Acreage Living January 2003
Vol. 9, No. 1
January 2003

ISU cooperative extension

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Mold in the Home

go to top of this pageShawn ShouseBy Shawn Shouse, ISU Extension Field Specialist/Ag Engineering
Phone: 712-769-2600 - e-mail:

Iíve received many questions this month about mold growing in houses and flu-like symptoms of the occupants. While any medical questions should be directed to your family doctor, I will try to share what we know about mold in the home.

Mold and mildew are forms of fungi that can sometimes become problems in homes, on furnishings, and even on clothing. These fungi grow on living or dead organic matter including plants, soils, foods, and materials made from organic matter such as cotton fabric, leather, paper, wood, and wallboard. A thin layer of dirt, food, or grease can allow mold to grow even on glass or concrete.

The characteristic growth of mold produces a fuzzy mat that may range in color from white to orange to green or blue or black. Mold growth is often accompanied by a musty odor.

Molds need an organic food source, moisture, oxygen, and appropriate temperatures to thrive. Relative humidity above 70 percent is best for mold growth, but growth continues at a slower rate even at lower humidity.

Molds grow best in temperatures between 77 and 86 degrees F, but some growth may occur anywhere between 32 and 95 degrees. Incubators are used to encourage mold growth for medical or research purposes, but a food container in your refrigerator can also raise a healthy crop of mold.

Molds reproduce and spread by creating microscopic spores that are released into the air. These spores are small enough to remain airborne over great distances. The spores are inactive and can survive through freezing or dry conditions. When conditions for mold growth become too dry, the mold actually releases spores at a greater rate in an attempt to survive.

Molds and mold spores are everywhere in the outdoor and indoor environment. Whenever mold spores settle on organic or dirty surfaces, if the conditions of moisture and temperature are favorable, the spores will germinate into new colonies of mold. Mold colonies and spores can remain dormant for a time and resume growth whenever favorable conditions return.

Molds are a critical part of the natural process that breaks down organic materials in nature (as in composting). However, molds in a home may destroy the materials on which they grow.

Mold spores in sufficient concentration can trigger allergic reactions in many people, including cold-like or flu-like symptoms. A few mold species can, under certain environmental conditions, produce harmful mycotoxins.

Here are answers to some common homeowner questions, taken from information from EPA and from the Extension services of Iowa State University, Kansas Sate University, and North Carolina State University.

If mold spores are present in my home, how can I prevent unwanted mold growth?

Work to prevent the moisture and humidity conditions that favor mold growth. Correct building situations that cause condensation on walls and windows. Proper insulation, thermal pane or storm windows, and good air circulation will help. Try to avoid furniture or clothing placed against cold exterior walls. Use a dehumidifier in damp rooms.

Keep surfaces and household textiles clean and dry. Mold feeds on materials contaminated with soil or grease. Mold also needs proper moisture to grow. Thoroughly dry all textiles before storage and store them only in dry locations. Air circulation or a light bulb operating in storage closets will help to reduce relative humidity.

Reduce sources of moisture in the home. Kitchen range hoods, bathroom exhaust fans, and clothes dryer vents should all be vented to the outdoors. Make sure all fuel-burning furnaces, water heaters, heating stoves, and fireplaces are vented and working properly. Reduce indoor humidity in the winter to below 30 percent, 20 percent, or less when outdoor temperatures fall below zero.

How can I remove mold from walls, floors, and wood?

A strong detergent such as TSP (trisodium phosphate) and chlorine bleach will often remove mold and disinfect the surface. Be aware that mold spores may become embedded in porous surfaces such as concrete block, wood, or wallboard. If the mold infestation is severe, the materials may have to

be replaced. Be sure to correct any building conditions that encouraged the mold growth. After the surface is thoroughly cleaned and dried, a mildew-resistant paint may help discourage additional mold growth. Porous materials like acoustic ceiling panels and carpet pad are nearly impossible to clean and should be replaced.

How can I remove mold/mildew from fabric, furnishings, and clothing?

If the items can be carried outdoors, sunlight and dry air will kill the mold and make it easier to remove. After itís dry, brush the mold off and launder the items using bleach, if allowed. Consult the care label.

Should I protect myself while cleaning moldy articles or surfaces?

When mold/mildew growth is significant, rubber gloves and a proper mask are appropriate. Choose a respirator designated as an N95, 3-M#1860, or TC-21C to filter out mold spores. Do not use a vacuum to clean up mold indoors. Wash the mold away or remove it to the outdoors before vacuuming. Dispose of the vacuum bag immediately.

Will mold in my home make me sick?

Mold spores in sufficient concentration may trigger allergic reactions in many people, especially those with asthma or chronic nasal drip. Symptoms often include eye and respiratory irritation, runny nose, and shortness of breath. Symptoms other than these allergic and irritant reactions are uncommon.

A recent television program raised public concern about mycotoxin production from a species of mold called Stachybotrys chartarum. This specie is extremely rare, and no direct cause-effect relationship was established between the mold and the health problems cited. Health officials advise homeowners to attend to mold problems in the home, but not to panic about this specific mold.

Should I test my home for mold?

Testing of air or material samples for mold is time-consuming and expensive. There are currently no established standards for acceptable mold spore concentrations in indoor air. Removing and preventing mold growth in the home is important, but testing is probably not warranted, except in very special cases.

Several resources provide additional information on preventing and cleaning mold in the home. Here are a few that I found particularly helpful:


Tips for Wintertime Operation

Iowa Highway Patrol

image of car-driver driving  in winter conditionsThe Iowa State Patrol would like to remind everyone that now is a good time to winterize your vehicle. Winterizing involves checking the mechanical condition of your vehicle, including the tires, exhaust system, battery, wipers, and all of the needed lighting equipment.

In conjunction with preparing your vehicle, it is recommended that you assemble a storm survival kit for each vehicle that may be used during the winter months. The Iowa State Patrol recommends that your kit include the following items:

1. Warm winter clothing - i.e., gloves, coat, and footwear.
2. Wool blankets or sleeping bag.
3. Flashlight.
4. Fuses.
5. First aid kit.
6. Red flag or Send Help Sign.
7. Sack of dry sand or cat box filler.
8. Booster cables.
9. Cell phone.
10. High energy food.

These are just a few items that may be included in your vehicle. Depending on your driving habits, you may want to have a more extensive winter storm survival kit. A more extensive list of suggested items can be obtained by stopping by your local State Patrol District office.

Wintertime in Iowa presents many challenges to the motoring public. The Iowa State Patrol recommends not only vehicle preparation, but also driver preparation. The vast majority of accidents that occur on slick highways and city streets are due to driver error. By following a few key winter driving tips, you may avoid an accident.

Plan ahead - Be aware of weather/surface conditions by listening to weather reports on your local news or by checking the website ( If you are traveling a long distance, please let friends or relatives know what route you are planning to take and when you plan to arrive. Also, let them know your vehicle information; the kind of vehicle and license plate number of the vehicle.

Maintain a safe speed for the conditions - Remember, speed limits are set for ideal conditions.

Maintain a safe following distance - Use the two-second rule. In stormy, snowy, and icy conditions, increase your following distance. Remember, your stopping distance on adverse highway conditions will be many times greater than that of ideal, dry conditions.

Be a good, safe defensive driver - Always wear your safety belt and make sure all the occupants in your vehicle, especially children, wear the protection of the safety belt.

We recommend you call ahead to check on road conditions before you leave home or work. The Road Conditions number is 511 or 1-800-288-1047. You can also access an online map by visiting our website at In the event you are involved in or are witness to an accident, the State Patrol may be contacted at 1-800-525-5555, or on a cellular phone by dialing 911 or (star) *55.

Wintertime driving in Iowa can be dangerous; however, by following a few precautions, your traveling may be made a little safer. For further information, please contact the Iowa State Patrol office in your area.

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New Website Offers Help for Iowans

Mary Beth KaufmanBy Mary Beth Kaufman, ISU Extension Field Specialist/Family Resource Management Phone: 712-755-3104 - e-mail:

Iowa Concern Hotline, operated by ISU Extension, began in 1985 during the farm crisis and since then has provided information to over 125,000 callers from both rural and urban areas. Now, help for Iowans will also be available with the click of a computer mouse. Iowa Concern Hotline is now on the web at

The new interactive web site features frequently asked questions (FAQs), one-on-one live chat, links to additional resources, and e-mail an expert links. Visitors to the website will find information organized into six categories:

This past year, ISU Extension received a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to assist families affected by the changing rural economy. A portion of this grant funded the siteís development.

The Iowa Concern Hotlineís toll free number, 1-800-447-1985, remains active. Counselors are available 24 hours a day to talk directly to people about stress, legal situations, financial concerns, and other issues.

Acreage Living is published monthly. For more information, contact your local county ISU Extension Office.
Editor: Shawn Shouse, ISU Extension FS/Ag Engineering, SW Area Extension, 53020 Hitchcock Avenue, Lewis, Iowa, 51544, Ph: 712/769-2600
Layout & Design: Paulette Cambridge, Office Assistant, SW Area Extension, 53020 Hitchcock Avenue, Lewis, Iowa 51544, Ph: 712/769-2600

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