Mold and Mildew: Part of the Unholy Trinity of the Tropics

mold-spore1Several years ago I complained to a neighbor about the mold and mildew blight of the tropics. He announced –confidently– that he didn’t have mold at his house. Mind you his house is just down the road from ours. Not to be sexist, but I immediately had two thoughts: Wow, you must not be a very thorough housekeeper, and, Whoa, your house is even darker than mine, because obviously you cannot see it. Regardless of my neighbor’s verdict, we have battled the Unholy Trinity of mold, mildew and rot while living here these past 25 years.

Our house, which we built with our bare hands, is constructed from two types of wood, Laurel and Kashá, both of which resist rot… and termites— Oh, I forgot, there’s another pestilence, but I’ll leave that for another post.

The mold/ mildew matter was a huge issue for me, and if I had it to do over, I would not have built a wooden house. It’s gorgeous, mind you, but, like a wooden sailboat, the upkeep is constant, washing, sanding, and revarnishing to keep that beautiful wooden look. Like a lot of boat people I was inclined to let the wood go gray in the elements, but my husband is a putterer and likes to keep things shipshape.

I’ve tried all manner of things on the black mold that tends to congregate where the sun shines on the house. And, I’ve also noted that most of it grows on the floor and bottom four or five feet of the walls; anywhere where moisture levels are higher.

Then there is this about mold from the Mold Remediation Information website:

 Mold (sometimes spelled ‘mould’) is a type of fungi of which there are well over 100,000 species. The original thought that molds feed on decaying leaves and wood is only the beginning. Mold will consume anything organic if you add water or moisture: all plant products such as wood and paper which includes paper, drywall, furniture, clothes, flowers (dead or dried); all dead animal products such as house dust, leather, old meat, dog (and cat) feces. Mold tends not to grow on concrete, plastics and resins, glass, ceramic tile unless there is an abundance of dust covering it and good moisture conditions. It is molds digestive result (excrement) that emits a gas that emits that ‘moldy’ smell. Some molds release gas that has been proven toxic.

Molds are a microscopic multi-cellular organism that for years were thought to be plants, even though they consume other organic matter. Then it was discover that molds lack that important plant ingredient, chlorophyll. This discovery has solidly placed mold outside both the plant and animal kingdom. The exact classification of mold has proven to be very elusive to scientists. Considering strange facts such as: mold does not have a stomach, can live dormant for hundreds of years and has been proven in tests to actually have a rudimentary intelligence. It is clear we are dealing with a very curious link in the Earths biota.

We do not have access to the sorts of remediation they recommend as we live at the end of the road in a very rural area. I’m not even sure there are these sorts of services in Costa Rica. I have forged ahead on my own trying to beat the fungi at its own game. It would seem that the artist, Cecilia Caride, either lives in the tropics or has first-hand knowledge of the plague of that paradise. I found the piece quite humorous.Black mold

For a while I used a Clorox and water mix as that seemed to be the accepted method among the expats. No difference. Then I found Parson’s ammonia in a store in San José and we used a diluted mix for several years. It cut the mold alright, but unless the washer rinsed it off (with the rinse water and sponges I always supplied), the mold began to grow off the soap scum. I’ve had any number of locals hired for the cleaning process and no one seemed to need that rinse water changed, no matter how many times I reminded them.

Then, last year I visited my daughter in Australia. She and her husband, like many of the younger generation, are adamant about protecting the environment. For instance, I soon discovered there were no shampoos in the shower. When I asked what she washed her hair with, she said, Vinegar. In fact, that is what they use for, not only their hair, but all their household cleaning. In passing she also said, If you ever have a mold stain in your clothes, soak it in white vinegar.

Well, this was news to me. On returning home to Punta Uva, I put it to use. Not only does the vinegar strip the mold, it retards the growth by changing the PH. Even my newest house cleaner is impressed. When I first suggested it to him, he was skeptical. But after several months of wiping things down with a white vinegar soaked rag, he sees the difference. Yesterday I actually saw him go into the kitchen and get the vinegar to apply it to his rag.  And  the beauty here,  it does not need a rinsing.

I am also using apple cider vinegar to rinse my hair and wash my face. It has cut back on the tropical crud that tends to live on my scalp and gather on my eyelids and behind my ears.

I’m buying the stuff by the gallon.

Post note: Because this post has received so many hits I’ve added a few resource links for those interested.

Spotless: Room-By-Room Solutions to Domestic Disasters by Sharon Lush


DIY Baking Soda Shampoo & Apple Cider Vinegar Conditioner – 100% Green & Effective! March 10, 2012 by Sara @ My Merry Messy Life