Second only to pollens, molds are one of the most common causes of airborne allergies. Mold forms on fallen leaves, soil, debris and other moist surfaces. A compost bin, for example, is the perfect breeding ground for outdoor mold. Like many pollen allergies, outdoor mold tends to be bothersome from the spring to late fall. Unlike pollen, mold counts tend to peak in the afternoon, not the morning.
Avoiding the outdoors won't eliminate all mold allergies. Indoors, only a few molds produce spores that are capable of causing allergies, but these molds do grow where there is consistent moisture. They thrive in damp basements and closets, window moldings, bathrooms, food-storage areas, drip trays under refrigerators, air conditioners, humidifiers, asthma “nebulizer” mist treatment machines, garbage pails, house plants, mattresses, upholstered furniture and pillows. Unless you live in the southwestern United States, chances are your home is humid and moist enough to harbor molds. Unlike outdoor molds, indoor varieties can cause allergies year-round. Here's how to master mold allergens, both indoors and outdoors:
Banish it with bleach
While some fungicides are made especially for molds, you also can treat your home as you would your toughest laundry, with chlorine bleach. Have someone who isn't allergic mix one cup of bleach with 10 cups of water and scrub areas of your home that are damp and inviting for molds, including bathroom fixtures, floors and walls, shower curtains, tile and behind the toilet; window moldings; basement walls, floors and ceilings; and around the laundry room. You also should wash shower curtains periodically in hot water with laundry detergent and bleach.
Modulate the moisture
Continuously running the air conditioner or a dehumidifier can lower the moisture enough to prevent the growth of mold, provided you keep these machines clean. Filters on dehumidifiers and air conditioners should be scrubbed regularly. If you detect a musty odor, also spray the filters with an aerosol mold killer. Running an air conditioner or dehumidifier without proper cleaning can contaminate it with mold, possibly worsening allergies. A dehumidifier should keep the humidity at a level below 50 percent, ideally, between 35 percent and 45 percent. Fix any leaky pipes promptly.
Clean those closets
Mold can grow in old shoes and on mattresses and furniture. If you notice your allergies aren't improving with other measures, do some spring cleaning to get rid of potential homes for molds, especially carpets, no matter how new. It's nearly impossible to keep carpets dry enough to prevent the growth of molds, even if your basement doesn't leak.
Inspect home appliances
Proper outdoor ventilation of indoor appliances is especially important for people with mold allergies, so be sure your clothes dryer and stove are vented outside. While you're at it, also clean the refrigerator drip pan and check the fridge for excess moisture. You'll notice it on the sides.
Take care on holidays
Planning a vacation? Remember, people with mold allergies are more likely to have problems at the beach or in the woods because hotels, homes and cabins there tend to be very damp.
Christmas trees can cause problems for some people with mold allergies. You might want to replace the evergreen with an artificial tree.
Clean the gutters
It's also important to control excess moisture outside your home, so be sure that drains and gutters are free from any blockage that could encourage mold development.
Compost with care
It's a good idea to locate the compost pile far from your house. When it's time to turn it over, wear a dust mask to keep from breathing in any molds that become airborne.
Let the sun shine
Taking measures to keep your lawn and home from being too heavily shaded can help reduce mold allergies. Sunshine dries some of the moisture and dampness that help molds grow.
Face yard work with a face mask
Ideally, anyone with mold allergies shouldn't be mowing the lawn, raking the leaves or tending to the garden. But if you must do yard work, wear a face mask or do it after you've taken your allergy medicine. Raking leaves, mowing or even digging can kick up mold allergens and cause a reaction. A face mask can keep these allergens from entering your respiratory system. Also, try to do it in the morning, before mold counts peak.