Like many a mum, the bathroom is my escape zone; a place I can run to steal a moment to myself when the kids get the better of me.
It may only be a super-quick shower or a rare kid-free wee, but I like the room I’m cleaning myself in to be clean. I don’t want it to have dark mould growing in the drain pipes or pink mould sprouting from the grout, and I know I’m not the only one with this simple wish (because us mums really don’t ask for much)!
Due to moisture that can accumulate in the bathroom, it’s an area of the home that easily grows moulds and companies have taken advantage of this and marketed a wide array of products to address these problems.
In this article I’ll take a look at what mould is, why you don’t want it in your home and how you can remove mould naturally without resorting to chlorine bleach.
What is Mould?
Moulds are a type of fungi and are the natural world’s decomposers. They definitely have their place in nature, where they break down organic matter, but are an unwelcome guest in our homes.
Mould is spread via spores and once it finds favourable conditions it can form colonies. It doesn’t need much moisture to grow effectively indoors; a little condensation in a bathroom (just by steam lingering around after a hot shower) or moisture around a windowsill is enough. Mould also needs organic matter, such as dust or dead skin cells, to thrive.
Mould trapped in homes can be very dangerous and toxic varieties can cause many problems, including illness and destruction of property.
Types of Mould
There are several different types of mould and it is common for moulds to be defined by their colour, i.e. ‘green mould’ or ‘black mould’. Unfortunately, the colour of a mould rarely tells you anything useful: there are harmful and non-harmful kinds of mould in each colour group (source). It is best to treat all mould as potentially harmful and prioritise its removal from your home.
Pink mould and black, slimy moulds are the more common coloured moulds found in bathrooms. Pink mould, however, is actually not a fungus and is caused by a bacterium called “Serratia Marcescens.” It is considered not as dangerous as some black moulds, but it is still important to stop pink mould’s advancement in order to avoid any potential health problems.
What Are The Health Effects of Mould?
Common health effects linked to mould exposure include skin irritation and rashes, nasal congestion, sneezing, cough, headache and migraines, wheezing, respiratory infections, asthma and chronic bronchitis. Mould is particularly problematic for the young, elderly or sick, and those with asthma and allergies.
Moulds are common allergens with an estimated 40 per cent of people reportedly having some sensitivity to breathing in mould spores (source). It has also been reported that an allergy to mould can develop as a result of high mould exposure (source).
Growing research into mould has found its impact on health is far more wide reaching than just triggering asthma attacks, respiratory irritation, runny noses and allergic reactions.
A 2007 US study found a link between damp, mouldy homes and depression, while Harvard University researchers found babies growing up in damp homes where mould and mildew are present develop more respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, croup and bronchitis (source).
Toxic moulds also produce mycotoxins that can pose serious health risks including neurological problems, however more studies are required in this area.
Why Bleach is Ineffective at Removing Mould
When it comes to removing mould, most people reach for bleach, but chlorine bleach is considered ineffective at removing mould for the following reasons:
Chlorine bleach does not have the ability to cut through a dirty surface. It only masks it by bleaching it white or transparent.
Although there’s evidence that bleach can kill fungi, concentrations of chlorine bleach in commercial mould killing products are not high enough to effectively kill mould. A 10% bleach concentration is recommended for killing mould, yet most products marketed as mould killers contain less than five per cent and may in fact contain a lower concentration due to the very short shelf life of bleach.
Concentrated bleach, so long as it’s active, can kill off surface growth and spores on non-porous surfaces, but will not penetrate porous materials. If the mould is growing on porous surfaces such as plaster, grout or wood, chlorine bleach may kill what is on the surface but the roots of the mould will remain very much alive.
Strong bleach is harmful to grout and tiles as it erodes and corrodes the surfaces, making them more porous. This makes the surfaces more vulnerable to further fungal growth (source).
Chlorine bleach is also one of the more toxic household chemicals commonly found in the home. It contains benzalkonium chloride (may cause skin and eye irritation), sodium hypochlorite (a strong oxidiser that can burn skin and eyes), and sodium hydroxide (a corrosive alkali that can burn the skin and eyes). For health reasons alone it is worth breaking up with your bleach and choosing natural alternatives.
Natural Methods to Remove Mould from your Bathroom
There are a handful of natural options you can use to remove colonies of mould from your bathroom including using distilled white vinegar, microfiber cloths and tea tree oil, but the most effective, and easiest, method I have found is that recommended by home thrift guru Shannon Lush. This method involves mixing one quarter of a teaspoon of clove essential oil with one litre of water and spraying on the mould. You can wipe down after 20 minutes and reapply or leave the spray on overnight.
Clove essential oil (also known as oil of cloves) effectively kills the mould spores and if used regularly will prevent mould from re-colonising.
Good quality, pure essential clove oil is around $30 for a 15ml bottle. This may sound high compared to a container of bleach, however because it has so many other uses in your home, particularly for deterring pests, it is well worth the investment.
NOTE: Pregnant women should avoid using clove oil until after labour as it is a uterine stimulant. If you are attempting to remove mould from a non-porous surface and are pregnant, use an 80% distilled white vinegar and 20% water solution with a microfibre cloth that is discarded or rinsed twice after use. When rinsing, use two buckets – one with 50:50 white vinegar to water and the other with just water. This process prevents recontamination. For porous surfaces such as wood, a 70% alcoholic solution is recommended. For extensive mould contamination, an accredited mould remediator should be consulted.
How You Can Prevent Mould In Your Home
Killing active mould colonies is just the first step to ridding mould for good.
To keep mould to a minimum and prevent recurrences, install a good exhaust fan and prevent moisture build-up on surfaces. As annoying and impractical as it may sound, dry your tiles and floor after showering and don’t allow soap scum, which mould feeds on, to build up in your shower.
If you have mould that has penetrated silicone you will need to replace the silicone as the roots of the mould will have penetrated the silicone and cannot be easily removed.
You can also help prevent mould from re-colonising by leaving windows open as often as is practical and diffusing clove essential oil, or a blend such as Young Living Thieves Oil, for short periods each day (e.g. 30 minutes) to kill bacteria, viruses and mould spores in the air.
It takes surprisingly little effort and time to remove mould naturally and break up with chlorine bleach and once you banish moulds and chlorine bleach from your bathroom, you’ll discover that it’s a much nicer room to retreat to when you need your “time out.”
If you’d like more tips on breaking up with toxic chemicals in your home, check out my Home Detox Boot Camp. This 8 week online course systematically guides participants through the process of replacing toxic chemicals in their home with effective, cost-effective and natural alternatives.