 60% to inhibit mold growth.

Your home will always contain some levels of mold, especially in the more humid areas of the house. However, there are ways to inhibit its growth and prevent the damage that it can cause. Here are some tips:

  • Assess areas of possible mold growth in basements, bathrooms, and laundry rooms by looking for specific signs of water damage throughout the house, such as water stains on ceilings and walls and condensation build-up around windows.
  • Identify any areas where you notice water collecting and determine if there are leaks. These need to be addressed before mold becomes an issue.
  • Dry any wet areas immediately such as water in basements or on window sills after heavy rains, around showers and bathtubs after bathing. Clean up spills on carpeting before they have the chance to soak down below the surface.
  • Do not leave wet towels and clothes on floors and furniture or in washing machines after the washing is done.
  • Use dehumidifiers in basements and other areas of high humidity.
  • Use exhaust fans in bathrooms and laundry rooms and open windows when showering.
  • Use mold resistant drywall in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and basements when building or remodeling a home.
  • Use mold inhibitors in paint.
  • Clean gutters and air vents regularly to prevent mold build-up.
  • Use a hygrometer in your home to measure the moisture levels, and try to keep humidity at less than 60% to inhibit mold growth.
  • Empty refrigerator drip pans regularly.
  • Increase the airflow in your home by opening windows when possible, keeping air ducts clean, and using ceiling fans.
  • To prevent condensation on cold surfaces, insulate metal pipes with insulating sleeves, wrap insulating blankets around water heaters, and add more insulation to basements, attics and exterior walls.

But Wait, There’s More! 15 Additional Questions People Ask About Mold

1. Can mold cause lung cancer?

Mold has been linked to various illnesses, such as allergies, rhinitis, and asthma, and bacteria that grows alongside mold has been linked to infections, such as pneumonia. It has also been linked to lung disorders in which the body’s immune system attacks the cells in the lungs. Toxic mold may also cause skin irritations and possibly nervous system disorders, but it has never been known to cause lung cancer. Take precautions to inhibit mold growth in your home and call in a mold remediation specialist if you identify a mold problem in your home. You’ll want to prevent exposure to mold that could be harmful to your health.

2. What is the difference between mildew and mold?

Mildew and mold are both fungi that are commonly found in homes. Both mildew and mold grow in warm, damp environments. They both grow when their spores land on organic materials, particularly porous materials like wood, drywall and fabric. They do not normally grow on synthetic materials.

One of the main ways to differentiate between mold and mildew is their appearance. Mildew is gray or white, and powdery or fuzzy in texture. Powdery forms of mildew are often found on the leaves of plants, making them look diseased. Mold is usually green, black, or yellow in color and may appear slimy or fuzzy.

Some molds can release toxic spores into the air that can be harmful to occupants. Both are found in humid, damp areas such as bathrooms, laundry rooms, and basements. Mildew often stays on the surface of materials while mold can spread deep under the surface. Mildew causes only minor irritations such as sneezing, coughing, and itchy eyes. Mold, on the other hand, can be toxic and can lead to dangerous health issues such as asthma and pneumonia.

3. How can I keep mold from growing on window sills?

Always wipe any condensation from your windows and window sills as soon as it develops, particularly after a rain shower. Keep windows open when possible to encourage airflow. If the room is a basement or a high humidity area, place a dehumidifier in the room. Make sure that double windows are closed at the top and check to see if there are any leaks occurring in or around the windows. Mold cannot grow without water, so keep windows as dry as possible.

4. How can I remove mold from a mattress?

First, wash your bedding regularly including mattress protectors. Since mattresses are covered most of the time, this will not only keep mold from spreading to the bedding but you will be able to evaluate your mattress for any possible mold growth. If you do find evidence of mold on your mattress, follow these procedures:

  • Vacuum both sides of your mattress and discard or disinfect the dust catcher.
  • Mix equal parts water and rubbing alcohol in a disposable bowl or other container.
  • Put on gloves and a dust mask or respirator.
  • Dip a cloth in the alcohol mixture and vigorously scrub the mattress in and outside of the area infected with mold.
  • Dip a new cloth in warm water. Wring it out until it is only damp, then wipe down the area well. Be careful not to get the mattress too wet to prevent further mold growth.
  • Spray the entire surface of the mattress with a disinfectant that is safe for fabric.
  • Take the mattress outside and place it directly in the sun until it has dried completely.

5. Will my homeowners insurance cover mold damage, and if not, why?

Homeowners insurance generally does not cover mold damage unless it is part of another claim, such as a claim for water damage from a burst pipe or malfunctioning appliance. Insurance companies say they will cover water damage from sudden, accidental occurrences such as these, but if the mold damage was the result of flooding that occurred from extreme rainfall or overflowing bodies of water, it will not be covered unless the homeowner has flood insurance.

Mold that is caused by water damage from prolonged leaking is also generally not covered because the homeowner should have been aware of the problem, and it was not a sudden occurrence. By the same token, if mold growth was the result of a normal occurrence and the homeowner did not take the proper steps to prevent mold damage, such as leaving the area to dry out on its on, the insurance company may very well refuse to cover the mold damage since the homeowner should have foreseen the potential for mold growth.

6. How can I clean mold off wooden walls?

First of all, if the area of mold infestation exceeds 10 sq. ft. or if it has penetrated into the surface of the wall, it is recommended that you hire a mold remediation company to deal with the problem. If the wooden wall is painted or stained, mold should not have penetrated the surface, so if it the mold is confined to an area less than 10 sq. ft., follow these simple steps:

  1. Always wear gloves and a dust mask or respirator when cleaning mold.
  2. Mix equal parts vinegar, borax and water.
  3. Dip a soft bristle brush in the mixture and scrub the affected area, including the area just outside of the mold growth, using a circular motion.
  4. Dip a cloth in clean, warm water and wring it out well, then wipe down the area with the cloth.
  5. Let dry.
  6. Be sure to throw out the brush and cloth to prevent any further exposure to mold.
  7. If any mold persists, repeat these steps.

7. Can smelling mold make you sick, even if you can’t see it?

If you smell mold, there is likely a mold problem in your home that is not visible to you. The mold spores that are released into the environment by mold growth can make you sick. Whenever you smell mold and cannot find the source, contact a mold remediation specialist. They will be able to conduct mold testing to help them find the source of the mold problem. Once they have discovered the source of the mold smell, they will discuss the remediation process with you and give you an estimate of the cost. The cost of mold removal will depend on how large an area is involved and the extent of the damage that the mold infestation has created. The cost of mold removal is worth the peace of mind you will have knowing that the problem has been safely and effectively taken care of.

8. Can I be tested for black mold toxicity?

The first thing you need to do is to assess your symptoms to see if they are possible symptoms of black mold toxicity, also called toxic black mold syndrome. Here is a very comprehensive link to the possible symptoms of black mold toxicity. These symptoms can also be symptoms of many other diseases and many of these symptoms have not been scientifically proven to be caused by exposure to black mold. More about the symptoms of black mold can be found here.

You should assess your home for any indication of mold growth. If there are no visible signs of mold growth, your next step should be to contact a mold inspection and testing company to perform the necessary tests to identify whether you have a mold problem in your home or anywhere else that you may suspect exposure to toxic mold. Don’t rely on a test kit that you can purchase at the local hardware store because they have been shown to be unreliable.

If the tests come back positive for mold, there are a couple of tests that you can take to see if you test positive for toxic mold. The first is the mycotoxin urine test that will test for mycotoxins secreted in the urine. The second test is called the biotoxin mold illness panel, which is actually a multi-panel blood test. There are home tests available but you should always get a physician to interpret the result. Learn about Toxic Black Mold Syndrome.

9. Will bread mold on the moon?

There are several reasons why bread will not mold on the moon. First, the moon has no oxygen and mold needs oxygen to grow. Also, bread will freeze on the dark side of the moon where it is not exposed to the sun. When it is exposed to the sun, it will get extremely hot. Both are conditions that prohibit the growth of mold. Finally, exposure to the sun will blast it with radiation which will eventually break down the molecular structure of the bread and turn it to dust.

10. Does Lysol spray kill household mold?

Lysol is a general disinfectant and will likely not kill household mold and prohibit the re-growth of mold. You should use an antimicrobial solution, which kills or inhibits the growth of microorganisms, including mold. Here are a few that you can choose from:

11. Is mold poisonous?

Mold is a fungus and not treated as poisonous, although exposure to mold has been shown to cause headaches, allergic reactions, and respiratory problems. There are some studies which indicate that exposure to mold can cause infections and neurological problems. Mushrooms are a fungus that can be poisonous, but household molds, even though they are a health concern, are not considered poisonous.

12. How can I reduce mold in my home?

Here are some ways to reduce the possible growth of mold in your home:

  • Keep humidity levels low, less than 60%, and no more than 50%, if possible.
  • Keep air circulating by opening windows, running ceiling fans, and keeping your air ducts clean.
  • Wipe down wet surfaces after taking a shower and hang up wet towels.
  • Hang wet clothes outside to dry rather than in your laundry room or other areas.
  • Clean up any water spills or flooding immediately.
  • Use exhaust fans and vents in the kitchen, laundry room, and bathroom.
  • Run a dehumidifier in basements and other areas where humidity is consistently high.
  • Clean gutters at least twice a year.
  • Empty drip pans from refrigerators, air conditioners and dehumidifiers.
  • Wipe down window sills after a rain or if you notice condensation forming.
  • Install plastic sheeting in crawl spaces to decrease humidity.
  • Fix leaks as soon as you notice them.

13. How can I remove mold from my basement?

Basements are a high humidity area which can encourage the growth of mold. As soon as you notice mold on any surfaces in your basement, you should remove it immediately.

Here are two methods to remove mold from surfaces:

Vinegar Method:

  1. Pour undiluted vinegar into a spray bottle.
  2. Spray the vinegar on surfaces where you see mold and let sit for an hour.
  3. Wipe the surface with a clean water and let dry.

Baking Soda Method:

  1. Add ¼ tablespoon of baking soda to a spray bottle of water.
  2. Shake well to dissolve the baking soda.
  3. Spray the moldy surfaces with the baking soda/water solution.
  4. Scrub the area with a scrub brush until all mold is removed.
  5. Rinse with clean water.
  6. Spray the area one more time and allow to dry on its own.

Remember to wear gloves and a dust mask when cleaning mold and throw away the brushes and cloths used.

14. What is red mold?

There are several types of mold that have a reddish color, including Aspergillus, Fusarium and Rhodotorula, Red mold can often be confused for stains such as mud stains, but if the red stains do not disappear or they grow larger, they are most likely mold. Red mold does not have the same reputation for being harmful as black or green mold does but it can still do damage to property and cause health concerns. Healthy people, when exposed to red mold, do not generally exhibit health problems associated with other types of mold, but certain groups of people should not be exposed to any types of mold, including:

  • infants
  • elderly people
  • people with depressed immune systems
  • people with mold allergies
  • people who have respiratory problems such as asthma, COPD, and bronchitis.

If you exhibit symptoms of mold exposure such as headaches, dizziness, coughing, sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, and rhinitis, you should take steps to have mold levels tested and any mold infestations removed by a mold remediation company.

15. How can I remove mold from my shower area?

Like basements, showers are a perfect place for mold to grow due to the high humidity caused by hot water and steam.

Here is a procedure you can use to remove mold from your shower:

  1. Wear gloves and a dust mask to prevent exposure to mold released during the cleaning process.
  2. Combine vinegar, borax and water in a spray bottle.
  3. Spray the affected area and allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Scrub the affected area with an old toothbrush.
  5. Wipe the area down with a clean cloth.
  6. Repeat the above procedure, then rinse thoroughly.
  7. Throw out the toothbrush, sponge or cloth that you used in the process.

If mold in your shower covers an area greater than 10 sq. ft., consider calling in a mold remediation company to safely remove the mold without spreading it to the surrounding areas.

Conclusion

Mold may not kill you or Kenny but it is most definitely bad for your health. In addition, it can cause damage to household materials and structures. If mold is limited to a small area, 10 sq. ft. or less, review the tips above to safely and effectively remove the mold yourself. If the mold is growing on a porous surface and covers an area larger than 10 sq. ft., if it’s not visible, or if you experience any health problems that you suspect may be caused by mold, you should call a mold remediation company to safely deal with your mold problem. You have enough to worry about without adding mold to your list!

Have any great mold removal tips that you would love to share? Leave them in the comments below so we can share them with our readers.

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