In 2013, a majority of cities along the Front Range in Colorado, from north to south and east, were flooded. Weather reports called it a 100-year flood. Rivers and streams swelled to epic proportions and water rushed down our mountainsides at a treacherous pace into the flatlands beyond. Farmlands were ruined, homes destroyed or flooded and the trails that locals love so much were ruined. I rolled up my sleeves and helped to form a non-profit to assist local farmers in restoring their land. All in all, I was lucky because my home was untouched. Mold exposure was the furthest thing from my mind.
Little did I know, the flood left a filmy residue of mold in its wake and found a home in my body. Years later, while being treated for another serious toxin exposure to carbon monoxide in 2019 and 2020 (it had not been a good year), my naturopathic doctor suggested I might have also been exposed to mold. A diagnostic test proved he was right. Symptoms were vague – inflammation and leaky gut mostly – and not at all what I assumed mold exposure symptoms, as I had no lung issues or asthma. It’s taken many months of treatment and will likely take many more to heal from this exposure.
I was admittedly naïve. Here in Colorado, we live in an arid climate so I thought my environment must be mold free. I have since learned that mold can live anywhere. All it needs is moisture and dust residue to feed it. Micheal Rubino, president of President of All American Restoration, and author of The Mold Medic: An Expert’s Guide on Mold Removal, set me straight. “There is a misconception that mold only appears in a home after flooding or in high-moisture environments,” says Rubino. “But it can impact any home in every state, indoors or outdoors. The average person takes 20,000 breaths per day and if mold spores are present in the air, it can make you sick.” He says that more than half of Americans suffer from sensitivity to mold and don’t know it. I was one of them. “The good news: you can do a ‘home detox’ to breathe and be healthier,” he says.
The first step in a home detox is to understand how easily mold exposure can happen. I thought the only dangerous mold was black mold. Anything else, like the bits of pink slime in the shower, was simply mildew. Mold comes in a rainbow of colors and it’s microscopic. “Mold is between 2 and 4 micrometers,” he says. “This means that it is invisible to the naked eye. This also means that by the time you can see it growing on your wall, there’s a lot of it!” Within 12 to 24 hours with the right conditions, mold can quickly spread.
I also thought that bleach was the only definitive way to get rid of mold. Long ago I tossed out all toxic-cleaning chemicals from my home. Even mold wasn’t enough to make me go back. Though there is no shortage of “green” cleaners to choose from, I wasn’t sure if they worked. Rubino recommends a botanical cleaner Benefect Decon 30 (available on Amazon), which is made from antimicrobial plant extracts and is even safe for food surfaces. In this pandemic era, it’s reassuring to know that it not only removes mold, but also kills bacteria and viruses.
While we often think of mold as forming in damp basements, window wells and from floods or plumbing leaks, Rubino says that mold lurks in smaller, less obvious places. It can form in coffee makers, front load washing machines, toilet tanks, toothbrush holders, bathroom rugs and even between your dishes if they aren’t dried off.
“If you see mold perpetually pop up when cleaning bathrooms and kitchens, it may mean there’s a bigger problem than what you see on the surface,” says Rubino. He recommends hiring an experienced mold inspector to help identify if there is a problem. “Learning what the species is and how much is present will give you an idea of what you need to do to solve once and for all. Mold spreads very easily so it’s important to be safe than sorry and remove as quickly as you can so it doesn’t spread and contaminate other areas of your home,” he says.
Rubino has seven recommendations for detoxing your home from mold, mildew spores, dust, viruses, pollen and even pet dander:
- Install a whole home purification system into your HVAC equipment that can filter out particles. His favorite is Healthway’s Super V for its ability to filter out particles to the nanometer.
- Regular housekeeping to remove household dust. Household dust can contain many of these smaller particles that bind with mold.
- Switch your vacuum to a certified HEPA vacuum to prevent small particles from passing through the filter and recirculating back into the environment while you clean.
- Buy cleaning products that contain both surfactant and disinfectant to help separate particles from surfaces at the same time it disinfects. As mentioned, his favorite is Benefect Decon 30.
- Change your filters on all mechanical systems and clean all duct work annually with someone who is certified by the national air duct cleaning association. This helps contain the amount of particles that are constantly recirculated.
- Be proactive against water damage events to ensure bacteria and mold do not increase the particulate matter in your home, such as: 1. monitoring humidity levels, 2. installing leak detectors, and 3. monitoring any waterproofing conditions in sub-grade environments.
- Be reactive when you have a water damage event and ensure the area is mitigated properly. Keep in mind bacteria can be present and mold can grow in as quickly as 24 hours.
Mold Exposure and Hidden Health Issues
Mold can lead to many different types of health issues, the more common asthma and lung disorders, but it can also lead to chronic inflammation, autoimmune and metabolic disorders. Studies show that genetic variants make some people, especially children, more susceptible to the health damages caused by molds.
The symptoms can include the following:
Appetite and thirst changes
Body temperature changes
Bowel and urine frequency changes
Joint pain and stiffness
Lastly, those with underlying conditions may be more susceptible to illness from mold exposure, such as individuals with allergies, asthma, COPD, autoimmune disease and other chronic ailments.
From my experience, I recommend that if you suspect you’ve been exposed to mold, don’t try to manage the problem by yourself. Detoxing from toxin exposure is a complex process that takes time to repair. A home detox kit might make you feel better temporarily, but it isn’t precise enough to get rid of specific toxins nor individualized enough to address the way mold toxicity has impacted your health. My advice is to find a naturopathic doctor, because they are trained to both address the complexity of toxin exposure and systematically rid the body of mold and other toxins one step at a time while also working to reverse tissue and system damage you may have sustained.
Find more resources from the National Association of Environmental Medicine.
Find a naturopathic doctor here.
Low Toxin Living Video Classes
Learn more in the Institute for Natural Medicine Housecall Video Series, Low Toxin Living. Naturopathic doctors offer advice on ways to reduce toxins in your life and how toxin exposure can lead to illness. It’s an important topic, please have a notebook nearby to take notes. There is a lot of good information you won’t want to miss.
Micheal Rubino is President of All American Restoration. In his book, The Mold Medic, he provides vital guidance to allow you to live a happy, healthy, mold-free life. Rubino shares his insight from years in the field and also brings in a clinical nutritionist to explain common health effects of mold and toxins. Topics covered include how mold impacts the body when you’re predisposed to conditions such as leaky gut syndrome, Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), Autoimmune disorders, Lyme Disease, and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, and how allergies develop. He is a council certified Mold Remediator by IICRC and ACAC and a contributing member, sponsor, and speaker for the Indoor Air Quality Association.
This article is sponsored by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine
Stewart is an award-winning editor, food and health journalist and best-selling author of Eating Between the Lines, the supermarket shopper's guide to the truth behind food labels (St. Martin's Press).