Mallorca's high humidity levels and the inadequate heating systems installed in many houses (and I am not only talking about the very old, thick-walled stone ones) turn mold and mildew into an ever-present enemy during the winter months.
For those who are used to it and call it almost lovingly 'mal de Mallorca' – the 'Mallorcan disease,' it might seem nothing more than an aesthetic inconvenience. In reality, mold and mildew can be quite dangerous for your health.
Mold and Mildew – What's the Difference? #
Both mold and mildew are classified as fungi. Most people find it hard to tell the one from the other, although it's important to know which is which in order to decide the most efficient preventive measures. The easiest way to distinguish the two is by the way they look.
Mildew is typically white, gray or yellow, has a flat, often powdery texture and stays mostly on the surface. In a household, it can, for example, be found on fabrics (e.g. clothes kept in unaired wardrobes), paper (e.g. old books and wallpaper in spaces with limited ventilation) and leather (e.g. shoes that have sat around in a closed cupboard for too long), especially if they got wet. Organic material such as potatoes or grapes can also show mildew if kept for too long.
Mold is that green or black, fluffy or slimy stuff that tends to spread into deeper layers of the material it colonizes. This could be foods such as cheese, bread, or meat, but also indoor or outdoor spaces which have gotten wet for some reason or other. Garages and sheds, crawl spaces, and boats are all risk zones for mould as is every indoor space with high humidity levels and little ventilation.
And this is why this is such an ubiquitous problem here on the island: Mallorca is an island surrounded by water, and humidity levels are very high throughout winter (a fact you can see for yourself every morning when looking at the amount of dew that has accumulated overnight on all outdoor surfaces). Also, torrential rains are quite a common phenomenon during the winter season, and not all roofs are well-made enough to withstand the floods…
How Mold and Mildew Affect Your Health #
One thing is for sure: mildew is definitely the lesser evil. Whereas it is definitely bad for the food it affects and you should definitely NOT do what my grandparents did (namely scraping off the "bad bits" and eating the rest), and although it can cause allergies, it is relatively easy to get rid of it by just washing it off with a bit of bleach, vinegar or soap (see instructions below).
The real baddie, however, is the mold. As it doesn't stay on surfaces but is invasive and reaches into the deeper layers of the materials it colonizes, it can not only damage entire structures of a house (or boat, or vehicle) but also cause serious, long-term health issues including allergies against spores that are being inhaled which causes symptoms like coughing, itchy eyes, runny nose, headaches, and even asthma or lesser known effects of mold toxicity: The mycotoxins found in mold spores can enter the body through the skin, airways, and the digestive tract and, as was shown in recent studies, create massive problems:
- Hormonal: difficulty regulating temperature, excessive sweating
- Immune: Recurrent infections, allergies, asthma
- Mental: Depression, anxiety, irritability
- Neurologic: Headaches, brain fog, dizziness, and nerve pain
- General: fatigue, hair loss, weight fluctuation, increased fungal infections, memory loss, and a craving for sweets
It is important to remember that other factors such as age, stress and exposure to other toxins can aggravate the effects of mould exposure. So, it’s essential to take good care of yourself in a more general sense.
Preventing Mold and Mildew #
Now that we've seen which serious effects mildew and, even more so, mold can have on your body, let’s see what can be done to prevent these fungi from infesting your home. The most important thing is to create an environment that is unfavorable to its growth.
Mold thrives in humid environments with poor air circulation. This is why high concentrations of mold are rarely found outside of houses but are very common in enclosed spaces. The following steps can be taken to maintain low humidity levels in your home:
- Ventilation is the best of all (preventive) cures! Open your windows for at least 15 minutes every day to let the fresh air in. The best (because driest) time of day is between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. (provided it’s not raining). Always open your bathroom window after having a shower or bath. Similarly, pop the kitchen windows open when cooking during the day, but don't do it at night! After sunset, humidity levels rise to a degree that would be counter-productive.
- Watch out for "thermal bridges" in the construction of your house: Materials with a higher thermal conductivity like metal let the heat escape from your house more easily, creating "cold spots" on inside walls where humidity condenses. These "cold spots" offer ideal conditions for mildew and mould to grow. Make sure your window frames – especially if they are metal ones - are properly insulated and wall insulation doesn't leave any "cold corners".
- Get a dehumidifier and run it continuously throughout the day.
- True, heating can be expensive on Mallorca, but to have a snug house is not only important for comfort – it is important for your health, too. Warm, dry air – that's your top trump in the fight against mildew and mould.
- Avoid using butane heaters; they generate water during the combustion process, creating extra humidity.
- Get leaky roofs repaired right away. If a leak does happen, it is crucial to turn on a dehumidifier right away and leave it on until the space has completely dried out.
- Move heavy furniture like beds and wardrobes away from walls and leave a gap for ventilation.
- Check the walls behind your curtains regularly for signs of mildew and wash curtains frequently.
Spotting Mold #
A tell-tale sign of both mildew and mould is its typical musky, pungent smell. If a closet, basement, or room starts to smell dank – well, you can be sure there is a fungal growth somewhere. Time to have a good look around!
Eliminating Mold #
Whenever you discover mildew or mould, act immediately! Here is how you make your own efficient fungus removers:
- Bleach: A mixture of water and bleach works best on porous surfaces and does not need to be washed off unless the surface treated will be used for food preparation. Mix 1 part bleach (lejija) and 10 parts water in a bucket. Make sure to put on gloves and use a sponge to rub the mould away. Or fill the mixture into a spray bottle and repeatedly spray the affected area.
- Vinegar: Vinegar is a natural, non-toxic option that will kill up to 82% of all existing mould species without emitting any harmful fumes. Vinegar also works well on porous surfaces. Put some undiluted white vinegar into a spray bottle and apply directly onto the moldy area. Leave on for an hour, then wipe off with water. The smell of vinegar should dissipate once the surface has dried-off completely. To prevent the mould from reappearing, repeatedly spray the affected area during several days without rinsing the vinegar off, letting it dry completely.
- Bleach and Soap: The best option for treating mould in shower stalls and bathrooms is a combination of bleach, liquid soap, and water. Mix 1 part bleach, 1 part liquid soap, and 10 parts water in a bucket and clean the affected areas using a sponge. Don’t forget to put on gloves to protect your hands from the bleach. Rinse the area with clean water once all mould has been removed.
All of the above work with mildew, especially in combination with the preventive measures described above. Whether they create the desired long-term effect in the case of mould infestation cannot be guaranteed. Should the problem persist there is only one way to proceed: Call in an expert and get a quote for professional mould remediation.
More Than an Ugly Stain #
Please, do yourself a favor and watch out for those ugly stains in hidden corners. As we have seen, mildew and especially mold are more than an aesthetic problem and could seriously affect your health. Let the air and sunshine in – as often as you can.
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By Polina Frantsena
14 January, 2020