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Is white mold bad for you?

Everything you need to know about white mold and your health
By
Updated on January 10, 2024
Written by
Michelle Honeyager
Michelle started writing for HouseFresh in 2023. She is passionate about home topics and has been published in top publications, including CNET, Bankrate, Remodeling Today, Atlanta House & Home and Remodeling Today Triangle.
TL;DR

White mold is dangerous. 

Many people wonder if white mold is as bad as black mold. Black mold is the infamous neurotoxin that kills brain cells. However, white mold can lead to issues like respiratory distress, rashes, fever and even memory loss or depression.  

 Even if it’s not the dreaded black mold, white mold still has to go. You can use a mixture of water, bleach and dish detergent for the toughest spots. Otherwise, letting some diluted white vinegar sit for an hour and scrubbing can work, too. 

 Make sure to fix the humidity problem that caused the mold in the first place, like introducing a dehumidifier, fixing a leak or ventilating the area well. 

Most people have heard of the deadly and toxic black mold. Black mold may have you panicking a little every time you see a dark spot on your wall or ceiling, even if it just turns out to be dirt. But what if it looks like white mold? Is white mold really dangerous to you?  

White mold is as bad for you as other colors of mold, and we’ll explore why it can be dangerous and which populations are most at risk. Luckily, there are some at-home cleaning tips to follow, and reducing the moisture that caused the mold can reduce recurrence.  

Is white mold bad for your health?

Just because it’s not the infamous black mold, that doesn’t mean white mold is any better for you. In fact, white mold can be as dangerous as any other color of mold.  

You may notice certain symptoms from breathing any kind of mold, according to the EPA.  White mold is a type of fungus that can affect your health. These symptoms can include:

  • Headaches 
  • Skin irritation 
  • Coughing fits 
  • Limited breathing 
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Allergies 
  • Respiratory infections 
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Fever 
  • Memory loss and depression for more serious cases

The types of symptoms you experience and the severity of the symptoms can depend on the number of mold spores you are exposed to and how sensitive you are to mold. For instance, people with asthma also may notice mold is a trigger that can cause additional flare-ups. In cases like these, an air purifier might help. If you touch mold directly, you may also have dry patches on your skin that itch and burn.    

The more time you spend around the mold, the more you may notice the health effects listed above. If you notice white mold, the sooner you can clean it up, the better. If you can avoid the mold and limit exposure, do so, especially if you notice any of the symptoms above.  

Is white mold bad for your house? 

Mold can also compromise the structural integrity of any building. 

White mold is especially common on wood in the home. It actually survives by eating the material, which can then cause stability problems in support beams or other important parts of the home. If the mold is left long enough, it can cause the entire building to become unstable and unsafe.  

In order to minimize the issues, it’s important to identify the source of the mold as quickly as possible. Mold grows in moist environments such as a poorly ventilated attic or a damp wall. Only cleaning it up will likely cause it to come back, causing more damage to your health and property.  

Like black mold, white mold is a toxic fungus that you must clean as soon as you find it. White mold can include different fungal species, like Penicillium and Aspergillus.  

The name white mold is a bit misleading: it can actually appear white, gray or look like a green powdery fungus, which can shift depending on what surface it grows on, the environment and the type of fungus. It most commonly looks light gray and has a fuzzy or powdery texture. It may also appear slimy or have cobweb-like filaments, usually in high-humidity areas like basements or bathrooms. Other materials it has interacted with can sometimes even make it look yellow or greenish.     

You can find white mold in areas of high moisture, no matter what species it is. As such, you’ll likely find it in basements, bathrooms/showers, attics and crawl spaces, where it’s common for moisture to accumulate. You will likely find it on the wood or drywall in these areas, as white mold lives on the cellulose on the surfaces.  

White mold might be growing on surfaces before you can even see it. You won’t see it until whole colonies have formed, and that is when it is visible to the naked eye. White mold spreads during cool weather, which is when fungus releases its spores. Those spores ride on the wind, until they reach a new surface to colonize, like your home’s surfaces. 

How to remove white mold  

You can remove white mold yourself with basic house cleaning steps. However, it’s important to follow the steps closely to protect your health and remove all of the mold.  

1. Put on protective gear 

Make sure to never touch or breathe in the mold spores while you are cleaning it, as that can lead to the health problems and symptoms mentioned above. Wear thick rubber gloves and full-eye goggles. Also, wear a face mask that covers your nose and mouth, ideally something thick like an N-95 mask.   

2. Ventilate the area 

Try to make sure you have open air while cleaning. That can further reduce the risk of mold exposure, help surfaces dry faster and help clear any spores out of the air. If the surface is removable, take the item outside to clean it. Otherwise, open a window or use a dehumidifier to keep air moving, if you are able. Focus on long-term air quality with these best air purifiers for mold

3. Vacuum

Use a vacuum that has a HEPA filter to suck up any mold you can see in the area. After you are done vacuuming, take the vacuum outside to seal the vacuum bag to trap any mold inside.

4. Scrub to kill the mold 

After you have done the previous steps, you will want to kill the mold. You should be able to clean most white mold on your own by mixing dishwasher detergent and warm water and then using a scrub brush to scrub away any leftover mold.

Tips
  • Try using white vinegar if the detergent doesn’t work. Mix the vinegar 50/50 with some water. Spray the area and let it sit for at least an hour. After the time has passed, wipe the area with a cleaning rag and that should have taken care of the mold. 
  • If you want something even stronger, try bleach. Mix a solution of 20 parts water, 10 parts bleach and one-part detergent. Never mix vinegar and bleach, as that can cause toxic gas. Apply the solution to the area with a brush and then scrub.   

Common questions about white mold

Contrary to the name, white mold isn’t always white. It can be white, gray, green or yellow, all depending on the spore type, the environment and what materials it has been interacting with.  It can look fuzzy, slimy, like cobwebs or powdery. However, it does typically look powdery, fluffy or fuzzy, and usually white to light gray, hence its name. If the area has a lot of moisture or humidity, that’s also a key sign that you’re looking at mold. 

Black mold grows in a dark green to black color, unlike the lighter shades you’ll see white mold in. Black mold has a horrible reputation in part because it is far more difficult to remove than white mold. The black variety of mold also can be neurotoxic, meaning it kills brain cells and can cause damage permanently. It might also cause seizures and aggression.  

However, like white mold, you’ll often find black mold in high-moisture areas with porous materials like wood or drywall.

White mold can be a complete disaster for wood if left long enough. White mold grows by feeding on the materials it sits on. With time, white mold can eat into the wood it is sitting on.  If you have white mold on important structures like support beams, it can cause massive structural damage to the building. The home may even become structurally unsound and not safe to live in if the problem persists long enough. That’s why it’s important to both clean mold the second you see it and fix the moisture problem that allowed it to grow in the first place. 

Assume all mold in the home is toxic. You should clean it up and remove the moisture that caused it immediately. Even white mold, black mold’s less dangerous cousin, can cause a wide variety of symptoms, up to and including memory loss and depression. It can also cause issues like headaches, nausea, problems breathing, coughing, worsening allergies and respiratory infections, to name some of the issues. Worse, the same conditions that caused white mold, like high moisture, is a breeding ground for more dangerous mold like black mold.  

Final thoughts 

White mold doesn’t necessarily look white: it can also be gray, green or yellow. It might be powdery, fuzzy, slimy or look like cobwebs. Different materials, the mold type and conditions can affect its appearance. 

Whatever it looks like, however, it still needs to be removed immediately. It can cause a wide range of health problems, ranging from the respiratory to the psychological. That’s why it’s also important to fix the humidity problems that can encourage mold growth in the home. You can clean mold using dish detergent, vinegar or bleach, but never mix vinegar and bleach together because that can cause toxic vapors.     

   

SOURCES

About the author

Michelle Honeyager

Michelle started writing for HouseFresh in 2023. She is passionate about home topics and has been published in top publications, including CNET, Bankrate, Remodeling Today, Atlanta House & Home and Remodeling Today Triangle.