It’s time to answer one of the most persistent questions seen on MoldBlogger and other sites: Is it safe to clean black mold yourself?
Whether you’re a headstrong homeowner or you simply can’t afford professional mold remediation, you’ve certainly been wondering the same thing lately. Is the risk worth it—and what is the risk anyway? That’s what we’re about to find out!
Can Black Mold Kill You?
Yes, black mold can kill you, but there are a great many factors that must take place before that’s a possibility.
For one, the type of exposure to black mold is important. A one-time exposure may produce unbearable and debilitating symptoms for a period of time, but if the person is treated correctly and never exposed again, the chances of the symptoms becoming a chronic and eventual death threat are extremely low. That said, some one-time exposures have the capacity to become chronic if the person suffers from a weakened immune system or an immunodeficiency. They are at a greater risk of developing long-term and life-threatening mycotoxicosis symptoms (toxic mold sickness). Even a poor lifestyle—poor eating and exercising habits—can lead to a weakened immune system that is vulnerable to a great variety of life-threatening disease—not just black mold toxicity.
One-Time Exposure Black Mold Poisoning Symptoms:
- a long, painful headache
- a tightening in the chest
- burning sensations in airways
- difficulty breathing
- fits of sneezing
- nose bleeds
- skin irritation
- stuffy nose
- watery or itchy eyes
Repeat exposure, such as working or living in a mold-infested environment presents the greatest possibility of chronic black mold poisoning symptoms and death to both immunocompromised individuals and those at peak health. When exposure is persistent, the immune system experiences a bombardment of intense attack that affects the whole body. From the throat and lungs to the digestive system, to the bowels and skin, toxic mold symptoms act very much like a poison on the entire system. There is only so much even the healthiest of bodies can take before it becomes completely incapacitated and meets a fatal outcome.
Repeat-Exposure Black Mold Poisoning Symptoms:
- autoimmune disease
- cold and flu
- emphysema-like disease
- memory loss
- migraine-like headaches
- muscle aches
- pulmonary hemorrhage
- rashes and dermatitis
- sore throat
- vomiting and diarrhea (especially in infants)
How Long Does It Take for Black Mold to Kill You?
There have been many cases of toxic black mold sicknesses and death in public record for the past thirty years, but often, the issue is denied outright or the blame is shifted to keep landlords and businesses from being held accountable for their poor property maintenance.
In the 1990s, Cleveland, OH saw an inexplicable rise in pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding in the lungs) of children. On average, such a severe affliction occurs in only one out of a million children worldwide from time to time, but when every pediatrician in Cleveland suddenly began seeing five or more patients each week suffering from the same symptoms, it was determined that cases in that region alone had risen to one in every one-thousand children. A two-year investigation into the incident identified exposure to Stachybotrys chartarum—toxic black mold—as the cause. Sadly, it took the deaths of several children before the results could be concluded. Those years were warmer and wetter than usual, and Cleveland’s general mismanagement of moisture-damaged rental buildings was to blame, yet many rose up to deny mold sickness was even possible, claiming it to be an imagined disease and downplaying the dangers of black mold. (See: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Acute pulmonary hemorrhage/hemosiderosis among infants—Cleveland, January 1993-November 1994. MMWR 1994;43:881-3.)
In 2009, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, FL lost three young cancer patients in less than a month due to mold inhalation. The cause was the hospital’s construction project that exposed and released toxic black mold into the pediatric cancer wing of the hospital. The children were trapped in poorly-ventilated rooms while microscopic black mold spores attacked their chemo-weakened bodies. Only the three deaths were admittedly due to this mold exposure, but more families are claiming their children suffered from chronic negative effects and even death due to the same negligent exposure.
Periodically, reports will come in regarding farmers, construction workers, handymen, and DIY homeowners who have been exposed to black mold and died from it. As most are usually middle-aged and very fit, the problem was repeat exposure as they worked in silos or on building or renovation projects. For some, it took years before they passed; for others, it took only months.
How long does it take black mold to kill you? As you can see, it depends entirely on your age and current state of health. Those who are most-likely to experience black mold poisoning symptoms and lose their lives because of it are:
- infants and children
- older adults
- people with allergies or asthma
- people with weakened immune systems
What complicates matters is that black mold exposure has also been linked to certain seemingly-unrelated diseases and cancers. This means that the death rate from black mold exposure could be significantly higher, but there is no way to know for sure until medical providers, landlords, and lawmakers take mold toxicity more seriously.
Is it Safe to Clean Black Mold Yourself?
Now that you have a better understanding of the dangers revolving around black mold exposure, surely you’re wondering if cleaning it on your property is worth the risk. The answer is: “Yes, but it depends.”
In most cases of illness and death, the victims did not use the proper equipment when cleaning or removing black mold from their home. Even if the cleaner wears the right protection, the other inhabitants are often exposed because not enough care was taken to ensure the issue was resolved before allowing them back in the home. If you must tackle this problem yourself, you must do it right the first time. You and your loved ones depend on every precaution being executed correctly.
Preparing the Home for Black Mold Removal
Any attempt to resolve mold issues in a home will disturb the mold and release millions—if not billions—of mold spores into the environment. These spores are invisible to the naked eye and completely unavoidable. They spread through every room within minutes—even seconds—so do not think for even a moment that your family is safe in another part of the house. Even if the spores finally settle, you can expose your family by introducing them on your clothing or opening a door and causing them to rise up again on air currents.
This is why a complete strategy must be in place before you make any removal attempt at all.
If you must do this on your own:
- purchase the proper personal protection equipment (PPE)—wear and use it at all times!
- have your family and pets removed completely from the home for several days
- invest in an air purifier that combines HEPA and Activated Carbon filters
- be willing to throw away any items that are fibrous or porous, such as wood or fabrics
- if replacing elements of the home, purchase only mold-resistant drywall, paint, sheet rock, and other materials
- use black mold removal products or cleaners, or make them yourself from anti-fungal essential oils—NO BLEACH!
- document the entire process with videos, photographs, and/or journaling (in case of litigation)
- safeguard yourself and your family with anti-fungal meals and supplements
- maintain mold-inhibiting temperatures and moisture levels in the home
Cleaning black mold yourself can be a daunting task—and one that you should never take lightly. If it is at all possible, I urge you to seek professional assistance. That said, if you choose to move forward regardless of what you have read here, you are doing so with the full knowledge of what the risks are. My only advice is to be unwavering in your precautions and planning. Never move forward without the proper equipment. Do not cut corners. Do not compromise safety for “cheap” or “easy” solutions. Your life and the lives of those you love are at stake.
If you’re in need of black mold removal solutions for specific materials or situations (such as: “how to remove black mold from wood,” “how to get rid of black mold on walls,” or many other topics), please feel free to use the search bar on MoldBlogger. Every week, more topics and solutions will be posted to help you with your mold problems, so check back frequently.
If you’ve ever found black mold in your home, please share your experience in the comments below—it could greatly benefit other readers. What led you to search out the mold—did you experience symptoms beforehand? Where did you find it? What steps did you take to remove it? What black mold removal products did you use? Ultimately, do you believe it is safe to clean black mold yourself or do you think it is wiser to invest in the help of professionals?
Article by Amanda Demsky.