Mold toxicity can be tough to diagnosis and even more difficult to treat, especially if mold in your own home is at fault. As always, prevention is key — and learning to properly care for your home’s kitchen could help.
Michael Rubino specializes in working with people who are immunocompromised or have acute and sustained reactions to mold exposure, helping thousands of families heal, working to bring broader awareness to the medical systems and is the the author of an accessible book on the topic, The Mold Medic.
In his piece below, Rubino details practical tips to help prevent mold in the one of the home’s most vulnerable spaces, the kitchen….
Even for those who hate cooking, kitchens are happy places within the home. They’re the places we go hunting down a midnight snack, make lunch for the family, and let’s not forget, the keeper of that beautiful coffee machine. We’re not the only ones in love with these indoor spaces, though. Mold, that fungus among us, loves these rooms as well, and there just so happens to be a million and one places for it to sneakily start growing.
With its ability to impact our health from prolonged exposure, knowing where to look for mold and how to prevent it from growing in the first place are phenomenal ways to help make sure the hearts of our homes remain safe and healthy spaces.
The Health Impact of Mold at Home
There’s a common misconception that since mold is everywhere, exposure to this indoor contaminant isn’t a big deal. Yes, it’s true that the average individual will encounter a few moldy particles throughout the day while driving to pick up the kids from school or walking into work. With so many species and the ability for spores to zip anywhere, it’s an impossible encounter to avoid. However, experiencing indoor mold growth isn’t quite the same as encountering mold in nature.
Keep in mind that the particles in question are tiny. Mold spores can range from 2–4 microns, a unit of measurement that’s one-millionth of a meter. Some species of mold also release microscopic toxins called mycotoxins when they feel threatened, which are even smaller and average around 0.1 microns. Their teeny size means that they’re not only ingestable, but they can also fly right into our respiratory system when we breathe.
In an everyday encounter, the immune system will quickly and efficiently get rid of any of these foreign particles that enter the body. When mold is growing in locations such as our kitchens, though, our bodies aren’t just facing a few particles throughout the day. As soon as that mold starts growing, it releases spores and sometimes mycotoxins into that indoor space, many of which remain trapped within the walls of the home.
This situation lowers the indoor air quality, contaminates the surfaces within, and constantly batters the body of anyone living inside with foreign particles. The body will attempt to keep up, but the immune system can eventually get run down and malfunction, leading to a long list of potential adverse health reactions. Not everyone responds to mold exposure the same way, though. While one person may have the occasional runny nose, another may develop 11 symptoms. Factors such as genetics, preexisting conditions, species of mold, and the presence of mycotoxins all play a role.
The health implications of living in a toxic environment are why it’s so important to actively work to prevent mold from taking root in places like the kitchen. That involves removing the opportunities for growth, checking the places that can allow for hidden colonies, and actively eliminating mold spores as well.
5 Important Ways to Prevent Mold in the Kitchen
The 100,000 species of mold in the world reproduce by creating microscopic spores and releasing them into the air. These spores ride the air current to wherever that leads, oftentimes right through our own front door. Like the seeds of a plant, these spores will remain tiny particles until they land on a surface with the elements they need to transition into a living colony.
The two main components needed for a spore to begin living are food and moisture. Both of which happen to be in abundance in our kitchen. Food sources abound, from dust and particles from cooking to other random organic matter introduced every day. Moisture gets added to the picture by things such as cooking, the sink faucet, dishwasher, cooking, coffee pot, and/or tea kettle.
If these elements are available on a surface for 24–48 hours, a mold spore can start to grow. Once it begins to colonize the space, it will start the reproduction cycle and begin releasing spores into the surrounding area.
Here are the top five places to get started on mold-proofing any kitchen…
01. Underneath the Sink and Cabinets
Chances are, underneath the sink and inside cabinets don’t get a whole lot of time in the spotlight. This can allow for a small hidden leak to go undetected for some time, or moisture from high humidity to build up, giving a lucky mold spore the perfect place to call home. Particles such as dust and all sorts of yummy organic matter can also build up, providing the perfect food source.
Regularly inspecting and cleaning these spaces can help prevent a moldy problem from occurring. To check this off of that kitchen maintenance list, follow the steps below every month or so:
Remove all items from the cabinets
Check the entire interior with a flashlight
Throw on some gloves
HEPA vacuum all surfaces inside (these machines are required to remove at least 99.7% of particles up to 0.3 microns in size)
Spray white vinegar or a botanical cleaning product onto a microfiber rag (these are 100 times better at wiping away small particles than regular rags)
Wipe all surfaces inside and outside of the cabinet
Allow the interior to dry completely before replacing everything and closing the door
Extra tip: To further prevent mold in cabinets, be sure to keep indoor humidity levels around 30-50% and focus on creating airflow by turning on the exhaust fans while cooking. Also, never use bleach to get rid of or prevent mold growth. It won’t properly remove particles from the surfaces, leaving contamination behind and allowing exposure to continue.
02. The Sink Faucet
Sink faucets are the rockstars of the kitchen, but they create a constant water source for mold spores. Between that, particles floating around the kitchen, and mineral buildup, these can become hotspots for mold growth. Not only is that an active mold factory in the kitchen, but it’s also adding contamination to any water that comes through the facet, all of which is a health no-no.
To avoid this fiasco, try this:
Clean the faucet head by tying a plastic bag filled with vinegar to it and allowing it to soak for a few hours. Overnight is even better. Vinegar is a descaler and will break up any mineral buildup that can support mold. After the soak, spray the entire fixture with vinegar and then wipe everything thoroughly with a microfiber towel; you can gently use a small brush like a toothbrush for any hard-to-reach areas. For the aerator, gently clean it with vinegar once every six months.
If there are any existing leaks, fix them ASAP so there aren’t any additional watery opportunities that will allow mold to grow.
03. The Coffee Maker
Unfortunately, this fungus among us loves that coffee maker just as much as we do. Between the coffee grinds, the million and one particles kicked up during kitchen use, mineral buildup, and frequent water use, they’re oases for mold growth. The gaskets inside the machine can also trap moisture, leading to unwanted moldy problems.
To keep that bean water machine mold-free, the goal is to keep the machine as dry and clean as possible. This includes daily washing of any removable parts, including the water reservoir, filter, carafe, and landing tray. Allow these to dry completely before placing them back. While these are drying, spray the surface of the coffee machine with a botanical cleaner like Benefect Decon 30 and wipe it down with a microfiber towel.
At least once a month, deep clean these machines with a descaler. Every machine is different, so make sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions on the best cleaning product to use and what steps to take. Typically, you can fill the reservoir with a mixture of white vinegar and water, let it brew halfway, and then allow that mixture to sit inside the machine for about an hour. Finish the cycle, dump that water, spray everything down with the white vinegar, and wipe it with a microfiber rag. Refill the reservoir with water, and run a few brews to get rid of the excess vinegar.
04. The Refrigerator Water Spout
These can allow for hidden mold growth for some time before the problem is discovered, leading to seriously contaminated drinking water. Like many kitchen appliances, they’re the perfect dream home for a lucky mold spore: water is in abundance and edible options come in the form of food particles, dust, organic matter, and mineral buildup, all of which allow for mold growth.
Preventing this scenario means a deep clean of that water spout at least once a month. Before getting started, though, check their manufacturer’s manual to get a full breakdown of which parts can be removed and their suggestions on cleaning; every refrigerator is different.
Turn the water dispenser and ice maker (if applicable) off.
Tackle any removable pieces and wash them. This includes spraying them down either with white vinegar or a botanical cleaner, then wiping everything with a microfiber cloth. Afterward, wash with warm water and soap, rinse, and air dry. Use a small brush like a toothbrush if needed to thoroughly clean all of the little cracks and crevices. If the ice maker is connected, remove and clean the box and the area where the ice enters the fridge too.
From there, spray down the entire unit. Wipe every reachable area, including the water nozzle itself. A small brush or pipe cleaner can help get into the hard-to-reach places that mold loves. Some dispensers can click out and allow more access, but double-check that manual before attempting to remove it.
Allow everything to dry completely before replacing any removable parts.
For even more anti-mold power, clean the water line once every 6–12 months.
05. The Dishwasher
These are a pretty obvious bet to become an icky, moldy spot in the kitchen. Their main function involves a barrage of water, and they blast food particles everywhere. Without proper maintenance, mold can easily grow within the machine, which means all of those clean dishes are being covered in all sorts of harmful particles every time the machine turns on.
To prevent this, deep clean the machine at least once a month. Again, check the manufacturer’s instructions for their cleaning recommendations as each machine is different.
Typically, steps to deep clean the machine include:
Remove all the removable pieces of the machine.
Spray each piece with white vinegar or a botanical cleaner, scrub, rinse, and wipe with a microfiber towel. Leave them out to air dry when finished.
Next, clean the dishwasher filter next; rely on the manufacturer’s manual for a removal and cleaning guide.
Spray all of the corners, parts, and crevices inside of the dishwasher and scrub with a small brush. This includes the area that houses the filter and the drain opening. Use a larger brush and take care of the sides, top, and bottom as well.
Wipe every part down, inside and out, with microfiber towels.
Move on to the interior and exterior of the door next. Spray with your cleaning product and wipe with a microfiber towel.
Replace all of the parts.
Place 1-2 cups of vinegar in a dishwasher-safe bowl, place this on the top rack, and run a dishwashing cycle on the hottest setting.
When this cycle is finished, leave the door open so that it can dry completely.
A few other tips for a clean dishwashing machine include rinsing off dishes before putting them inside, checking the filter once a week for built-up particles, wiping the door gaskets and rubber parts weekly, and leaving the door open when not in use to make sure the interior remains dry.
A Clean and Healthy Kitchen
At the end of the day, when the average person breathes 20,000 breaths a day and most of those inhalations are taken right within our own homes, it’s important to actively work on keeping these spaces safe. That way, we can focus on what matters most: making memories and spending quality time with friends and family. Since kitchens are at the top of the moldy hotspot list and common areas we hang out in the most, they are fantastic places to start to ensure your indoor environment is contaminant-free and promoting ongoing health.
Want to learn more? Read Dr. Hyman’s How To Spot Symptoms Of Mold Toxicity (It’s More Common Than You Think) and this story on indoor air pollution at home.