What is mould?
Mould is a type of fungus and there exist thousands of species of moulds. Though you may not be able to see them, moulds, like pollens, are everywhere in our environment and form a large component of house dust. They survive by extracting energy from dead or decaying organic matter and once established, the moulds form a colony. Now, how can you detect mould? It is at this point at which you will be able to see them with the naked eye. They may be green, black, pink or white in colour and take the form of spots or large patches of growth. Not only will you be able to see them but also mould colonies have a very distinctive, musty smell.
Moulds reproduce by producing tiny spores and each individual spore has the potential to become a new mould. These spores can be dispersed great distances in the air or by becoming attached to an animal’s fur or a human’s clothing. For the majority of healthy people, airborne mould spores are harmless in the normal quantities at which they exist in our surroundings. However, to the very young, the elderly and asthmatics or to those who are already infirm or who suffer from breathing or heart problems or from allergies, airborne mould spores can present a real health hazard. Even normally healthy people and domestic pets can suffer from adverse reactions to abnormally large amounts of mould spores in their environment. The adverse effects of mould spores can include sneezing, coughing, skin irritation, watery and irritated eyes, breathing difficulties, headaches, rashes, a sore throat, sinus problems and tiredness. In addition, there is a species of mite that feeds on moulds and which can present a risk to human health.
Within the home, the ubiquitous nature of airborne mould spores means that mould growth can potentially occur anywhere, as long as there is a food source and moisture. The nature of our modern living environment these days with plentiful food in the house, airtight homes and water vapour producing appliances such as kettles, washing machines and tumble driers, means that airborne mould spores are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a new home on which to grow.
If undetected and left untreated the mould colony will grow rapidly, producing that tell tale musty odour. You may actually notice the smell before you are able to see the mould. Mould growth in the home is not only unsightly but also potentially damaging to the fabric of the building and its contents and to the health of its occupants. The presence of mould in the home is an indication that moisture levels are too high. It usually goes hand in hand with condensation problems and will occur where humidity levels remain above 70% for prolonged periods of time. This explains why bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms are often prone to mould problems.
Mould growth in the home can typically be found around window openings, behind furniture, in the bathroom (for example on tile grout), on wallpapered surfaces, on ceilings and on items such as leather goods stored in unventilated cupboards or wardrobes. Porous and rough surfaces that can easily accumulate unseen dirt and grease are ideal surfaces for mould spores to begin their life cycle on.
To prevent the growth of potentially harmful mould it is essential to manage the amount of water vapour in the home – remember, mould needs moisture to thrive. There are many simple cost-free or low cost means by which we can prevent the growth of mould within the home. Adequate ventilation, steady background heating, good insulation and good housekeeping routines will all assist in keeping mould at bay.