Odd Odors in the Home?

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When it comes to air quality issues in the home, odor concerns are one of the most common. There are many potential sources for odors in an indoor environment, fortunately most are not hazardous. We often fall into the trap of equating an odor with a hazard when this is not always the case.

Often a musty or moldy smell can be eliminated or controlled just by ensuring adequate ventilation of the space. It is important to remember that odor does not necessarily equal hazard. Often older buildings carry an odd odor just by virtue of the fact that the building is old and has had generations of odor producing human activity occupying it. Occasionally the odor can be due to an infiltration of mold.

Molds are part of the natural environment, they can, quite literally, be found everywhere – inside or outside – throughout the year. There are around 1,000 species of mold in the United States, with more than 100,000 known species worldwide. For most people molds do not present a problem. For some groups such as those with compromised immune systems or severe respiratory problems such as asthma or mold allergies they can be a hazard.

Outdoors, molds play an important role in nature by breaking down organic matter such as toppled trees, fallen leaves, and dead animals. We would not have some foods and medicines, like cheese and penicillin, without mold.

Indoors, problems may arise when mold begins to grow on building materials, furniture, or other surfaces.

For molds to grow they need 3 basic items: water, a nutrient source (which can be virtually anything), and a viable mold spore (think of it as a seed). Eliminate any one of these and mold will not grow.

Since mold is present everywhere and can grow on virtually anything we should first find the source of moisture and concentrate on its’ elimination.

In the event of a large-scale event such as a flood, the key is to dry out the impacted materials as quickly as possible. A standard rule of thumb is that items should be dried out within 72 hours, and discarded if drying within that timeframe is not possible.

Moisture can also build up on the inside surfaces of exterior walls which can be trapped by furniture pushed too close to the wall – this can provide the moisture sources for mold growth. Keep furniture at least 1″ from walls for adequate airflow.

If mold growth is found in small patches it can easily be cleaned off by using a mild detergent solution and then by thoroughly drying the affected area. Bleach solutions are often used to clean mold but should be used sparingly. Carefully read containers containing bleach and follow manufacturers’ directions exactly. Many times harsh chemicals such as bleach can introduce a much greater hazard to people and their environment than the mold itself.

Check mold growth areas for water infiltration and/or leaks to ensure that the mold growth is not due to an underlying problem. In most situations, controlling moisture and promptly cleaning small growth areas is sufficient to control mold and prevent a hazardous situation from developing.

Resource: ehs.utah.edu