Aside from damage to property, flood waters and excess moisture can create a myriad of potentially serious health risks. Microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses can flourish in these wet, contaminated climates. In the case of standing water, they can go from being waterborne to airborne problems very quickly. This is why cleanup and restoration need to begin immediately but also why your health needs to be a primary concern with any water damage restoration job.
In the most severe cases, flood waters can spread dangerous diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever or tuberculosis. Standing water also acts as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which can spread malaria, as well as a host of bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella. While health concerns like these are not common or widespread in the floods here in the U.S., regardless of location, they are very real dangers associated with severe flooding.
By far, the most common problem associated with flooding is excess moisture and mold. Mold is present nearly everywhere, indoors and outdoors, dormant or actively growing. Though there are beneficial uses of mold, exposure to mold and mold spores can cause a range of reactions from irritation of the eyes, skin, nose and throat to asthma attacks. For those with allergies or asthma, this can be a constant irritation at best but, under certain conditions, can degenerate into a very dangerous situation at worst.
Excess Moisture and Mold - Aftermath of Floods
After a flood, mold can begin to flourish in wet areas in as little as 24 hours. Besides the speed at which mold can grow, what also makes it such a health risk is that once it begins to grow, it rapidly begins producing spores and mycotoxins. Mold spores not only cause allergic reactions, but they are also difficult to eliminate. The spores are hardy and can lie dormant for years until conditions are suitable for growth. This makes mold spores virtually impossible to eliminate and a challenging task to control.
Mycotoxins are the second but more powerful side effect of active mold growth. Though commonly associated with fungi, several different types of mycotoxins can be created by active mold growth indoors, including Alternaria, Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Stachybotrys. Allergies and respiratory inflammation are two of the most commonly reported symptoms that can arise after exposure to these types of mycotoxins, and this is actually fairly benign when you consider that ingesting certain types of mycotoxins can be lethal to humans and animals.
Despite mold's overall persistence to grow and flourish, there is a simple solution. As very simple organisms, any mold needs only three things for growth: oxygen, a cellulose based food, and moisture. Eliminate or minimize any one of those three and mold can be controlled. Since removing all possible cellulose food sources and oxygen from your home is a ridiculous idea, controlling humidity levels is your best defense against mold. Reduce or eliminate excess moisture and mold growth grinds to a halt. This underlies why it is crucial to discard or dry out and sanitize flooded areas as soon as possible.
Eliminate Excess Moisture and Mold - Dry Out & Clean Up
The use of a dehumidifier is not only beneficial for flood clean up but continued use of a home dehumidifier can help keep humidity levels down and prevent mold growth. Many dehumidifier models, whether residential, restoration, or commercial, have built-in humidistats to give you the current, relative humidity of an area. Keeping humidity relative humidity levels lower than 50% can eliminate mold growth and thus reduce the potential for mold related allergic reactions. You can also monitor relative humidity anywhere in your home or on a restoration site with a digital hygrometer. These handy devices give you current humidity and temperature readings, and being battery operated, you can take them nearly anywhere.
While using a dehumidifier can prevent or stop mold growth, it cannot address mold colonies that have already formed. Even as the humidity level sinks to lows that are inhospitable to mold, you still have the problem of removing the colonies that already exist. This means physically removing the colonies from the surfaces on which they grew as well as removing the toxins and spores from the air you breathe.
Save the Bleach for Your Laundry
The majority of people immediately reach for bleach or chlorine based products to remove mold. Bleach or chlorine can be a great way to keep your whites bright, but it's also a substance that can be very harmful to your health.
In attempting to clean with bleach you can wind up creating secondary problem because of the harsh fumes. Chlorine and chlorine based compounds are powerful lung irritants that can cause problems ranging from lung irritation, coughing and watery eyes but in more concentrated doses can be lethal. More importantly, bleach does not kill mold effectively. It never has, and unless the formula for modern bleach changes, it never will. It appears that you have addressed your problem with bleach but all that has really happened is the mold, like your socks, is now bleached bright white.
Mold Cleaners and Preventatives
We recommend two alternatives to bleach and chlorine based cleaners. First, if possible, remove anything that has mold growth. From caulk in a joint to a sofa cushion, if you can get rid of it, do so.
If removing the effected item is not an option, try a non-toxic mold cleaner. MoldZyme, by EcoDiscoveries, uses a enzyme based formula to remove mold and mildew. This cleaner is free of ammonia, chlorine and is biodegradable. For clothing or materials that can fit in a washing machine, there are laundry additives you can add to remove mold from washable items. The best alternative to bleach is Vital Oxide. Vital Oxide is a broad spectrum cleaner and FDA registered disinfectant. Not only does it eliminate mold but it also kills bacteria, reduces odors and inhibits new mold growth.
That brings us to the end of the line, preventing new mold growth. Aside from keeping relative humidity levels down, some areas are always going to be prone to mold growth. In areas like the bathroom, mold tends to growth first on the caulk and grout used in the seams around the shower stall, bathtub and in between tile. Once mold has been removed or caulk replaced you can help to prevent new growth with a couple products.
Our most popular product for this is Allergy Armor Sure Cote. This mold and mildew protectant is sprayed to the desired surface and once dry, prevents the growth of mildew and inhibits mold growth. The second product that will help prevent the reappearance of mold and mildew is AllerMold. This non-toxic spray will clean existing mold and once reapplied will continue to prevent future growth of mold and mildew. AllerMold works best when reapplied every two months and is an excellent all-in-one mold cleaner and growth inhibitor.
In addition to these preventative agents, keeping areas properly ventilated will help reduce humidity levels. In bathrooms, run the exhaust fan, open a window or at the very least, leave the door open after a shower. In these areas you can also use small dehumidifiers or bags of desiccant to remove excess moisture.
As with many things, the key to controlling mold is environmental control. So whether it's a water damage site or simply an average day in your home, keeping the relative humidity level low and reducing the amount of excess moisture is the key to a clean and safe living environment.
Shop all dehumidifiers, learn more from our Dehumidifier Buying Guide or read one of our other helpful resources articles.