Mold can really take its toll on your health. Photo courtesy of satemkemet on Flickr.

Looking to stop seasonal headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath and upper respiratory irritation?  You don’t have to look far.  Your home could be making you sick.

Some homes are so well insulated that they trap dangerous allergens inside, contributing to the growing number of people who suffer from allergies. Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Mold is a major contributor. We all know mold grows in moist conditions, especially in kitchens, bathrooms and basements, but it can be found on any organic material and even in paints and plastics. Inhaling or touching the fungus or mold spores can cause anything from mild allergic reactions to life-threatening asthma attacks.

Depending on where you live, peak mold season starts in July and runs through early autumn. In warmer climates, mold growth can be a problem all year.

Controlling moisture and tackling mold as soon as you see it are the foundation for healthy home. We at The Maids have several suggestions:

Window Sills: Check the insides of window sills for mold growth and wash with mild soap and water. Reglaze the window for a better seal. Make sure any drainage openings in the tracks are clean and not clogged.

Humidifiers and Vaporizers: Empty humidifiers daily and clean them every three days with a solution of vinegar and water. Vaporizers should be cleaned daily with the vinegar and water solution.

Air Conditioners: Air conditioners need frequent service to reduce mold growth. Clean the coils of a central unit every other month with mild soap and water, followed by a solution of heavily diluted vinegar and water. Replace the filter.

House Plants and Dried Floral Arrangements: Re-pot houseplants with sterilized potting soil and don’t keep them too wet. Throw away dried floral arrangements with signs of mold growth.

Bathrooms: Don’t be tempted to reach for the bleach. While bleach will decolorize and kill mold, it won’t remove it; dead mold can still cause allergic reactions. The Environmental Protection Agency, Center for Disease Control and the New York City Health Department all agree. Instead, clean the affected area with soapy water and a scrub brush. Most importantly, keep the area well ventilated to reduce moisture – turn the exhaust fan on before showering and leave it running at least 10 minutes afterward. If re-painting, consider using a mildewicide-treated paint specifically formulated for bathrooms.

Kitchens: Clean under sinks where mold is present with soapy water and your trusty scrub brush or one-cup denatured alcohol to one-cup water. Leave cabinet open until dry and fix any leaks that are present to prevent mold from reoccurring.

Furniture: While the weather cooperates, take furniture outdoors and brush any loose mold from the outer covering using a broom. Vacuum the furniture cushions and throw away the vacuum bag. If the material is washable, wipe with thick soap or detergent suds. Get as little water on the material as possible and wipe clean. Place in a well-ventilated area or in the sun until dry. If the mold has grown into the inner parts, send the piece to a dry cleaning company for thorough drying or fumigation.

Refrigerators: Wash the inside of refrigerators with a soap and water solution. If the refrigerator has a bad smell, add a teaspoon of lemon juice and a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the wash water. Don’t forget the rubber seal that keeps the doors shut; mold loves to take root in those creases.

Mold does look and smell bad but what it can do to your health is even worse. A few precautions and cleaning routines can make a big difference.

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