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Mold Growth Can Be Caused by Over-Cleaning: Here’s Why.

Mold growth can be caused by a variety of things, including over-cleaning. A recent University of Oklahoma study reveals that instead of the intended effect, over-cleaning a home actually leads to increased mold growth due to a lack of natural competition. For many years, those who live in urban homes have believed that keeping our homes squeaky clean will protect us from harmful pathogens such as bacteria and fungus.

A recent University of Oklahoma study reveals that instead of the intended effect, over-cleaning a home actually leads to increased mold growth due to a lack of natural competition. For many years, those who live in urban homes have… Click To Tweet

Indeed, we’ve developed chemicals that kill off harmful bacteria such as salmonella, e-coli, and staphylococcus aureus. But we know now that these chemicals are causing resistant bacteria as well as killing off good bacteria too. However, in the past decade, more discussion has taken place around microbial resistance and destruction of the helpful human and environmental biomes due to our cleaning practices. Some of us are unsure about how seriously we should take this issue. With the rise of dangerous and resistant bacteria, many of us are feeling confused. Do we want to decrease our cleaning frequency? Should we switch to other products that create microbial balance rather than killing them off?

The findings from a new study by Laura-Isobel McCall, a biochemist from the University of Oklahoma, may help us make some decisions 1. These study results not only back up existing knowledge around the role bacteria and fungus in the home biome, but they give us some new information to consider.

Study Results: Over-cleaning Causes Increased Mold Growth

The study compared fungal diversity between urban and rural settings in the Amazonia region of Peru and Brazil. Fungal diversity refers to the number of different species of fungus found in a specific area. The urban settings studied were apartments and homes in city environments, whereas the rural settings were in remote villages where people lived amongst nature. The study also looked at the fungal diversity for both the feet and guts of inhabitants in both locations.

The results showed an increase of fungus in urban settings compared to rural ones. Urban environments have much higher quantities of harmful fungal microbes, such as aspergillus and candida. Whereas, they have much lower amounts of helpful fungal microbes.

The results showed an increase of fungus in urban settings compared to rural ones. Urban environments have much higher quantities of harmful fungal microbes... Click To Tweet

Conversely, helpful bacteria are found in much lower numbers in urban homes compared to rural settings. And while there are more harmful bacteria found in rural settings, they live in better balance and harmony with other diverse bacteria and fungus. The researchers also found that the human feet and guts of those who lived in these urban settings showed the same distribution of harmful versus helpful fungal quantities. These results also show that the environmental microbiome has a significant influence on the microbiome of our bodies.

While we strive to decrease harmful pathogens in our home environments, we may be doing more harm than good by wiping out the balance between the microbes. And this appears to have a direct effect on our physical health and well-being. The researchers also isolated several chemical compounds in high diversity in urban homes. So not only do our homes contain more fungal diversity and less helpful bacteria, but they also have more harmful chemicals than ever before 1.

Why Do Fungal Microbes (Mold) Thrive in Urban Environments?

The researchers noted several reasons why fungus grows more abundant in urban environments, to begin with. Our homes are more closed off, which increases internal temperature and limits natural light and air. These are all issues known to worsen fungal growth. Also, urban homes contain more CO2 and more surfaces that aid the growth of fungal microbes 1,2.

However, the study also looked at cleaning compounds which are used in higher amounts in urban settings. The study results showed that these fungal organisms are likely resistant to the cleaning products. Also, once bacteria were killed off, fungal microbes are allowed to grow in more significant numbers 1.

What we do know is that fungal microbes have stronger cell walls than bacteria, so they are more apt to become resistant. Also, bacteria and fungal microbes are known to live in balance (or competition, depending on how you look at it!) together, keeping each population in check 3.

Some bacteria have special enzymes, such as chitinase, that can break through the sturdy cell walls of fungus, lowering their numbers and creating a balance between bacteria and fungus 3. But what happens when those bacteria aren’t present in the local environment anymore?

Does Killing Bacteria Create More Opportunities for Fungal Growth?

Indeed, the study results obtained by Dr. McCall shows that once we kill off all the bacteria, it provides more opportunities for fungal microbes to grow. And since urban homes already have optimal conditions, this helps explain why fungal organisms are found in greater diversity there 1,2.

These results leave us with some challenges for sure, but they’re also promising and give us more food for thought as we work to create a more balanced microbiome in our homes. In turn, this will also help improve the microbiome in our bodies.

Interestingly, while we’ve managed to largely eliminate the threat of harmful bacteria that cause various infections and gastrointestinal illness, fungal-related diseases such as allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue, and autoimmune issues are on the rise. So, it appears we may have swapped one group of illnesses for another 4,5,6.

...once we kill off all the bacteria, it provides more opportunities for fungal microbes to grow. And since urban homes already have optimal conditions, this helps explain why fungal organisms are found in greater diversity there. Click To Tweet

Reconsidering How We Clean

For those of us in urban settings, these new facts present some challenges and opportunities. Most importantly, we need to consider our cleaning practices. Because even though there’s not much that can be easily done to change the structure of our homes, we can do something about our cleaning practices.

  1. DECREASING THE USE OF CHEMICAL CLEANERS: an important place to start. We can ease up on how often we clean and choose less chemical-based cleaners. Natural cleaners like vinegar and essential oils would make better choices. But we also need to reconsider our ideas and biases around living with microbes in our homes. We now understand that disrupting the balance of microbes has adverse effects on overall microbial diversity in our homes 1,6. The next issue is how we can create new practices that help us have more balance and harmony with microbes. By increasing beneficial bacteria in our homes, we not only decrease harmful bacteria, but we also keep fungal microbes to a minimum 2,6,7.
  2. REINTRODUCE BENEFICIAL BACTERIA BACK INTO YOUR HOME: That’s the easy part! Homebiotic naturally and efficiently re-introduces helpful bacteria back in our homes in a convenient spray. It is applied after cleaning any surface to restore a healthy bacterial layer. Just as we improve our gut health through oral probiotics, Homebiotic is a probiotic for our home.

Homebiotic spray - the probiotic for your home

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How Mold Impacts the Environment

You may be familiar already with some of the health effects associated with mold exposure, but there are also environmental impacts that can go much further than the initial mold issue. Specifically, the impacts of traditional mold killing remedies can have far-reaching environmental effects.

Many people tend to reach for a bottle of bleach (or other bleach-based products) when tackling household mold issues, but as we’ve discussed before, bleach is not a good choice for dealing with mold. Beyond the health impacts of exposure to bleach, its use can lead to significant environmental impacts within your home and the areas around your home.

Negative Impact: Air Quality

According to the EPA, Americans spend roughly 90% of the time inside,1 where the concentrations of some pollutants are 2 to 5 times higher than concentrations typically found outdoors2. This situation is made worse when we consider that the people who are most vulnerable to poor air quality (eg. infants and children, the elderly, and anyone suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular disease) tend to spend more time indoors than others3.

In recent decades, as buildings have become more and more airtight for energy efficiency (itself not a bad thing, of course), indoor pollution levels have risen sharply. This is primarily due to a lack of sufficient mechanical ventilation in sealed buildings to allow adequate air exchange, as well as the rise in popularity of industrial-strength cleaning products now marketed for home use4.

In recent decades, as buildings have become more and more airtight for energy efficiency (itself not a bad thing, of course), indoor pollution levels have risen sharply. This is primarily due to a lack of sufficient mechanical… Click To Tweet

Usually, because these products tend to be extremely irritating to your eyes and mucous membranes (nose, throat, lungs), it’s suggested that they are only used in a “well-ventilated” area3. While this certainly can remove the pollutants from the immediate vicinity of the person using them, it does still result in noxious fumes being released to the outside air. In past decades, the phrase “Dilution is the solution to pollution!” was often repeated, but despite the catchy rhyme, it’s definitely not a solution. It’s also not just for air. This applies to what goes down your drain as well.

Negative Impact: Water Quality

If you live in a rural area or are on a septic system, you’ll no doubt already be aware that flushing bleach down your drain is a big no-no. But did you know that it’s also bad even if you are on a city sewer system? Nearly every wastewater treatment system uses bacteria to break down sewage, and exposure to antiseptic products within the wastewater can disrupt the beneficial bacteria. This can result in a reduced or incomplete breakdown of the biological material. In addition, many wastewater treatment systems are not designed to break down chemicals and so often they pass right through the system and are discharged into a lake, river, or other nearby body of water – sometimes the same body of water where drinking water is sourced from!

many wastewater treatment systems are not designed to break down chemicals and so often they pass right through the system and are discharged into a lake, river, or other nearby body of water - sometimes the same body of water where… Click To Tweet

It gets worse.

Common household bleach, also known as sodium hypochlorite, contains a reactive chlorine atom which readily reacts with both organic and inorganic material in water to form a group of substances called trihalomethanes. The 4 trihalomethanes are chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane, and bromoform5. These are all byproducts of the reaction of disinfection products with non-purified water, such as is found in household wastewater. Each of these is a Cancer Group B carcinogen (substances shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals). 

Trichloromethane (chloroform) is by far the most common in most water systems. Dibromochloromethane is the most serious cancer risk, (0.6 ug/l to cause a 10-6 cancer risk increase) followed in order by Bromoform (4 ug/l), and Chloroform (6 ug/l). EPA regulations strictly limit these chemicals at a maximum allowable annual average level of 80 parts per billion (80ppb) when used in drinking water purification systems, but there are no such controls for household wastewater6. With either a compromised city wastewater system or a rural septic system that could potentially contaminate a well or nearby body of water, these pose significant health and environmental hazards.7

Is There A Better Choice For Cleaning Mold?

Rather than using toxic cleaning products that create harmful fumes (Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs) that must be vented to the outside environment or using products that create disinfectant byproducts that are known to be carcinogenic, consider a more eco-friendly alternative.

Hydrogen peroxide, h2o2, can be as effective as bleach in disinfecting a surface but lacks the numerous negative side effects. The reaction uses oxidation rather than a chlorine reaction and produces only water as a byproduct, and no harmful fumes. Hydrogen peroxide, at a concentration of 3%, is effective for killing minor mold growth and disinfecting affected surfaces. It may discolor some materials, so be sure to spot test in an inconspicuous area first. This concentration of hydrogen peroxide is easily found at most grocery stores, drug stores, and of course online. A higher concentration of 7% can be found at chemical supply shops, beauty supply shops, and from online retailers including Amazon, and is more effective, but should be used with caution.

Hydrogen peroxide, h2o2, can be as effective as bleach in disinfecting a surface but lacks the numerous negative side effects. The reaction uses oxidation rather than a chlorine reaction and produces only water as a byproduct, and no… Click To Tweet

How To Use Hydrogen Peroxide On Mold

A common spray mister cap can be attached straight to the hydrogen peroxide bottle and sprayed onto mold spots. This will most likely generate a fizzing reaction for a few seconds up to a few minutes. Carefully wipe the spots away after the fizzing has subsided and at least 10 minutes have passed, and let the surface dry. If there is still mold visible, or it has left stains, you can repeat the hydrogen peroxide application several more times as needed. It’s advised that personal protective equipment be used when cleaning even minor mold spots, including a proper mask, rubber gloves, and eye protection. While the use of reusable microfiber cloths is advisable in many situations, this is not one of them. The mold should be wiped away with a disposable cloth such as a paper towel, which should be discarded immediately. You will likely want to have a fan operating nearby to help remove any excess humidity, although it is not required for the removal of fumes as there will not be any produced.


REFERENCES

1. https://www.osti.gov/biblio/6958939-report-congress-indoor-air-quality-volume-assessment-control-indoor-air-pollution-final-report
2. https://www.osti.gov/biblio/5936245
3. https://rais.ornl.gov/documents/EFH_Final_1997_EPA600P95002Fa.pdf
4. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2013-08/documents/nas_report_for_web.pdf
5. https://water-research.net/index.php/trihalomethanes-disinfection
6. http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/stage1/
7. http://des.nh.gov/organization/commissioner/pip/factsheets/ard/documents/ard-ehp-13.pdf