Why house mould could make you ill and how to get rid of it

Mould. It’s in every country on Earth. It’s the bane of landlords, tenants and home owners alike and it presents a health risk to certain people. Find out how to get rid of it and when you should call in the professional cleaners.

Moulds are everywhere and for most people they don’t present a health risk and are destroyed by the immune system. However, if there is either a lot of mould in your home or you or someone in your household has a lung condition, such as asthma or cystic fibrosis, a weak immune system or is taking immuno-suppressant medication, mould spores, particularly from Aspergillus, may cause an allergic reaction, such as sneezing, a runny nose, red eyes and skin rash. Moulds can also cause asthma attacks.

Whether you live in a temperate or tropical climate, mould will be all around you. In Europe, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 10 to 50 percent (depending on the country) of the indoor environments where human beings live, work and play are damp and so perfect for mould to grow. In most cases, mould is caused by excess moisture. Without moisture, there’s no mould.

Aspergillus mould colony growing in a petri dish

It is one of the most common complaints made by property tenants to their landlords, and probably everyone faces little green or black patches in their home at some time…unless you live in desert-like conditions or with air conditioning on at all times.

Moulds grow on carpets, in pipes, inside walls, and on clothing and furniture. Not only can its allergens, toxins and irritants make people ill, it’s also unsightly and expensive to get rid of once it really takes hold.

Woman with face mask on holding cleaning products

How to get rid of mould

1. Identify the problem areas and what’s causing the moisture

Major causes for excessive moisture are:

  • Leaking pipes, wastes or overflows
  • Rain seeping through the roof where a tile or slate is missing, spilling from a blocked gutter, penetrating around window frames, or leaking through a cracked pipe
  • Rising damp due to a defective damp-course or because there is no damp-course.
  • If your problem is not from a leak or a faulty or non-existent damp-course, it is probably caused by condensation (see below).

2. Removing the mould

The next step is to decide if you can remove the mould yourself or if you need professional help. NHS Choices and the WHO says that you should not remove mould from an area larger than one metre square without professional cleaning gear, and never remove mould that has been caused by contaminated water or sewage.

The WHO recommends following this mould removing advice:

  • Protect yourself from mould spores by wearing goggles, long rubber gloves and a mask that covers your nose and mouth. Open the windows but keep doors closed to prevent spores spreading to other areas of the house.
  • Have a plastic bag ready to take away any soft furnishings, clothes and soft toys that are mouldy. Soft furnishings should be shampooed and clothes professionally dry cleaned.
  • Fill a bucket with water and some mild detergent, such as washing up liquid or a soap used for hand-washing clothes.
  • Use a rag dipped in the soapy water to carefully wipe the mould off the wall. Be careful not to brush it, as this can release mould spores.
  • When you’ve finished, use a dry rag to remove the moisture from the wall.
  • Afterwards, put the rags in a plastic bag and throw them away.
  • All the surfaces in the room should be thoroughly cleaned by either wet wiping or vacuuming to remove any spores.

Even if your home is not damp, there may be times when condensation builds up, particularly in bathroom, kitchens and where the outer walls of rooms and windows are cold but the air inside is warm and moist (e.g. unheated north-facing bedrooms).

The only way to reduce condensation is to produce less moisture (put washing outside whenever possible, don’t leave kettles and saucepans boiling in an enclosed space, avoid using paraffin heaters in an enclosed space), ventilate to remove moisture and insulate your home to keep the temperature high enough, even when you’re away, to prevent mould growing.

Here are two handy WHO tips to avoid condensation:

  1. When you are away from home, try not to let the temperature in the rooms drop under 15 degrees Celsius.
  2. Do not heat up cold bedrooms in the evening by opening the door to heated rooms. The warm and humid air will condense on the cold walls of the bedroom.

Tips for avoiding damp and mould

To find professional cleaning help in your location, go to the ‘House & Home Improvements’ section of your local Angloinfo Directory: