Mold can cause so many health problems that I decided to investigate my own home.
While on my own “mold safari” I hit all the key places mentioned in my article “Mold Hide and Seek” and took the opportunity to haul ten years worth of basement junk to the town dump. But I was still plagued by a chronic cough. It was summertime. No illness or pollens to blame. So I had to keep hunting. At the end of September, when the windows were closed but before falling leaves could be blamed for a higher mold count, my cough became constant. I sounded like I had a throat clearing tic – even though I have never suffered from tics. Then I started feeling itchy in newly washed clothes. The towels had a musty odor even after washing them in vinegar.
Checking out the disgusting mold in the machine
The sight that greeted me was revolting. Mold covered the top 5 inches of the plastic drum. So every load of wash I did was being contaminated with the stuff. Thanks to some friends on the Latitudes forum, I went snooping in my washing machine. I have a top loader, which is thankfully very easy to take apart. Using a Youtube video, I removed the outer metal casing and exposed the metal drum, which sits inside a slightly larger plastic drum. The sight that greeted me was revolting. Mold covered the top 5 inches of the plastic drum. So every load of wash I did was being contaminated with the stuff. It was growing above the water line, so using vinegar in the wash wasn’t reaching the higher areas where years of water spray had made a nice mold terrarium and years of soap film kept it well fed. I was horrified.
After suiting up for battle (N95 respirator-type face mask, eye protection, latex gloves and old clothes) and making sure the area was well ventilated, I closed off my laundry room and I started spraying the plastic drum with peroxide and wiping it away with a sponge (hint – poke a string through the middle of the sponge and tie a long loop, securing the other end of the string around your wrist, so if you happen to drop the sponge in this very tight space, you don’t have a new problem on your hands). Just be careful not to do anything that will crack the plastic drum or you’ll be shopping for a new washer! I like peroxide because the foaming lets me know if there’s still mold there. But if you’re highly allergic, this may not be the best cleaner for you, as the foaming likely releases mold toxins.
There are green products that are also effective. I confess I was on a mission and didn’t take the time to look into eco-friendly like I probably should have. I took too much perverse joy in imagining tiny screams coming from the fizzing peroxide bubbles slaughtering the enemy. But regardless of your choice of cleaning agent, always, always ventilate the area and if possible, close any doors into the laundry area to lessen the spread of any spores or toxins into the rest of the house.
Accessing the drum
If you have a front loader, access to the drum seems more complicated. There is usually a drain pump area and filter screen that can be accessed after removing a few screws (check your manual or YouTube). Most resources I’ve found advise to use special cleansers formulated to fight mold buildup on a monthly basis. Also be sure to thoroughly wipe the rubber seal around the door and always leave the door open when not in use.
Washing with Borax is another good way to maintain a mold-free washer, as it has anti-microbial properties. Avoid using too much soap when you wash; soap residue is a great food resource for mold and mildew.For both front and top loaders, you can also spray the inside drum with peroxide, a dilution of borax, vinegar, or with diluted essential oils. You can use lemon oil, grapefruit seed extract or a blend such as Thieves Blend. I’ve read that using a diffusion of essential oils in the bathroom is also a good preventive measure to keep mold from returning, but I don’t have first hand experience yet. A general reference for using essential oils can be found here but there are many excellent sources. Please don’t take this as an endorsement.
The grand results
I’m happy to report that, after the basement purge, replacing an old carpet and cleaning the washer, my war on mold has – so far – been a success. My cough went away the day after I cleaned the washer and re-washed my most recent loads of laundry. The bottom line is that mold is everywhere. The newest home, the cleanest home – is still a potential source of mold. Where there’s water, there can be mold. Frequent inspection of any area that has moisture is a wise idea, particularly if you or anyone in your family is already dealing with chronic illness or neurological symptoms. It may not be your only problem, but it could be a contributing factor and be making neurological symptoms worse.