The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Mold and Mold Spores

Mold is widely misunderstood.

So, it makes sense that mold cleanup strategies are misunderstood, too.

After all, if you don’t understand mold, how can you possibly hope to clean it up and keep it out of your house for good?

Is mold a type of plant? Is it a bacterial growth? Is it a subspecies of algae or lichen? An evil alien lifeform?

No, no, and no. And of course, no.

 

What is Mold?

Mold is a fungus.

No one knows how many species of fungi exist. By some estimates, there are more than 300,000 species of fungi in the world. That includes everything from the mushrooms you ate on your pizza, to the species that helped make the cheese. Fungi include yeast, too, meaning they helped make the pizza crust.

Molds can be incredibly useful. For example, without mold we wouldn’t have the antibiotic penicillin, which has saved countless human lives since its discovery in the early 20th century.

Every species of mold is very different. They all have one thing in common: they reproduce using spores.

Spores are akin to plant seeds, but much, much smaller – just 2 to 100 microns in diameter.

If you place a mushroom cap on a piece of paper and wait overnight, you may see many millions of spores on that paper the next day.

Spores are so tiny and lightweight that the smallest draft can carry them from place to place. You cannot keep mold spores out of your house.

The only areas free of spores are companies – like computer hard drive manufacturers – which have so-called “clean rooms”, or hospital operating rooms that must be absolutely free of all contaminants in order to protect sensitive products and patients.

Generally, indoor mold spores don’t cause many problems. However, if the spores land on a place with the right conditions, a mold colony may begin to grow.

 

What are Spores, Really?

Spores are a testament to nature’s ingenuity.

Some spores are essentially bulletproof. They can survive for years without water or food, as they wait for the right conditions for mold growth.

As mold grows, it produces tiny stalks that rise higher and higher. At the tips of those stalks they produce spores. With minimal airflow, those spores become airborne and float through the environment, indoors and out.

Spores are very, very tough. They’re also impervious to many chemicals. But if you have the correct fungicide or sealant, like A1 Mold Testing & Remediation, the game changes.

 

How Mold Grows from Spores

In order to grow, all those spores need is:

  • Moisture
  • Food
  • Proper temperatures

That’s how mold spreads. The mold grows hyphae (long, stalk-like structures), which can quickly send out more and more tiny roots that spread and spread, a bit like the runners from strawberry plants.

As mold grows, it can cause problems like:

  • Wood rot
  • Drywall deterioration
  • Damaged furnishings
  • Ugly stains on furniture and other items
  • Structural damage to homes and other buildings

Even if you fix the water source and the mold stops growing, it can still cause health problems. Those spores and fragments may drift into the air or your ventilation system with the slightest disturbance.

 

Stopping Spores from Growing Mold

Dave Bayne is the general manager and owner of A1 Mold Testing & Remediation. He finds mold biology fascinating. But he emphasizes that these fungi have their place, and that’s not in your kitchen or attic.

“Molds and other fungi are a necessary in our world, we just don’t want it in our homes or businesses,” says Bayne. “One fascinating fact about mold is that it is sometimes not visible, making it very challenging to find during our investigations. That to me is the fun part about my work.”

Bayne also marvels at the way mold can develop from scarce resources. Mold is so efficient at acquiring nutrients that it can use bits of organic material found in a layer of dust as food.

Other food sources might include:

  • Paper
  • Clothing or fabric
  • Dead skin cells from people
  • Soap
  • Lumber
  • Soil
  • Plant material of any kind

That means we can’t really control mold’s food sources – because mold can find a meal just about anywhere!

Our best bet, then, is to control moisture.

Mold needs just tiny amounts of water to grow.

  • Condensation around windows or on basement walls
  • Droplets on shower tile or grout
  • Standing water near pipes or sinks
  • Slow leaks from pipes or sprinkler systems
  • Humidification systems
  • Roof leaks
  • Basement seepage and flooding

Once mold spores have both food and water sources, they begin growing.

Temperature can and does affect mold growth. Some species thrive in cooler conditions, while others flourish in warmth. But it’s very common to see multiple species of mold cohabitating in the same area.

 

The Color of Mold Doesn’t Matter

In very moldy structures, we sometimes see what looks like a multi-colored rainbow of molds.

Some customers want to know what species exactly they’re looking at. But the truth is, species rarely matters – because the remediation process is the same for every type of mold.

“Black mold” commonly makes headlines. But “black” mold is not a specific species – many molds have a grayish or black appearance. The only way to precisely identify a specific mold is to view it under a microscope.

It’s important to note that some molds do produce mycotoxins. Those species are called toxigenic fungi.

Toxigenic fungi do not always produce mycotoxins – but sometimes, they do. Scientists still aren’t sure why some colonies produce mycotoxins and others do not.

To date, scientists have pinpointed roughly 400 types of mycotoxins produced by several varieties of common molds. Researchers believe they’ll find many more as they continue their work.

Scientists have already confirmed that some mycotoxins can cause health problems in humans. But for many other mycotoxins, there’s been very little research, meaning we don’t know exactly how these toxins affect people or animals.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, that’s partly because so much environmental research in past decades has focused on obvious chemical pollution and industrial waste.

Now, the science on natural contaminants is slowly starting to catch up, including the effects of mold exposure.

In the meantime, we do know that mycotoxins can be very dangerous. If you receive enough exposure, the Food & Drug Administration indicates that the results can be fatal for humans and animals.

You can be exposed to mycotoxins by skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion.

 

Molds Might Smell, Even When You Can’t See Them

At some point in your life, you’ve undoubtedly walked into a basement and smelled a “moldy” odor. That smell is unmistakable.

Some molds produce microbial volatile organic compounds that spread through the air, where we can detect them with our noses. We often describe the smell as “musty.”

There’s a common misconception that basements always have a musty smell because, well, they’re basements.

That’s simply not true.

Exposure to these microbial volatile organic compounds is not only unpleasant, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, they can have effects on your health, including:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Respiratory issues
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Dizziness

And that’s just a partial list.

A persistent musty odor may be an indicator that mold is growing somewhere in the building, and it should be inspected for mold.

If you can smell the mold but you can’t see it? The mold colonies might be growing in wall cavities, which are one of their favorite hiding places.

 

Mold is Miraculous … and Potentially Hazardous

Fungi are just one of many examples of life’s diversity and resilience.

Fungi grow almost everywhere in the world. They can survive incredible hardship and environmental conditions.

They are often beneficial to other creatures, including humans.

However, mold colonies do not belong in human homes because they cause problems with indoor air quality. Dave Bayne understands this, and it’s something he stresses to his customers.

“I take great pride in knowing that we remove something that is very dangerous to one’s health and in doing so make their environment safer. However, many do not take it seriously, including some of my fellow competitors.”

He says it’s frustrating when some so-called professionals don’t take proper precautions to protect themselves – or their clients – from mold exposure.

“Mold removal is a serious issue and needs to be done with great precaution,” says Bayne. “As with anything, there is a right way to do things. Unfortunately, our industry is for the most part unregulated.”

That’s why he stresses the importance of continuing education in the mold industry.

“The conferences that I attend and the certifications that I hold are touted in our industry as the best,” says Bayne. “Our certification body is the only one that has had their certificants grandfathered into any state’s licensing when they have passed new laws requiring licensure.”

In short, mold might be a tough and formidable organism, but it is no match for the expertise of a seasoned professional, like those at A1 Mold Testing & Remediation.

If you think you might have mold growing in your house, we’re here to help.

Call or email A1 and ask for Owner & General Manager Dave Bayne, and he’ll be happy to talk about all things mold — for your family’s health and peace of mind.