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Which is a healthier home habitat: the forest or the desert?

Which is a healthier home habitat: the forest or the desert?

Is it more healthy to live in or near a forest or a desert?  Spoiler alert: we’re not going to call that decision.  Each habitat has its advantages and disadvantages, so we’ll explore them to see which one is best for you.

You might think that these two climes are extremely opposite, but they do have (at least) one thing in common: trees!  Granted, there are many more trees in forests, but trees in the desert can accomplish many of the same purposes.  In a 2020 study, one particular type of tree found in Qatar (desert region), Acacia tortilis, was found to be the most efficient tree species for reducing air pollution, having good capacity to intercept storm water runoff, reducing energy consumption and reducing air pollution levels through dry deposition, avoiding further pollution formation and CO2 removal.  Mature trees (with diameter greater than 45 inches) were much more efficient at accomplishing these goals than younger trees (diameter 10 inches). 

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), trees provide many benefits, including the ability to clean our atmospheric environment both directly underneath their canopies, and at a larger, regional scale. Because leaves transpire large amounts of moisture, trees have a cooling effect on the surrounding environment—like air conditioning. By cooling and cleansing the atmosphere, trees help to make air safer for breathing by plants, animals, and humans and have positive benefits on habitat. In fact, air quality underneath a closed tree canopy is often significantly better than above that tree canopy, especially for ozone—a common air pollutant that forms downwind of urban air pollution sources. On a regional scale, forests also scrub ozone and other nitrogen and sulfur-containing air pollutants out of the prevailing winds, protecting more sensitive areas.  Healthy forests with large, widely-spaced trees also protect from wildfire smoke because pines and other fire-adapted trees with their thick, fire retardant bark better resist fire in all but the most extremely hot, dry, and windy conditions.

Interestingly, some trees contribute to ozone production, while others reduce it.  This is because species like black locust, European oak and poplar intensively emit isoprene, which results in higher ozone and PM10 concentrations, while tree species emitting primarily monoterpenes such as beech, magnolia and wayfaring trees yield less of both.  (Impact of vegetative emissions on urban ozone and biogenic secondary organic aerosol: Box model study for Berlin, Germany)

Another common denominator between forests and deserts is animals–whether they are domesticated or wild, contact with animals is more frequent in remote areas than in urban areas.  There is also much research that shows how exposure to animals benefits us.  In one study, the researchers recruited 2 groups of young men:  20 young men who were raised for the first 15 years of life on farms with farm animals, and a second group of 20 young men who were raised for the first 15 years of life in a city of over 100,000 people, without daily exposure to pets. Both groups were then given Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), a model of acute psychosocial stress in humans. The results revealed that those who grew up in cities without daily exposure to pets, and thus lacked exposure to diverse microbial environments during childhood, responded to psychosocial stress with exaggerated inflammation markers,  (Less immune activation following social stress in rural vs. urban participants raised with regular or no animal contact, respectively)

Now, let’s talk about some specifics of each habitat.


Although the stereotypical desert is hot, dry and sandy, only one of these words accurately describes every desert (dry).  Most experts agree that a desert is an area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year. The amount of evaporation in a desert often greatly exceeds the annual rainfall. Surprisingly, areas near water can actually be deserts, because humidity in the air doesn’t predict or cause rainfall.  The Atacama Desert, on the Pacific shores of Chile, is a coastal desert. Some areas of the Atacama are often covered by fog. But the region can go decades without rainfall. In fact, the Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth, and some weather stations in the Atacama have never recorded a drop of rain.  (Desert)

Low humidity is obviously a benefit to keeping mold from growing on outdoor or indoor surfaces, if air conditioning is not needed.  Dryness would lead some to believe that mold could not be a problem in the desert.  However, mold spores are present everywhere, and lack of home maintenance can allow even a small amount of rainfall to turn into a mold disaster.  Mold can start growing undetected in attics, crawlspaces and walls during one of the infrequent rains, and can turn into a big problem whenever it is disturbed, such as during renovation or further deterioration.  If air conditioning is used, it can generate mold problems when moist air (like from cooking or showering) hits cold air, or around the surfaces where cold condensate is produced.   

Low humidity also means little to no mosquitoes and many other biting insects.  Low pollution (when the wind is not kicking up dust) and warm weather can also be a positive for those who suffer from breathing problems like asthma.  

One problem of low humidity is its effects on the human body (see our article).  Dehydration can become evident in dry skin, hair and nails, respiratory system and through your whole body, affecting every major system.  In addition, static electricity builds up in your clothing and furniture, which can hurt and damage electronics.  Finally, dry air allows pathogens to stay afloat in the air for longer periods of time.  

Most deserts have very little cloud cover and thus a lot of sunshine.  This, for sure has its benefits and drawbacks; it can be the cure for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but also present higher risk for skin and eye damage and cancer.  Exposure to UV sunlight was associated with lower systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading) regardless of the temperature. (Could sunshine lower blood pressure? Study offers enlightenment)  In addition, sunlight assists your body in making vitamin D, which strengthens bones, and sunlight promotes collagen production in your connective tissue, which helps you move quickly. (7 Health Benefits of Living in the Desert)

The purifying power of sunlight should not be underestimated.  Those who live in or near the desert can use the UV rays of sunlight to purify water, their laundry, and anything else they can bring outside for a good “freshening”. 

One important disadvantage to desert life is dust.  In fact, you don’t have to live in the desert to suffer from the effect of desert dust, because dust from deserts can be transported on the wind and even injected into the troposphere, allowing it to travel great distances (such as across the Atlantic Ocean in the case of Saharan dust).  Dust clouds at surface levels bring particulate matter, coarse and fine, worsening air quality and posing respiratory or even cardiovascular risks.(What is desert dust and how does it change atmosphere and the air we breathe?)  The danger of dust presents in two different ways: size of the particles and content of the particles.  Particles that are approximately between 2.5 to 10 microns (PM10) are inhalable, but can be trapped and cleared from the upper respiratory tract.  Particles less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) can lung alveoli, entering the blood stream where they cause systemic harm to other organs in the human body. (A Retrospective Cohort Study of Military Deployment and Postdeployment Medical Encounters for Respiratory Conditions)  Especially concerning is the class of particles less than 1.0microns (PM1.0), which are sure to enter directly into the bloodstream and may also cross the blood-brain barrier.  The toxic content of dust can be pathogens such as bacteria, including some that carry respiratory diseases (Characterization of Bacteria on Aerosols From Dust Events in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa), and most importantly, a fungus Coccidioides which causes Valley Fever.  It can also be bioreactive metals such as copper, chromium, nickel, lead and zinc, as well as pesticides, herbicides, radioactive particulates and aerosolized sewage (yuck!!). (Desert dust storms carry human-made toxic pollutants, and the health risk extends indoors)

Increased heat and low humidity also tends to decrease the number of negative ions in the air.  Elevated negative air ion levels are widely reported to have beneficial effects on humans including enhanced feeling of relaxation, and reduced tiredness, stress levels, irritability, depression, and tenseness. Depleted ion levels and enhanced positive ion levels are reported to have no effect, or deleterious effects. (Air Ion Effects

The study of how gasses in the earth’s atmosphere react with each other is very complex.  For example, it’s been shown that desert soil releases nitrogen species gasses into the air.  The release of NOx from desert soil and subsequent effective oxidation in the atmosphere indicates that the desert ecosystem is an important area for ozone production. This has been manifested by higher ozone in the desert air than the regional background from many observations (Güsten et al., 1996; Hoffer et al., 1982).  (Active Nitrogen Cycle Driven by Solar Radiation in Clean Desert Air)  Thus, higher levels of ozone in the desert could make it unhealthy for sensitive individuals.  These could become particularly high after rains, when microbes in the soil emit N2O (nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas).  (Following rain, desert microbes exhale potent greenhouse gas)  In addition, it’s been shown that “stratospheric intrusions” (ozone-rich air descending from the stratosphere during spring storms) can also capture ozone created by pollution from Asia as they descend and transport it to desert areas of the southwest.  Particularly in the area of Las Vegas, these can create short episodes of high ozone that exceed federal air quality standards without factoring in local pollution.  (Background ozone burdens Las Vegas’ air quality in spring)

The other side of the coin is that in some areas of the world (like Atacama and Sechura deserts in Chile and Peru), dust from deserts can contain significant iodine, which actually destroys ozone.  (Iodine in Desert Dust Destroys Ozone)  Therefore, the mineral makeup of the soil in deserts is very important in characterizing what’s in the air. 

Living in/near the Forest

Forest bathing” is a Japanese term that emerged during the 1980’s as an antidote to tech burnout: it’s being calm and quiet amongst the trees, observing nature around you whilst breathing deeply can help both adults and children de-stress and boost health and wellbeing in a natural way. (How to start forest bathing)  If you regularly spend quiet time in the outdoors, perhaps you are already aware of its benefits: lower blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of harmful hormones like cortisol.  (Forest bathing: What it is and why you should try it)

What is in the air of forests?

Phytoncides are aromatic compounds from plants which can increase your number and activity of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system and is linked with a lower risk of cancer. These cells are also believed to be important in fighting infections and inflammation, a common marker of disease.  In one study, researchers found that people who took a long walk through a forest for two days in a row increased their natural killer cells by 50% and the activity of these cells by 56%. Those activity levels also remained 23% higher than usual for the month following those walks. (Why Spring Is the Perfect Time to Take Your Workout Outdoors)

Hinoki cypress, cedar, oak, pine and spruce are just some of the trees to release phytoncides (aromatic compounds), which include alpha-pinene and d-limonene.  Although these are actually VOCs, they are termed biogenic VOCs (BVOCs) because they are naturally made, unlike chemical VOCs that are manufactured.  Pinene and limonene are monoterpenes, which global annual emissions amount to 330–480 million tons. When visiting a forest, monoterpene VOCs such as limonene and pinene are mainly absorbed through inhalation, their blood levels rapidly rise after exposure, and they are mostly eliminated unchanged both in exhaled air and in the urine.  The tree composition can markedly influence the concentration of specific VOCs in the forest air.  Although essential oils do contain BVOCs, not all BVOCs are present in essential oils, and some molecules included in essential oils are not part of the BVOC molecular suite but are rather artifacts of distillation. (Forest Volatile Organic Compounds and Their Effects on Human Health: A State-of-the-Art Review)

Some other benefits of forest living are:

  • Humidity: in moderate amounts, humidity is good for the skin and respiratory system, 

  • Cooling effect: trees cool air through evapotranspiration. As trees transpire, they release water into the atmosphere through their leaves. As the water changes state from liquid to vapor, the surrounding air is cooled, similar to how we sweat.

  • Particulate matter capture: Forests can improve public health greatly by catching dust, ash, pollen and smoke on their leaves, keeping it out of our lungs.

  • Trees are sinks for other harmful pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, ammonia and ozone, which can all cause respiratory problems from repeated exposure. (The Important Relationship between Forests and Air)

  • Healthy forest air includes bacteria, fungal spores, plant and animal particles and pollen, which may have good and bad effects.  Good effects of exposure to these include desensitization to allergies (exposure therapy), and certain bacteria, like Mycobacterium vaccae (a bacteria strain that lives in soil), which can stimulate serotonin production, and can make you feel relaxed and happier, as well as reduce inflammatory responses to stress. According to Dr. Christopher Lowry, “Surprisingly, when adults engage in soil-mixing activities for ten minutes with soil that is ‘spiked’ with M. vaccae ATCC 15483, there is a rapid alteration in brain activity within the occipital cortex and alteration in the plasma metabolome, relative to soil that is not spiked with M. vaccae ATCC 15483 [35]; this suggests that exposures to mycobacteria not only have long-term immunoregulatory effects but also alter physiology and neurophysiology within minutes. Perhaps we all really should spend more time playing in the dirt.” 

  • Ions: That “fresh air” feeling in the forest also comes from higher than normal presence of ions.  Negative air ions (NAIs) are an important indicator of air quality, and are significant for the evaluation of air conditions. In a 2020 study of a scenic area in China, negative air ions were present in forested areas  approximately 3.2-3.4 times over the numbers in open areas or the lake.  (For more information on the cleansing power of ions, read our post here!)

And the cons of forest living: 

  • Humidity: many forests are high in humidity, which can promote mold growth.  Without dehumidification in a home, it would be difficult to live in many forested areas because of mold growth. 

  • Radon: Trees are sources, sinks, and conduits for gas exchange between the atmosphere and soil, so radon, a product of uranium decay in the soil, is naturally expired by trees along with other gasses.  Although radon accumulation in homes through their foundation (the rocks and soil below the foundation) is most concerning, emission of radon by trees will cause a forest to have a higher level of radon than unforested areas, because radon is approximately 7.5 times heavier than air, so that living in or near the forest may increase the ambient level of radon outside the home depending on winds.  There are two units of measurement for radon, picocuries per liter, and becquerels per cubic meter.  According to a 2015 study in Brazil, radon concentrations as high as 40 kBq/m3 (40,000 Bq/m3) were found in a national forest.  The EPA recommends that homeowners take action to lower radon levels in their homes if there is a level above 2 pCi/L.  Since one pCi/L is equivalent to 37 Bq/m3, the measurement in the Brazilian forest showed 1,081 pCi/L, or 250 times the upper limit of radon recommended by the EPA!  Thus, the study rightly inferred that “the results indicated considerable radon hazard for human occupation in the neighborhood.”

Overall, the desert and the forest are two vastly different climates, yet each have potential for healthy lifestyles for those who can live further away from urban areas.   From forest bathing to hiking to biking, there are plenty of ways that each environment offers us to connect with nature and take in its natural health benefits. 

Indoor Mold Summary White Paper

Indoor Mold Summary White Paper

What is indoor Mold and how does it affect us? 

Overgrowth of mold in the home can produce high levels of mycotoxins and microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs), causing illness.  

While there is much more for the scientific community to explore, thankfully there is a growing focus on mold in our environment with a significant amount of new research being conducted on these topics.  

What are mold, mycotoxins and mVOCs?

Mold includes various types of fungus that grow on damp or decaying organic matter.  Mold can grow outdoors or indoors; it only needs moisture and a carbon source. 1  Outdoors, moisture from the ground and decaying leaves or wood provide the perfect habitat for mold.  Indoors, moisture from the air (excess humidity) or from a leaking pipe or roof will saturate a substrate such as wood, cardboard or even dust, and provide the moisture and carbon food for mold to grow. It produces particulate pollution (physical spores that replicate and spread) as well as various chemical byproducts. 

Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites, which are organic compounds that are produced by various organisms that are not directly involved in the growth, development, or reproduction of the organism but are essential in the ecological and other activities (contrasted with primary metabolites, which are directly involved with these activities).2  These are chemicals that are specifically toxic to humans, which scientists believe the mold produces to cause plant disease, defend the mold from other microbes, or simply when the mold is stressed. 

Mold can cause two broad types of disease, mycoses and mycotoxicoses.

(1) Human mycoses3:

  • Are caused by growth of the fungi on or in our bodies, which can be treated with antifungals.  (Mycotoxins produced while the mold is in the body cause a secondary reaction).

  • are mainly caused by opportunistic fungi, which produce illness by taking advantage of debilitated or immunocompromised hosts 

  • are frequently acquired via inhalation of mold spores from an environmental reservoir or by unusual growth of a commensal species that is normally resident on human skin or the gastrointestinal tract

  • portal of entry can be through the pulmonary tract or direct contact with the skin

  • are largely diseases of the developed world, usually occurring in patients whose immune systems have been compromised by advanced medical treatment.

(2) In contrast, mycotoxicoses: 

  • Are caused by dietary, respiratory, dermal, and other exposures to the mycotoxins, causing “poisoning by natural means” similar to the pathologies caused by exposure to pesticides or heavy metal residues.3

  • Can be successfully treated by regimens of mycotoxin antigens, sauna, oxygen therapy, and nutrient..4

  • Are common in underdeveloped nations due lack of resources to harvest and store foods properly.3 However, it is hypothesized that mycotoxicoses in the Western World are mainly due to inhalation of mycotoxins from mold growing in indoor environments (our inference from mold experts). 

As a company focused mainly on air quality, HypoAir has focused on mycotoxins that cause illness due to inhalation (which are mainly mycotoxicoses), as a result of mold growing indoors and releasing conidia (entire spores or fragments of mold or its spores) that contain mycotoxins.  In samples collected from water-damaged indoor environments in Sweden in 20075, here are the main mycotoxins found:

  • Trichodermol and Verrucarol are trichothecenes. Trichothecenes are a very large family of chemically related mycotoxins produced by various species of Fusarium, Myrothecium, Trichoderma, Trichothecium, Cephalosporium, Verticimonosporium, and Stachybotrys molds. Trichothecenes inhibit protein synthesis in human and animal cells. 6,7

  • Sterigmatocystin is also generated by Aspergillus molds.  It is structurally and biologically related to aflatoxins and is regarded as a precursor of aflatoxin B1 (see below). Therefore, the acute toxicity and carcinogenic properties of this mycotoxin are similar to those presented by aflatoxins, although less potent, and Sterigmatocystin has been recognized as a group 2B carcinogen.8

  • Satratoxins G and H are produced by the black mold Stachybotrys chartarum.  Neurotoxicity and inflammation within the nose and brain are potential adverse health effects of exposure to satratoxins and Stachybotrys in the indoor air of water-damaged buildings.9

  • Gliotoxin is produced by the common indoor mold genus Aspergillus and is immunosuppressive (it can dampen the body's ability to ward off disease and infection). To do this it impairs the activation of T-cells and induces cell death in monocytes, a type of white blood cell.10

  • Aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) is one of the most potent carcinogens in foods, and it was postulated to account for the prevalence of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in high exposure areas. 11

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

VOCs are gasses and can be anthropogenic (produced by human activity) or biogenic (produced by living organisms, but more specifically plants and animals).   A subclass of biogenic VOCs is microbial VOCs (mVOCs), which are gasses produced by bacteria or fungi.  Indoors, mVOCs diffuse through and sometimes accumulate in the air.  Some mVOCs are responsible for that “musty” odor that is the telltale sign of mold growth (such as geosmin and 1-octen-3-ol), but others can be odorless. Compounds with eight carbon atoms, such as 1-octen-3-ol, 3-octanol and 3-octanone are among the most common fungal VOCs, and among fifteen of the most prevalent mVOCs in water-damaged buildings (thse are 2-methyl-1-propanol, 3-methyl-1-butanol, 3-methyl-2-butanol, 2-pentanol, 3-octanol, 1-octen-3-ol, 2-octen-3-ol , 3-methylfuran, 2-hexanone, 2-heptanone, 3-octanone, 2-methylisoborneol, 2-isopropyl-3-methoxy-pyrazine, geosmin, and dimethyl disulphide).12  Although these mVOCs have not been tested for carcinogenicity, DNA damage was detected for all fifteen of the common mVOCs. 13  Low concentrations of the vapor form of several C-8 compounds including 1-octen-3-ol are toxic to larvae and adult fruit flies.  Moreover, 1-octen-3-ol (octenol for short and also called mushroom alcohol) selectively affects dopaminergic neurons in adult Drosophila (fruit fly) brain and induces Parkinson’s-like behavioral alterations in a fly model for this disease.14,15  Volatile phase 1-octen-3-ol was 80 times more toxic than the volatile phase of toluene in stem cells studies.16  Unfortunately, due to studies mostly conducted on the liquid phase of octenol, the FDA has approved it for use in foods and perfumes, and the EPA has approved it for use in insect lures. The problem with the vapor phase octenol is, like other VOCs, concentrations can build up in enclosed spaces like basements, attics, and even whole homes if they are not ventilated.

Image source: (17) 

How do mycotoxins and mVOCs overlap?

Mycotoxins are only found in solid or liquid form, while mVOCs are gaseous.  However, mycotoxins and many mVOCs are both toxic products of mold.  Therefore, overlap exists in the toxic category, but the science community doesn’t think that mVOCs should be called mycotoxins.   Why?

  1. The condition of secondary metabolites: mycotoxins are all secondary metabolites, encoded by clustered genes that are easy to detect in genomic data. Only some fungal volatiles (e.g., the terpenoids) are secondary metabolites. 18 

  2. There already are other classes of toxic metabolites made by fungi that are not called mycotoxins. Terms like “antibiotic,” (compounds toxic to bacteria), “mushroom poison” (compounds made by mushrooms) and “phytotoxin” (compounds toxic to plants, or confusingly, made by plants19) are used to label certain other categories of fungal products with toxigenic properties. 18 

  3. Since many of the VOCs that have been studied are breakdown products of fatty acids, mediated by lipoxygenases, or are made by simple biotransformation steps from amino acids, we are not certain whether the VOCs we detect in profiles from growing fungi are the direct products of fungal metabolism or are merely incidental breakdown products.18

For these reasons, one article proposes the name “volatoxin” for those mycotoxins which are volatiles.18  Whatever they are officially named, mVOCs have the potential to be harmful to humans, especially if they are allowed to accumulate in a closed space.

Mold Naturally found outside vs trapped indoors

Mycotoxins and mVOCs found outside are normally diluted due to the abundant circulation of fresh air around and through them.  It is entirely different indoors.  Just as CO2 can build up from exhalation of inhabitants in a closed space, mVOCs from mold can also become concentrated in closed atmospheres, and mycotoxins become airborne whenever mold is disturbed, even from the airflow created when a window or door is opened.  

Where are these high concentrations found?  Spaces like the following are ripe for “biohazard” conditions concerning mVOCs and mycotoxins: 

  • Damp basements

  • Enclosed crawl spaces

  • Attics with leaky roofs or otherwise high ambient humidity

  • Backyard sheds

  • Non-climatized storage units

  • Vacation homes that are closed up without air conditioning or ventilation

  • Homes damaged by natural disasters or neglect, that are abandoned

  • Commercial buildings that have not been occupied or climatized in some time

The combination of lack of ventilation (for dilution) and excess humidity and darkness makes these spaces the perfect environment to grow mold and all of the toxins it emits.

How does Polar Ionization affect mycotoxins and mVOCs?

Our Polar Ionization uses Carbon Brush style Needlepoint Ionization to split the normal water vapor (H2O) in the air into millions of positive Hydrogen ions and negative Oxygen ions, without the production of ozone.  These natural ions are in proper balance and are stable enough that they can last a minute or longer as they travel in the airflows of an HVAC system or room giving them sufficient time to interact with air and surface contaminants in large buildings. Ions are any molecule or atom where the number of electrons does not equal the number of protons. These ions are very effective against a wide range of particulate, biological and chemical contaminants.  

Due to their type and stability they:

  • can provide purification for large areas with reasonable upfront costs and no ongoing replacement parts 

  • can react with both airborne and surface based contaminants opening up many new applications for safe active sanitization of occupied spaces.

  • Remove static electricity, and as such are able to travel much further than negative ions.  

  • Due to their balanced nature, they do not create unwanted ozone unlike devices that produce negative only ionization

Ability of Polar Ionization to protect against Mycotoxins and Mold Related Particulates

Mycotoxins can be transmitted through ingesting contaminated food, or they can become airborne, attached to spores of mold (conidia) or fragments of conidia.  According to a 2005 study 20, mycotoxins from Stachybotrys Chartarum (specifically trichothecene mycotoxins) were found on intact spores, which are larger (about 5 microns in diameter) as well as fragments of mold and other smaller particles (1.2 microns and below). These mycotoxins are known to react primarily with mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, leading to irritating erythema, inflammation, and pain. 20  In an earlier study, Trichothecene mycotoxins were found on Stachybotrys atra conidia of 5 micron diameter on average, indicating that these mycotoxins are easily respirable.21

The term PM2.5 is often used to refer to particulates 2.5 microns and less in diameter. For reference, a human hair is around 50-100 microns (μm) in diameter.  The human body has many natural defenses against large particulates like these.  In general, we consider extremely small PM2.5 contaminants to be far more dangerous and difficult to remove than larger particulates. Even smaller, 0.3 microns are considered the Most Penetrating Particle Size (MPPS) due to their difficulty to capture.  A HEPA filter's efficiency rating is specifically tested at 0.3 microns (not larger or smaller particles) because it is addressing a variant of the filter's minimum efficiency. 

Polar Ionization removes particulates from the air primarily through making them group together making them larger, heavier, and often with a negative or positive charge.   Those same larger, heavier, and charged particles can not stay airborne for long and are relatively easy to trap in a mechanical filter or easily vacuumed up from the ground after they settled.   Polar Ionization can quickly remove well over 95% of airborne particulates (including spores) without any physical mechanical filtration whatsoever (HEPA).  Due to its mode of action, it can also improve the filter rating of any mechanical filter used in the same space by several levels.  The use of mechanical filtration in addition to Polar Ionization is often unnecessary, however it can improve the speed of removal of particulates especially with those with high sensitivities.  At HypoAir we are quick to recommend redundancies in air purification where the needs of the occupants require faster removal of particulates and when finances allow. 

Numerous case studies conducted by independent labs show how mold spore counts (and thus by inference, mycotoxins carried on the mold spores)  were dramatically reduced in the air of closed environments by employing HypoAir’s Polar Ionization without additional filters.22 

Ability of Polar Ionization to break down mVOCs

The Polar Ions are also effective at breaking down VOCs & odors at a molecular level, specifically gasses with electron volt potential below 11. This is by design as the power output is capped at 12.07eV in order to prevent the formation of ozone since oxygen has an electron volt potential of 12. Formaldehyde (CH2O) for example has 10.88 as its electron volt potential and can be dismantled down into harmless carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O).  Similarly Ammonia (NH3) with an electron volt potential of 10.07 is broken down into harmless nitrogen (N2) and water vapor (H2O) (nitrogen naturally makes up about 78% of earth’s atmosphere).   Due to the method of production and stability of the ions, no ozone is produced in this process and the theoretical issue of incomplete oxidation or unintended byproducts is addressed with net VOC reduction.  One example showing proof of these breakdown reactions was obtained by measurement before and after installation of a bi-polar ionization device in the HVAC system of Houston Methodist Hospital, which reduced Total VOCs (TVOCs) to acceptable levels with activation of the device after many months of poor air quality complaints and failure of carbon filters to adequately clean the polluted air intake.23

The following are electron volt potentials of some of the most common mVOCs in water-damaged buildings24:  

Common mVOCs

Electron Volt Potentials











dimethyl disulphide


Additional efficacy against more complex chemical compounds and high concentrations of odors can be found with our products that combine Polar Ionization with Activated Carbon, AHPCO and/or our TotalClean i2 spray.

Ability of Polar Ionization to Neutralize Biological Contaminants on Surfaces and in the Air

Polar Ionization has been well tested in our products and in other devices that produce the same type of ions to neutralize certain bacteria, mold, and viruses in the air and on surfaces.  Polar Ionization & Mold Spores in particular have been tested many times, including a 99.50% kill rate tested by GCA over a 24 hour period. 25 The Polar Ions are effective at disrupting these biological contaminants by breaking down their surface proteins which results in inactivation or lysis.  The efficacy of Polar ionization on viral (Feline Coronavirus, Coxsackie Virus, Polio Virus, SARS Coronavirus) and other biological threats (TB, MRSA, VRE, C. Diff) has been proven for years by a wide range of independent studies with more information, sources, and studies found on hypoair.com.

For more info about our proprietary products and technologies, please visit www.hypoair.com


  1. Indoor Environmental Quality: What is Mold? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/indoorenv/whatismold.html

  2. Sapkota, A. (18 January 2022). Primary vs Secondary Metabolites- Definition, 12 Differences, Examples. Retrieved from https://microbenotes.com/primary-vs-secondary-metabolites/

  3. Bennett, J. W., Klich,  M. (2003). Mycotoxins. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 16(3), 497–516.  https://doi.org/10.1128%2FCMR.16.3.497-516.2003

  4. Rea, W.J. (2018). A Large Case-series of Successful Treatment of Patients Exposed to Mold and Mycotoxin. Clinical Therapeutics, 40(6), 889-893. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clinthera.2018.05.003

  5. Bloom, E., Nyman, E., Must, A., Pehrson, C., Larsson,  L. (2009).  Mycotoxins produced by molds in water-damaged indoor environments.  Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 6(11), 671–678. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15459620903252053

  6. Trichodermol (T3D3717). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.t3db.ca/toxins/T3D3717

  7. Verrucarol (T3D3723). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.t3db.ca/toxins/T3D3723

  8. Vieira, T., Cunha, S., Casal, S. (2015). 25.3.3 Sterigmatocystin. In V.R. Preedy (Ed.), Coffee in Health and Disease Prevention (pp. 225-233). Elsevier Inc.

  9. Islam, Z., Harkema, J.R., Pestka, J.J. (2006). Satratoxin G from the black mold Stachybotrys chartarum evokes olfactory sensory neuron loss and inflammation in the murine nose and brain. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(7), 1099-1107. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.8854

  10. Gliotoxin. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://healthmatters.io/understand-blood-test-results/gliotoxin

  11. Ferk, F., Speer, K., Mišík, M., Nersesyan, A., Knasmüller, S. (2015). Chapter 66 - Protective Effects of Coffee Against Induction of DNA Damage and Cancer by Aflatoxin B1. In V.R. Preedy (Ed.), Coffee in Health and Disease Prevention (pp. 587-596). Elsevier Inc.

  12. Korpi, A., Järnberg, J., Pasanen, A-L. (2009).  Microbial volatile organic compounds.  Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 39(2), 39-193. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408440802291497 

  13. Kreja, L., Seidel,  H-J. (2002). Evaluation of the genotoxic potential of some microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC) with the comet assay, the micronucleus assay and the HPRT gene mutation assay.  Mutation Research, 513(1-2), pp. 143-150.  https://doi.org/10.1016/s1383-5718(01)00306-0

  14. Inamdar, A.A., Masurekar, P., Bennett, J.W. (2010).  Neurotoxicity of fungal volatile organic compounds in Drosophila melanogaster. Toxicological Sciences, 117, pp. 418–426. https://doi.org/10.1093/toxsci/kfq222

  15. Inamdar, A.A., Hossain, M.M., Bernstein, A.I., Miller, G.W., Richardson, J.R.,  Bennett, J.W. (2013). The fungal derived semiochemical 1-octen-3-ol disrupts dopamine packaging and causes neurodegeneration. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 110, 19561–19566. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1318830110

  16. Inamdar, A.A., Moore, J.C., Cohen, R.I., Bennett, J.W. (2012).  A model to evaluate the cytotoxicity of the fungal volatile organic compound 1-octen-3-o1 in human embryonic stem cells. Mycopathologia, 173, 13–20.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11046-011-9457-z

  17. Morse, R., Acker, D. (22 February 2017). Indoor Air Quality And Mold Prevention Of The Building Envelope. Retrieved from https://www.wbdg.org/resources/indoor-air-quality-and-mold-prevention-building-envelope

  18.  Bennett, J.W., Inamdar, A.A., (2015). Are Some Fungal Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) Mycotoxins? Toxins (Basel), 7(9), 3785–3804. https://doi.org/10.3390%2Ftoxins7093785

  19.  A.Graniti (1972). “The evolution of the toxic concept in plant pathology.” In: Wood R.K., Ballio A., Graniti A., editors. Phytotoxins in Plant Diseases (pp. 1–18). Academic Press.

  20. Brasel, T. L., Douglas, D. R., Wilson, S. C., Straus, D. C. (2005).  Detection of Airborne Stachybotrys chartarum Macrocyclic Trichothecene Mycotoxins on Particulates Smaller than Conidia.  Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 71(1),  114–122.  https://doi.org/10.1128%2FAEM.71.1.114-122.2005

  21. Sorenson, W. G., Frazer, D.G., Jarvis, B.B., Simpson, J., Robinson,  V.A. (1987). Trichothecene Mycotoxins in Aerosolized Conidia of Stachybotrys atra. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 53(6), 1370-1375. https://doi.org/10.1128%2Faem.53.6.1370-1375.1987

  22. Milburn, D. Case Studies, Mold Focus_Part 1. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1RSgZYhSq0M_-fzlPUP1Q8z2btVuDi8so/edit#slide=id.p1

  23. Schurk, D. Houston Methodist Hospital Test Study Results Needle Point Bi-Polar Air Ionization for VOC Remediation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.victordistcontrols.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Methodist_Hospital_VOC_Remediation_Project_Test_Results_2014.pdf

  24. Electron Volt (eV) Potential Chart for Industrial Gases: UNDERSTANDING eV POTENTIAL PAPER. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://egeda.be/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Electron-Volt-potential-chart.pdf

  25. Waddell, C. GPS Reports on Pathogen Testing,(n.d.) Retrieved from https://gpsair.com/uploads/customer-resources/Service-Logic/White-Paper-GPS-Reports-on-Pathogen-Testing-03-2020.pdf

Photo by Josh Eckstein on Unsplash

Is it ok to walk around barefoot in my home? I’m concerned about my feet absorbing mycotoxins.

Is it ok to walk around barefoot in my home?  I’m concerned about my feet absorbing mycotoxins.

Often we end up researching and writing articles in response to client questions, and this is one such article.  If your floors are warm or carpeted, it often feels good to walk around barefoot in the house.  However, this may or may not be a good idea, depending on what is on your floors.  Can toxins really go into or out of your feet?

“Foot detoxing” pads, baths and creams have been popular for a while.  Usually they show the pad or water turning brown with “toxins” after supposedly releasing them from your body through the feet.  However, there have been very few studies on their effectiveness.  In a small 2012 study, the researchers sampled water from before and after foot baths with the popular IonCleanse device, as well as hair and urine samples.  They found no evidence to suggest that ionic footbaths help promote the elimination of toxic elements from the body through the feet, urine, or hair.   So, it’s unlikely that these methods are able to pull toxins out of the body.

However, some molecules can be absorbed through the skin (particularly the feet) into the bloodstream.   You can even “taste” with your feet; if you apply garlic to the soles of your feet in a plastic bag ala this video, you can taste it in your mouth between 15 minutes to one hour later.  This is because small, light molecules like allicin (the chemical released in freshly-cut garlic) can penetrate the skin and the bloodstream, traveling throughout your body.  Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is a chemical that has similarities to allicin and is very easily absorbed through the skin.  Part of the DMSO is transformed to the volatile metabolite dimethyl sulfide, which gives a characteristic garlic- or oyster-like smell when excreted through the lungs.  (Adverse reactions of dimethyl sulfoxide in humans: a systematic review)  Therefore, we are susceptible to chemicals that behave in this way.  Scientists and drug-researchers are constantly in search of chemicals that can deliver drugs more easily to the bloodstream, and therefore new “carriers” are of great interest.  

What about mycotoxins that may happen to be on the floors?  Can we get mycotoxin poisoning from walking around barefoot?   Although there’s no direct answer via testing, research on individual mycotoxins shows that they can be absorbed through the skin, so it’s reasonable to assume that they can be absorbed through the skin of the soles of the feet.  Since mycotoxin concentration on surfaces is highly variable, however, it remains to be seen whether concentrations sufficient to cause illness are present on floors. 

We found that a 2014 paper summarizing previous research on the absorption of the most common mycotoxins through skin and their effects, was most helpful.   This research documented mostly animal trials to determine toxicity, but there are also reports of workers who were accidentally exposed to these toxins.   The actual methods of damage incurred by these toxins can be quite complex, so we will spare you the details, but many of them cause oxidative stress that stimulate the immune system, triggering inflammation and cell damage.  Here are some examples:

  • T-2 toxin, a member of the trichothecene mycotoxin family, is produced by various species of Fusarium fungus, which can infect corn, wheat, barley and rice crops in the field or during storage.  It’s infamous for allegedly being used as a bioweapon during the military conflicts in Laos (1975-81), Kampuchea (1979-81), and Afghanistan (1979-81) to produce lethal and nonlethal casualties. (CBRNE - T-2 Mycotoxins) T-2 toxin causes oxidative stress, which releases cytokines (proteins that help control inflammation in the body) that are thought to cause the death of the outer layer of skin cells (keratinocyte apoptosis).   T-2 mycotoxicosis can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, leukopenia, hemorrhaging, skin inflammation, and in severe cases, death. (T-2 Mycotoxicosis)  The reported LD50 (amount which causes death in 50% of exposures) of T-2 toxin is approximately 1 mg/kg of body weight. (Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare)
  • Citrinin (CTN) is a product of several fungal species belonging to the genera Penicillium, Aspergillus and Monascus. To summarize, CTN under in vivo conditions has the ability to cause oxidative stress and ROS-mediated DNA damage in mouse skin upon topical exposure, leading to skin death.
  • Patulin (PAT) is a toxic chemical naturally produced by several species of mold, especially within Aspergillus, Penicillium and Byssochlamys.  A single topical application of PAT to mouse skin generates ROS, which causes DNA damage in skin cells.  In small doses it causes death of the cells, but in larger doses it initiates tumor growth.
  • Aflatoxins are products of  several types of Aspergillus molds, with AFB1 known as the  most potent teratogen (causing malformation of embryos), mutagen and hepatocarcinogen (causes liver cancer) of all aflatoxins. Like in the case of PAT, AFB1 may also cause skin tumors in mouse skin after long-term and higher-dose application.
  • Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a fungal metabolite produced by Aspergillus ochraceus and Penicillium verrucosum. OTA is found in a variety of plant food products such as cereals. To summarize, a single topical exposure of OTA at the dose level of 20–80 μg/mouse (20-80 millionths of a gram, with a mouse weight of 40-45 grams, translates to 0.5-2.0 ppm) induces the production of ROS, resulting in the skin cell death. On the other hand, a single topical exposure of OTA at a dose level of 100 nmol/mouse causes significant enhancement of short-term markers of skin tumor promotion in mouse skin.

As you can see, the least effect of these mycotoxins is to cause skin cell death, but the worst effects are whole-body!  They are effectively absorbed through the skin.  However, is it reasonable to assume that they would be found on your floors, in a sufficient quantity to cause illness?  

A 2012 study of a family that started to experience illness shortly after moving to a home in Hawaii in 2008 indicates that mycotoxin levels in the low parts-per-billion range on various surfaces in the home (including a sandal and a bath towel), as well as elevated fungal counts, can cause systemic illness.  The father and mother, aged 40 and 39, had an 8 year old daughter, a 5 year old son and a pet dog, living in a 2-story home with a crawlspace that had water intrusion.  According to one of the two inspection companies hired to investigate the home for mold, “A serious moisture/mold problem is observed in the crawlspace directly below the bedrooms. Moisture is penetrating the walls of the foundation. The HVAC system is designed to force air into the crawl space, forcing crawl space air into the bedrooms and other areas above. Moisture intrusion also results from the master shower into the crawl space as well as from sprinklers, damp soil against the foundation, lack of roof gutters, and poor grading.” Similar findings were in the second report, plus: “Smoke testing revealed communication between the crawl space and upper level bedrooms via electrical outlets and electrical ducts and plumbing. The conduit holes were not sealed, permitting observance of light coming through spaces in the floor joists. A musty odor was present in the master bathroom and noted to get stronger when the fan coil was turned on.”  ERMI tests for mold indicated ERMI levels of 2 to 3 throughout the home, which “represent a moderately high index, and further investigation should be conducted to establish if your home has a mold contamination problem”.  (Interpreting ERMI test results) Here are the test results for mycotoxins; mycotoxins can be measured from air or dust samples and in this case the dust was analyzed:

All four of the family members and the dog tested positive for OTA and some for tricothecenes in their urine; they had health problems involving the upper and lower respiratory tract, headaches, neurocognitive deficits, and severe sinusitis. They had chronic sinusitis and nasal inflammation, and the isolation of bacteria (Pseudomonas and Acinetobacter) and molds (Penicillium and Aspergillus) from nasal secretions from the father and daughter is consistent with other cause and effect symptoms of mold exposure.  Even the dog suffered from 72 lesions, an ear mass and lipomas (which were surgically removed), in were found OTA and tricothecenes.  The mother gave birth to a daughter 3 months after moving out of the home, which had skin inflammation and discolorations because of being exposed to mycotoxins in the womb and via breastmilk.  

Therefore, we can conclude from this sad scenario that mold, bacteria and mycotoxins are a real concern in house dust when the home has water intrusion and mold issues.  There’s no way to know how much of the mycotoxins were inhaled versus absorbed through their skin, but of course young children are closer to the floor, often crawling and sitting on it, thus sitting in dust, stirring up dust, and breathing it in.  The dog obviously suffered from laying on the floor!  

According to IndoorScience, a reputable indoor air-quality testing company, 

  • there are no guidelines for “acceptable” amounts of mycotoxins in house dust, 

  • mycotoxin testing is much more expensive than standard mold testing, and 

  • there are only a few labs that perform mycotoxin testing.   

However, if you have water intrusion or mold problems in your home that you suspect are causing health problems, mycotoxins or toxins from actinobacteria (see our article here) could very well be the culprit.  In these cases, solving the water intrusion problem and remediation and thorough cleaning will also remove the mycotoxins and bacterial toxins!  Here are some tips for maintaining a cleaner home from our related article

  • Invest in a HEPA air cleaner to remove dust from the air

  • Clean floors regularly with a HEPA vacuum and mopping (some appliances do both)

  • Filter the air that comes into your home via window filters

  • Change your HVAC filter regularly and even upgrade it if possible

  • Try to remove your outdoor shoes at the door, and wear indoor shoes or slippers only in the home

  • Minimize clutter, upholstery and carpets that can hold dust. 

These are also common recommendations of doctors and practitioners who see mold illness in their patients, because removing them from surfaces is helpful whether the toxins are inhaled or absorbed.  If you suspect water intrusion anywhere in your home (even in places you can’t see, like the crawlspace or attic),  of course you’ll need to address remediation in the moldy area pronto.  However, since you don’t know how air currents may be carrying dust and toxins into the living space, it’s a safe bet to also step up the cleaning and keep your shoes on!

Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash

Glowing under blacklight

Glowing under blacklight

I’ve heard that in the 1960’s, blacklight posters were all the rage.  Glowing things are cool!  How does blacklight actually cause things to glow?  

“Blacklight” is an invisible form of light that operates in the ultraviolet range.  Because light takes on a wave form, the frequency of the peaks and troughs in the wave are known as wavelengths.  In the visible spectrum, reds and oranges have the longest wavelengths, and at the other end of the spectrum, blues and violets have the shortest wavelengths, meaning they have higher frequency.   Ultraviolet light is not visible to us, yet exists beyond the violet shade.  The wavelengths of ultraviolet light are grouped into 3 bands: A, B and C.   

UV-A, with wavelengths ranging from 320-400 nanometers (nm), is the safest form of UV light and often referred to as Longwave UV.  This kind of UV light is generated by Blacklight units (the dark purple fluorescent tubes) as well as UV LED flashlights.  Black lights are considered safe for use in the home as well as theatres and night clubs etc.  Most quality sunglasses will protect eyes against UV-A.  

UV-B, at 280-320nm wavelength, is the one that can cause sunburn when over-exposed. It can also be used in the medical treatment of certain skin conditions.  Most quality sunglasses will protect eyes against UV-B.

UV-C, at 200-280nm wavelength, is totally absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere, but also widely used as a germicidal sterilizer in hospitals. 

Obviously, UV light has had good and bad press.  As you may know, certain types of UV light are known to cause eye and skin damage and cancer.   And certain types of UV light are used to kill microbes, making the air you breathe (or surfaces you touch) safer.  We have a whole article on some of the ways researchers are using UV light to sanitize.  In this article, however, we’re going to look at some of the more useful ways to use blacklight (UV-A) in your life–to literally “see” the invisible!

Blacklight makes some of the invisible, visible, because it illuminates items that fluoresce.  These items contain exposed phosphorus atoms that reflect short wavelength UV light back to our eyes. For instance, paper shines under a blacklight because of the fluorescent chemicals added as a whitener. (Using Blacklights to Find Pet Urine)

Urine glows under UV light because it contains phosphorus. 

Pet Urine:  Unlike the synthetic fluorescents added to white paper, natural fluorescent substances such as dog and cat urine etc, do not glow brightly under UV. In fact, they are generally quite dim, so do not expect a supernova!  You will be looking for patches a little brighter than their background; you’ll know them when you see them.  Cat urine glows particularly well under a black light, as it contains high levels of phosphorus, but the intensity of the glow can vary depending on the animal’s diet and health.  When examining soft surfaces like carpet and fabrics, remember that liquids can quickly soak down into them, so that not a lot of urine remains on the surface to “glow”. It’s also easier to find it:

  • When fully dried, because liquid or damp urine will not glow.
  • When new–the “glow” slowly fades over time as the urine ages.

If you do find “accidents”, try a cleanser that uses enzymes.   You can read all about enzyme cleansers in our article.  (Stain Detective Pro)

Rodent Urine: Rats and mice are incontinent and will urinate and defecate on the move, up to 80 times a day! This means you will be looking for a trail of urine droplets or streaks leading in the direction of travel. Urine and droppings are deposited where the rodents spend most of their time and where they travel.  Amino acids in rodent urine will fluoresce, or emit light of a different color, when exposed to ultraviolet light. This makes it possible to see rodent, rat, mouse, hamster, guinea-pig or squirrel urine even in dark places. (Rodent Detector Pro)

Mold often glows under blacklight.  In this video, mold stains that are not visible in normal light are shown on the ceiling under blacklight.  If you are not seeing stains in an area that has leaked before, or has a high level of humidity, the key may be to shine the light at an angle against the wall.  You should shine the ultraviolet light closely along the sides of the suspected surface or walls. The angle of illumination will show the presence of fungus, however, some cleaning products also leave a glow, so be careful not to mistake cleaning residues for mold. (How To Detect Mold With A Blacklight)

Hand Washing: Blacklights make it possible to see if you are washing your hands effectively and make training on hand-washing easy!  If you apply some UV Germ Grease (which simulates the way germs cover your hands; it’s just a clingy grease with glowing particles), wash according to this video and check them under blacklight to see if any of the grease remains, you’re more likely to get your hands cleaner after this training.

Here are some other interesting items you can get to “glow” in your home: (Got a new UV torch? Here are some things to shine it on

  • Tonic water – the quinine in tonic water glows blue
  • Honey – the aromatic molecules in honey can glow green
  • Turmeric root – the curcumin in turmeric glows yellow
  • Eggs – a compound in eggshells called protoporphyrin IX can glow red
  • Rocks, jewels and gemstones – lots of minerals glow under UV light
  • Cash – banknotes have added photoluminescent details to prevent fraud
  • Cleaning materials – detergents (including laundry detergents) often have photoluminescent molecules to make them easy to see
  • Highlighters and dyes – fluorescence is a type of photoluminescence, so fluorescent markers and dyes will often glow under UV light
  • Vitamins: Vitamin A and the B vitamins thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin are strongly fluorescent. Try crushing a vitamin B-12 tablet and dissolving it in vinegar. The solution will glow bright yellow under a black light. (16 Things That Glow Under Black Light)
  • Antiques that have been repaired or touched up will glow or fluoresce differently in the area where the repair has been made.
  • Insects such as scorpions glow bright green, and Harvestman (Opiliones, also sometimes called Daddy Long Legs) glow blue, as do certain other spiders.

Here are some tips about selecting UV blacklights: 

  • Although many people associate blacklight with a purple light, if you can see the light, it’s not blacklight, and the contribution of visible light diminishes the ability to “see” any hidden markings. 
  • The frequency of UV light emitted determines the quality of results obtained.  There is a sweet-spot for UV which is between 365nm and 385nm.  However, to manufacture LEDs capable of emitting in this frequency range is far more expensive.
  • There are different types of lamps that are used to make UV light:
    • Mercury vapor lamps are used in theaters and large spaces where it’s needed to project UV light over a distance
    • UV fluorescent tubes or bulbs are smaller and more portable, with decent quality
    • UV LED lights: these come in a wide spectrum of quality (wavelengths), but they are very portable and consume little energy.

So....I went sleuthing one night with a small, inexpensive blacklight borrowed from a friend, and it works!  First I looked around some registers I knew had sweated when I had an older, less efficient HVAC system, and there they were--old stains and mold that was not even visible in the daylight (I have some popcorn ceilings so shining the light at an angle really accentuates the stain).  Next, I looked and saw a white patch where stains had been "touched up"--proof that not everything was stained or mold.  Then, I found a pet stain in a small rug that had absorbed and was unnoticeable in daylight. 

A small blacklight flashlight could be a cool science project for you and your kids, by not only finding things that glow, but eliminating the yucky animal pee and poo as well with enzyme cleansers.  Remember that the wavelength (365-385nm) is important to get quality black light, and many cheap flashlights don’t fall in that range. Here are some lights that will give the best results for your detective work:

Photo by h heyerlein on Unsplash

Tenant Rights to a Habitable Home: Mold and Smoke Issues

Tenant Rights to a Habitable Home: Mold and Smoke Issues

What can a renter do when their home becomes “inhabitable” due to mold or second-hand smoke?

When tenants sign lease agreements with building owners or landlords, they agree to abide by certain rules while living at the property, which protect both the tenant and the landlord.  In the US, certain tenant rights are protected under federal, state, and local laws.  For the purposes of this article, we are going to examine a tenant’s right to a habitable home.  

The “implied warranty of habitability” is the legal term for a renter’s right to a home that keeps out rain and snow, has sufficient hot water and heat, sturdy walls and floors, free from environmental dangers such as lead, asbestos and mold, and reasonable protection from criminal intrusion.  According to Nolo.com, all states except one (Arkansas) recognize the implied warranty of habitability.  Even if a landlord offers lower rent in exchange for the tenant “waiving” habitability rights, such waivers are typically not upheld in court.  There are differences between habitability problems and “minor repair” problems, though, so that landlords are not legally required to fix every problem that elicits a complaint. 

For purposes of safety and air quality, some habitability problems may be:

-a roof leak or plugged air conditioner drain that results in moldy walls

-improperly vented water heater that causes exhaust gasses to leak into the apartment/home

-neighbors that do things that cause you to be unhealthy, like smoke inside, make a lot of noise during sleeping hours, etc.

If the landlord does not acknowledge or repair the problem, there are ways that tenants can enforce the implied warranty of habitability.  If this applies to you, make sure that you have properly notified the landlord and given them time to respond, and then you may want to notify the local building inspector.  Be prepared, however, to move out if the inspector deems the problem causes your home to be uninhabitable!   “Bigger stick” actions for the renter include, depending on state laws:

  • withholding rent
 (make sure you are completely up-to-date on rent before withholding it for habitability reasons)

  • paying for repairs yourself and deducting the cost from the rent
 (also make sure you are completely up-to-date on rent before doing this)

  • sue the landlord, or 

  • move out without notice (break the lease) and without liability for future rent. 

To check whether your state has a precedent for withholding rent or paying for repairs and deducting them from your rent, you can check this page.  Here is more information about these options. 

Specific problems that constitute inhabitable spaces:

Although mold can be a serious health issue, there are no federal laws regarding permissible exposure limits or building tolerance standards for mold in residential buildings, and only a few states and cities have established guidelines regarding mold in indoor air.  (Nolo.com)  Because of the following, it has been difficult for tenants to get landlords to fix or compensate for mold:

  • Mold causes a plethora of symptoms and health problems that are not exclusive to mold

  • Blood or urine tests are the only way to confirm its presence in the body

  • There is are many types of molds present in most homes and rentals, however, only a few have been implicated in serious health issues (such as Stachybotrus Chartrum or Aspergillus)

  • The term “toxic mold” is not a legal term, but the above mentioned species are “toxigenic”, meaning that they can produce mycotoxins.  

There have been successful lawsuits; in 2021 a Florida jury awarded $48 million in a habitability/mold case. (TysonMendes.com)  This is an exceptional compensation, but the vast majority of tenants living with mold that causes health problems do not get any compensation, sometimes due to weak local and state laws on habitability.  For example, in Washington state there are no explicit protections from mold for tenants, and the law doesn’t hold landlords liable when they don’t provide the “mold addendum”. (whyy.org) Here are what legal experts recommend to make your voice heard (based on advice from a Virginia lawyer in this video):

  • Make sure you notify the landlord or owner of the problem in writing and the way prescribed in your lease, and document all communication with them about the problem.  Describe the condition of the area, photograph it, include any lab results and any health effects that may have come from it.

  • If the landlord does not respond or fix the problem, in Virginia you can file an official document called a Tenant Assertion and Complaint.  Definitely check with legal experts on your rights to withhold rent or move out (which as stated above, vary from state to state; withholding rent is not allowed in Virginia).  

  • If you believe health issues have resulted from the mold, it’s best to contact a specialist or personal injury attorney.  

Second-hand smoke and vapors are a serious problem in multi-family dwellings.  This document from the American Lung Association and Public Health Law Center at Mitchell Hamline School of Law outlines tenant rights to healthy air inside their homes, and guidelines on options available to them in California, including:

  1. Approaching the neighbor who smokes/vapes.  They may be unaware of the impact it’s having on you or your family.

  2. Contacting the landlord, if the smoking/vaping doesn’t stop.  Always document your communication with the neighbor or landlord.  

  3. Reviewing your lease and ask the landlord in writing to enforce the non-smoking clause.

  4. Reviewing local laws, as they may have specific requirements to force landlord action. 

  5. California allows withholding of rent, however this could trigger an eviction response from the landlord.  In this case, uninhabitable conditions is a reasonable defense, and if the landlord does evict, the courts will decide whether rent abatement is appropriate. 

  6. Lawsuits include small-claims court, which is used for claims $10,000 or less, and trial court, which in general is only used when there has been substantial harm from repeated, significant exposure to secondhand smoke.  Appropriate charges against the landlord would include breach of contract, disability claims, nuisance claims, covenant of quiet enjoyment, and constructive eviction (if the tenant is forced to move out because of uninhabitable conditions).  

Unfortunately, rights for tenants vary from state to state, but you must do what is healthy for you in deciding whether to stay in or leave an unhealthy home.  We have written another article with specific suggestions if you can’t afford to move out or really want to stay, and mitigate the problem.

Photo by Al Elmes on Unsplash

Are Tiny Homes built from Sheds a Good Idea?

Are Tiny Homes built from Sheds a Good Idea?

At least every other day, I see an ad for a tiny home or office that companies or individuals built from what used to be backyard “sheds”.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all for repurposing buildings and materials, when they are done the right way!  (In fact, I even repurposed a large metal workshop building into a 2 bed/1.5 bath “condo” for my parents.  This one is on a concrete slab and for all intents and purposes, could have been built that way as a home). What are the advantages, and what are the cautions, of making a home from a shed?  (Many great points adapted from Living in a Shed: 9 Things (2023) You Must Know):

The advantages to living in a tiny home are many, for example:

  • Up-front cost is cheaper than a house
  • Smaller utility bill
  • Less square footage to clean
  • Less impact on the environment
  • Privacy
  • Portability
  • Customization
  • Ability to live in nature or “off-grid” more easily

However, “sheds” are only a subset of tiny homes, specifically, tiny homes that started out as prefab backyard buildings.  Let’s take a look at what could go wrong from making one of these into a habitation.

First of all, when considering whether to build out a shed as a home, you should check into local building codes.  If you live within city limits, there are likely laws about what type of buildings can be built or placed on your property to become “habitations”.  Plopping a shed down and running electricity to it for your teenager to live in could be a big problem whenever it’s noticed by the building inspectors!  Moving it to the middle of a few acres in the country doesn’t normally pose these legal issues, but again, it’s best to check with your local building inspector!   If it’s illegal to live in a shed, it may be legal to live in an ADU-an Accessory Dwelling Unit.  For example, ADU’s in California are required to be at least the size of an efficiency unit (at least 150 sq. ft. livable space plus a bathroom), they must contain a kitchen, a bathroom, they must be built on a permanent foundation, and must be able to turn on/off the ADU utilities without entering the primary unit.  (ADU vs Finished Shed Comparison)

Construction: This is the largest area of caution we see.  Within this topic, we need to highlight: 

  • Off-gassing of toxic compounds from interior building materials.  If the building was never meant for habitation (even as a chicken coop!), then it may contain building materials that are rated for “outdoor use only” which may give off dangerous pesticides/weatherization chemicals.
  • Inferior flooring and framing techniques:  We’ve seen them: sheds built to hold push lawnmowers and Christmas decorations may not hold up to daily living over a number of years.  Holes or loose joints that develop inevitably allow pests to come in (they want to be cool/warm/fed too!).  
  • Inferior foundation: Setting a shed on a few cinder blocks is typically not sufficient for daily living and if the floor begins to sag, all kinds of structural issues (including leaks and mold) can ensue. 
  • Poor insulation:  Typically, storage sheds only need to keep the paint from freezing, not keep a person comfortable, so insulation may not be optimal.  This includes roof and floor insulation–yes, if your shed is not mounted to a slab foundation, it needs to be insulated!
  • Improper sealing (which can cause moisture infiltration and mold growth): If siding is applied over the frame without an air or vapor barrier, it’s easy for moisture to condense inside the walls if they are heated for a living space, or similarly cooled during a hot summer.  These steps in normal construction are what inspectors look for, for the safety of the homeowner and longevity of the building.
  • Addition of water and sewage facilities warrants several considerations:
    • Where is your water source and how will you deal with sewage?  Sewage service is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome, as there are 3 options which may or may not be permitted in your locale: connection to the city’s sewer system, installing a septic tank, or installing a composting toilet. 
    • Plumbing in sinks, toilets, showers and drains also is done by code for a reason–leaks can cause serious mold and hygiene issues.  It’s not a good idea to buy that shed if these appliances are added without proper spacing and materials by someone who knows plumbing code.
  • Addition of power to the shed:  Sometimes power service to a shed (50-100 amp service) is not what you would get for a normal home (200 amp service).  Like the plumbing, wiring the shed for power should be done by someone who knows electrical code, so that it’s wired safely!
  • Addition of HVAC to the shed: Sticking a “window unit” AC or space heater in the side of the shed may keep you cool or warm if it’s the right size, but without proper ventilation, you could build up CO2 and mold very quickly.  CO2 is the product of insufficient ventilation, and face it, a shed is just a small, closed room unless proper ventilation is planned and built-in!  The mold can result from simply living in that closed room, because along with CO2, every human exudes water vapor through their lungs and skin.  If there are 2 people living there, the air quality will be even worse.

So far, it may sound like a major “NO” to use sheds as homes, but that’s just not true.  If you’re allowed to use one in your locale, you can safely do so by starting from scratch (buying a bare-bones model) or buying one from a builder that knows good home construction.  Then you can make sure that the construction, outfitting and customization will work for years to come without causing health issues.  Let’s face it, home ownership is expensive, but saving on a tiny home just to live uncomfortably from lack of weatherization or get sick from mold is definitely not worth the savings.  Therefore, planning is essential!

Photo by Andrea Davis on Unsplash

Optimizing Your Window Air Conditioner for Maximum Clean, Cool Air

Optimizing Your Window Air Conditioner for Maximum Clean, Cool Air

Global average temperatures have exceeded recorded highs several times in the last month, and articles on ways to keep cool are proliferating!  In this article, I don’t have any “new” way to keep cool, but if you are among those blessed with a simple window air conditioner, let us help you make it work just as well and as efficiently as the day you bought it!

Window air conditioners are the humble yet hard-working appliances that many households can’t do without.  As one of the oldest cities in the US, New York City has an abundance of window units because about 75 percent of the buildings throughout the five boroughs were constructed before 1960, according to the NYC Department of Buildings.  (Why about a quarter of US households are stuck with ugly and loud window AC units)  The cost of retrofitting these old buildings with central air conditioning is way too high, so window air-conditioning units are the solution, and continue to be for many households across the US.  However, even if your window air conditioner is an older unit, a little time and effort can go a long way in helping it cool better, work less (lower your energy bill), and put out better quality air! 

If you have the option of upgrading your window air conditioner, there are many worthy options out there, including those with inverter motors, which save a lot of energy and control humidity better.  (To understand better what inverter technology is, check out our article here.)  Unfortunately, no one has combined an inverter air conditioner and premium filtration, but you can get premium filtration on a new air conditioner with the Friedrich Kuhl units.  These units cool (and some also heat) rooms by heat pump, with smart controls (wifi enabled and smart home compatible) AND they have MERV 13 filters available (a MERV 13 bracket kit is needed).  Until manufacturers put inverter units and premium filtration together, we have to put premium filtration in priority!

If your existing window air conditioner has a few more years of life, it helps (although not necessary) to know how a window air conditioner works.  In the first part of our article “What kind of air conditioner do you have?” we explain the workings of this type of unit.  A key lesson is knowing that unless you have a ventilation lever on your unit, there is no mixing of indoor and outdoor air.  (Check out this video to find out how to find and operate a ventilation lever.)  Therefore, the air conditioner is not pulling in outside air, it’s only recirculating indoor air.  Whatever dust, pet dander and microbes are floating around your apartment can get lodged in the air conditioner and grow into disgusting science experiments that will negatively affect your air quality!

Therefore, a clean evaporator coil is super-important.  The evaporator coils are what change your hot and humid indoor air into cooler and drier air.  Because most window air conditioners come with a flimsy clean-able filter that would qualify somewhere between MERV 1 through 4, what really ends up filtering the air is the coil–because after a season of running constantly, so much dust and dirt go through the cheap filter and get lodged in the coil!  This is not only disgusting, it’s unhealthy.  Therefore, if you’ve operated your window unit for more than one summer and never cleaned the coil, please start with this step to eliminate the majority of grime that’s lodged there.  (Be sure to have help removing the air conditioner from the window, especially if you live on an upper story!) 

After you’ve cleaned your unit (and the included filter), check that it is blowing cold air well.  It should blow air that is 15-20 degrees colder than the air it takes in.  To measure this, simply use a portable temperature gauge above the unit (out of the stream of cold air) as the intake temperature, and then move the thermometer directly into the cold air coming out, and note the difference (it’s also helpful to note the difference in humidity, to know that it’s actually removing moisture as well!).  Our portable humidity sensors will give both temperature and humidity.  If the difference in inlet and outlet temperatures does not approach 15 degrees F for a clean AC unit, then you can check into getting the refrigerant topped up.  This is best done by a licensed HVAC technician.

Next, it’s not too hard to upgrade your current filtration so that the air coming out of your air conditioner is cleaner than the air that goes in!  Here are some options:

  • Frigidaire now offers MERV 14 filters for some of its models.  Check the link in the overview for compatibility.
  • You can cut a regular HVAC filter to fit as per this video (make sure you use painter’s tape around the edges to prevent air leaking around the filter), or 
  • You can have a custom filter bracket made for your window AC, and change the filter in it often. Since the louvers in front just thwart air flow, you can actually remove the louvered panel and fit the filter inside (if it has a rectangular filter), or you can fit the filter over the louvers and secure it to the front with double-sided tape.  In order to specify the correct size for your window unit, determine which louvers are the “intake” (moving air into the unit), and measure the area covering and slightly outside of them, so that the frame and tape will seal but not cover a lot of the louvered space. 
  • You can make your own frame from 1” aluminum “u-channel” and rivets, and purchase the filter material in bulk or cut to size (these media pads are equivalent to MERV 8 and will filter a lot more dust than the cleanable factory filter!)

Finally, placing a Germ Defender or Mobile Air Angel near the air conditioner will not only help to freshen the room as ions are carried with the fresh air, it will also help to keep the coils cleaner as ions are sucked into the air conditioner by killing microbes and mold spores inside it.

If your space is feeling stuffy from being closed up all the time due to hot weather, chances are CO2 levels are rising.  Fresh air ventilation is important, so go ahead and use that ventilation lever on your window air conditioner, or crack the windows in the morning or evening when temperatures are more tolerable.  If you live in an urban or dusty area, use our window ventilation filters to get fresh air without the particulates.  May our window air conditioning units live long, cool lives!

Keeping Your Vacation Home Fresh

Keeping Your Vacation Home Fresh

It doesn’t matter whether your “vacation home” is a pull-behind trailer, or a luxurious condo, or a humble cabin in the mountains:  when you “get away” to a relaxing place, you don’t want to spend your precious vacation time trying to figure out how to get musty smells out or remove mold from the linens because the climate inside suffered while you were away.  Here are our tips to make it welcoming and low-maintenance!

First of all, humidity is the most important factor you’ll want to control in order to keep out mold, and you’ll want to keep the humidity under 60% all the time.  If the outside climate humidity rises over 60%, that climate will come inside and settle into soft surfaces, making them a perfect habitat for mold growth. You can only control humidity inside effectively by having a tight envelope, which means sealing up passages where outside air can penetrate in.  If no one will be living there while you’re away, you won’t need fresh-air ventilation, so make your get-away home as tight as possible by sealing windows, doors, attic doors, and other penetrations.  

Also, remember that relative humidity and temperature are closely linked.  For example, if you leave an air conditioner set on 82 degrees and the humidity rises to 80%, you may be at risk of mold forming in less than 2 weeks!  (If you’re wondering how that calculation came to be, check out this fun dew point calculator.)  In addition, relative humidity in a space will increase as temperature is lowered.   Air conditioning will naturally take some of the humidity out of the air, but there are a number of factors that can allow humidity to remain high even when your air conditioner is on. 

Here are some options to keep the humidity under control while you’re not there:

  • If you have wi-fi available in your vacation home, now’s the time to take advantage of technology that can pair with existing units like mini-splits, window or portable air conditioners to enable you to monitor climate and control them remotely.  Cielo is a company that has a number of products that can help you maintain the right humidity and temperature remotely. 

  • Alternatively, if you do not have wifi or app-enabled monitoring, you’ll need to choose a temperature for setting your air conditioner.  Although it’s tempting to set the temperature just under the temperature of melting plastic (haha) to conserve energy, don’t do it!  Setting the thermostat as high as 85 degrees can cause short run times and not allow the air conditioner to remove enough humidity from the air, creating an atmosphere for mold growth.  (No, You Shouldn’t Set Your Thermostat to 85F.  Here’s Why.)  For that reason, it’s ok to set it 7-10 degrees above the temperature you normally keep it while you’re staying there IF you also take into account the outdoor temperature and humidity.  There’s no magic formula for determining this ideal energy-saving-yet-mold-preventing temperature setting, but think about it: if your vacation space is in a hot, humid climate like the southeast US, you’ll want to set the maximum indoor temperature lower than the average outdoor temperature to make the air conditioning come on often enough to remove humidity.  

  • Thirdly, if you don’t have a humidity control setting on your air conditioner, or even an air conditioner at all, it’s best to purchase a dehumidifier with a humidistat and set it to 60% maximum humidity.  This will ensure that humidity is being controlled, no matter what temperature the interior rises to!  Think of this dehumidifier as insurance against mold: if your air conditioner was to stop working, the dehumidifier can still keep your space mold-free if it’s suitably sized for your space.  Check out our article on different types and sizes of dehumidifiers, and be sure to set up a portable dehumidifier with a drain into a lower tub or sink that condensate can safely drain all the time.

  • Leave doors to rooms and closets open for best air circulation.  Just like air purifiers, portable dehumidifiers cannot reach behind closed doors.  

  • Use ceiling fans in rooms and portable fans elsewhere to keep air circulating while you’re away, which will reduce the water content in all your furnishings by evaporation.  ““Evaporation increases the humidity of the atmosphere that immediately surrounds the liquid. This humid air takes some time to dissipate into the rest of the atmosphere. The presence of a breeze, a powerful wind, or some other form of air circulation can speed up this process and make the environment of the liquid less humid. Therefore, by decreasing the humidity of the liquid’s surrounding, a powerful breeze or wind can increase the rate at which the liquid evaporates.” (Factors Affecting the Rate of Evaporation)  This is why disaster restoration companies use powerful fans to move air over wet surfaces, increasing evaporation and removal of water.  With less water in your furnishings, the chance of mold growth is reduced.   You can even add air circulation to any space that has a light socket, such as closets and pantries, by removing the light bulb and screwing in a light socket fan (which come in different designs with exposed or enclosed blades).

  • Make sure your air conditioning and dehumidifier drains are clear and a clean air filter is in place before you leave!  Many homeowners have come on vacation to find their air conditioner or dehumidifier drain pan overflowing and dripping onto ceilings, floors, and other inconvenient places–what a mess that can also turn into hazardous mold!  As a homeowner, make sure to check these drains and change the filter several times during the air conditioning season, or arrange for someone to do the same while you’re away. 

  • Window air conditioners need deep-cleaning sometimes.  If a musty smell is coming from the air conditioner when the fan cycles on, then you’ll know that dust has infiltrated the cooling coils, absorbed moisture, and is nourishing mold growth.  Check our article on how to deep clean it and restore the fresh smell.

  • If you can, shut off water at the main valve to avoid any possible leaks, and switch off the breaker to the hot water heater if it’s electric (turn off gas if it’s gas).  This will avoid water leaks under sinks, which can make a nasty moldy mess!  If you don’t do this, at the very least shut off water to the washing machine, because burst water hoses at the washer are the single largest cause of home flooding.  (Leaving the House for 3 Days or 3 Months? 5 Must-Dos Before Your Trip)

  • Bipolar ionization units like our Germ Defenders, Mobile Air Angels and Whole Home Ionizers are a great way to keep mold away too.  At the very least, plugging a Germ Defender into the bathroom will send out ions to kill mold spores in this small space where air circulation can be a challenge.

  • Leaving a portable HEPA filter with activated carbon running is not a bad idea, either.  Activated carbon will help avoid that “musty” smell.  According to firesafeliving.com,  “plug-in” scent devices are not a fire hazard if you leave them plugged in while you’re away, but we at HypoAir don’t recommend them because a) many plug-ins use toxic chemicals like phthalates and formaldehyde, and b) the freshener will dry out before you return anyway, leaving an appliance running on your wall.  What’s better: make your own reed diffusers with your favorite essential oil (or combination of oils) and place them throughout your space for a safe, no-mess fresh scent!

These extra steps may seem to take more time on those days you’re packing up to leave your vacation home, but when you come back to a home that is ready for relaxing as soon as you open the doors and windows, it will be worth it!

Photo by Lavi Perchik on Unsplash

Mold in the Toilet

Mold in the Toilet

The bathroom is a room that’s very susceptible to mold growth, and once you understand what mold needs to grow, it’s easy to understand why. Basically, it just needs moisture (shower=check, sink=check, toilet=check), and food (dust=check, organic matter=check), so the bathroom sometimes becomes a petri dish that’s hard to keep up with.  Fortunately for you, we’re tackling this problem by appliance, so check out our other articles here:

Now, back to mold in the toilet.  Mold can be mistaken for those stubborn mineral toilet rings, until it starts to turn weird colors, like black, brown or pink. 

What type of mold is the black mold in the toilet?

Although you may know that Stachybotrys chartarum is the most commonly termed “black” mold, another mold that appears black is Aspergillus Niger, as shown in Figure 2 of this 2017 study from India.  Aspergillus Niger can be a cause of some forms of pneumonia, so it’s definitely not something you want in your bathroom!  The study identified five types of mold in public toilets, resulting from airborne spread of spores and improper or infrequent cleaning procedures.

Alternaria and Cladosporium are two other types of mold that can produce black growths. (10 Types of Mold Colors Commonly Found in the House)  The most important thing to know is that these molds can produce mycotoxins and mVOCs every time they are disturbed!  Stachybotrys has been demonstrated to produce a number of Macrocyclic Trichothecene mycotoxins.  (Black Mold and Stachybotrys Exposure Guide)  Aspergillus niger can produce Ochratoxin A, Cladosporium produces mVOCs which can be irritating, and Alternaria species produce more than 70 mycotoxins! (Alternaria host-specific (HSTs) toxins: An overview of chemical characterization, target sites, regulation and their toxic effects)

Brown stains in the toilet are another problem–they could be caused by a number of molds, such as Pithomyces chartarum, Aureobasidium pullulans, Stemonitis, Taeoniella, Cladosporium or Mucor.  Arguably the most harmful mold of these is Mucor, which can cause a life-threatening blood infection called mucormycosis. However, it’s not always brownt any point during its life cycle it can be brown, yellow, black, white, or gray.  (10 Types of Mold Colors Commonly Found in the House)

Pink slime in the toilet is actually not mold.  As we mentioned in our article about the shower, that pink slime that can also form around drains and at the bottom of the shower curtain is caused by the bacteria Serratia marcescens, and can cause urinary and respiratory tract infections, which are especially problematic for people with immune problems. 

If you decide to try to find out what type of mold is growing, you can test it with a lab, but in any case it’s wise to treat it as a dangerous air pollutant.  Don’t disturb it unless you spray a cleaner on it first (to immobilize the spores), or are using a mask!

What is the cause of mold in the toilet bowl?

There are several possible causes for mold in the toilet bowl, some of which can be easily resolved and some need more effort!  

  • One of the easiest methods is just flushing the toilet more often. Toilets that are not used every day can allow mold and bacteria to attach to the bowl.  After cleaning the toilet, try to remind yourself to swing by and flush the toilet at least every other day so that these microbes don’t have a chance to proliferate.
  • Next, if the toilet does get used or flushed often, more frequent cleaning is often needed.  However, you need to skip traditional bleach based toilet cleaners, as they are toxic for you!  The following are some non-toxic cleaners that are very effective for bacteria and germs, however note that citric acid is not always effective on mold (read below on citric acid** and get a few more recommendations from Zero-Waste Memoirs):
    • Force of Nature is hypochlorous acid, a safe alternative to bleach that is a hospital-grade, EPA-registered disinfectant that kills 99.9% of germs including Staph, MRSA, Norovirus, Influenza A, Salmonella, and Listeria when used as directed.  You can spray Force of Nature in the toilet as a final disinfectant, but it should not be mixed with essential oils or cleaners that contain essential oils, as this can reduce its disinfecting power. 
    • Fragrance-free powder: Seventh Generation Zero Plastic Toilet Bowl Cleaner ($22) has citric acid as its main cleaning agent.  This non-toxic ingredient is registered with the FDA in products certified to kill feline calicivirus (a testing substitute for norovirus), so we know that it works.  If you or anyone in your household is exhibiting symptoms of this illness or a similar one, we would suggest cleaning toilets full-strength and often with a product like this!   If you like a little lemony fragrance, try the Probiotic Toilet Bowl Cleaner by Etee ($45), which also uses citric acid.  It may seem expensive, but it’s not bad on a per-use basis ($1.50), and some customers find that using less than the prescribed amount (1 TBSP) works just fine.  Added probiotics help to keep your septic system functioning optimally.
    • Dissolving strips:  Nature Clean Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaners Strips ($17) are highly rated too.  They use sodium coco sulfate as the main ingredient, which is a blend of the fatty acids in coconut oil. (Sodium Coco Sulfate: Is It Natural?)  It is a synthetic detergent with one of its ingredients being sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), however it is less irritating should you immerse your skin in the soapy water (highly unlikely for a toilet bowl cleaner!) Lastly, the essential oils including Australian tea tree oil, provide a pleasant scent and antiseptic properties.
    • Liquid: Mrs. Meyer’s Liquid Toilet Bowl Cleaner, $6, uses citric acid and essential oils like lemon verbena to get a fresh-smelling clean, all in a bottle made from at least 30% post-consumer plastic (recycled).  

Safe descaling of your toilet bowl:  mineral stains and some molds may be removed by simply using the concentrated citric acid** (as you’ve read, a non-toxic ingredient in many toilet bowl cleaners), which comes in a granule or powder form.  Granules are safer to use because they are mostly dust-free (they’ve been formed into little clumps that don’t kick up dust when you handle them).  

The following is adapted from a post on Moral Fibres.  Their method did not work without scrubbing but I learned a few things working on my own toilets:

  • Gather your supplies: a large pitcher for clean water, ½ cup of citric acid powder or granules, latex or plastic gloves, an abrasive scrub sponge that’s safe for porcelain, Bar-Keeper’s Friend Cleanser (optional), several paper towels, small disposable cup, tape for closing the lid (optional), about ¼ cup baking soda. 

  • Turn off/close the water valve on the wall completely.

  • Flush the toilet.  The tank and the bowl won’t refill this time. 

  • Fill a large pitcher full of hot water from your sink and pour it into the toilet bowl. The water should not be boiling hot as it could crack your toilet.  Also, make sure to add it slowly so that the water doesn’t drain completely from the bowl; you’ll want the water at or above the water ring stain.

  • Put on gloves and add about ½ cup of citric acid powder or granules to your toilet bowl. (use a mask if your citric acid comes in powder form)

  • Swish the water in the bowl gently with your toilet brush to dissolve it, but don’t swirl too vigorously because it will cause water to drain from the bowl.  After you add the citric acid to the bowl, don’t add more water, because this will dilute the acid. Add paper towels around the bowl to cover all the stained porcelain, and use the disposable cup to wet them with liquid from the bowl.  The bowl should be lined with paper towels stuck to the inside wherever there are stains.

  • Close the lid and put tape and a sign to prevent people from using it! 

  • Leave the citric acid in the toilet bowl, without flushing, for at least one hour, or preferably before going to bed, so it can soak the scale overnight.

  • After leaving the solution to soak, use the bowl brush or gloved hands to remove the paper towels, and try using your toilet brush to remove scale deposits. If it doesn’t move, use gloved hands, the scrub sponge, and Bar-Keeper’s Friend or another agent safe for porcelain.  Scrub away!

  • Finish by adding the baking soda to neutralize the acid, swish with the bowl brush, open the water valve, wait for the tank to fill, and flush!

  • If your toilet is particularly stained, then it may need a second application to remove stubborn deposits.

Citric acid**: The interesting thing about this chemical is that it is commercially produced by the mold Aspergillus Niger, which may be the same type of mold you’re trying to eliminate.  Manufactured Citric Acid (MCA) is one of the most common food additives in the world, and has received the status of “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) with the FDA.  However, there have been isolated cases of inflammation due to ingestion of foods with MCA, due to its great tolerance to heat and large potential that byproducts of A. niger remain in the final MCA product. (Potential role of the common food additive manufactured citric acid in eliciting significant inflammatory reactions contributing to serious disease states: A series of four case reports)  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to determine whether MCA actually kills Aspergillus Niger growing in your toilet, but it does a great job with all the other molds 

The atmosphere of the bathroom is also very important in preventing mold.  Here are two ways to keep the air in the bathroom less hospitable to mold: 

  • Bathroom exhaust fans are a must for any bathroom with an actual shower or bath.  If you have a fan but not sure if it’s large enough, check the cubic feet of air per minute rating (cfm) on the fan (you may have to remove the cover) and this article to see if it’s large enough for your bathroom.  In addition, go outside and see if you can see the little flapper lifting to show that air is indeed being exhausted.  If you can't find the exhaust of this fan, it's possible that the moisture is being exhausted in the attic, which needs to be fixed.  If your kids or guests are not switching on the exhaust fan during their showers, get an electrician to tie the fan and light switch together so that the fan MUST come on when the light is on.  Finally, if you don't have an exhaust fan, get a window fan like this one and make sure the kids use it!
  • Bipolar ionization units like our Germ Defenders, Mobile Air Angels and Whole Home Ionizers are a great way to keep mold away too.  At the very least, plugging a Germ Defender into the bathroom will send out ions to kill mold spores in this small space where air circulation can be a challenge.

If the mold keeps coming back despite flushing and cleaning, then there are several possible causes for this:

  • Older toilets commonly have pitting in the ceramic which can harbor mold. This video shows that no matter how hard a toilet is scrubbed with different products, pits in the ceramic are microscopic reservoirs that shelter bits of the mold, allowing it to come back again.  The safest solution in this case is to replace the old toilet with a new one.  The radical (but toxic) solution to keep your old toilet but lose the mold is to use diluted muriatic acid (also known as hydrochloric acid) to clean the pits.  However, the mold will eventually come back and inhabit those pits again unless you take another step to renew the enamel on your toilet bowl (a bit extreme to save an old toilet). 
  • Improper venting.  You may not know it, but all drains in your home require a vent to work properly.  We’re not talking about the air vents in ceilings and walls, but a gas vent for the drain line.  These are hidden in your walls.  According to the uniform plumbing code, vents must be located within six feet of the P-trap (that snake-like part under the sink and the S-curve under the back of the toilet); otherwise, the drain may not work properly and gasses can build up, supporting mold and microbe growth.  If this seems to be the case, it’s best to have a good plumber check out the location and condition of the toilet and sink vents and see if there are other drain problems.   
  • This next one is a difficult truth: there may be a cache of mold hidden in your home that is “seeding” spores into your air, causing mold to grow wherever there’s a water source (sinks, showers, and of course your toilet).  According to a respected mold inspection and remediation company, Mold hotspots include the basement, attic, windowsills and door frames, crawlspaces, appliances, and underneath the sinks. Do you feel worse in some rooms of your home and better after leaving them?  This gives a clue to where the mold contamination may be originating.  If you don’t see anything obvious, you could have a hidden leak somewhere, like in the walls or flooring, that’s allowing mold to grow. There are two things you can do in this case: 
    • Order some spore traps from GotMold or even just a set of EC3 test plates ($36 for 6-pack) by MicroBalance Health Products to check the relative mold level in rooms to narrow it down!
    • If you suspect a problem or are having chronic symptoms, it’s best to hire a qualified mold inspector.

There are many non-toxic ways to clean and keep clean nowadays, and with a little research and effort the toilet can be as clean and healthy as the rest of your bathroom and home!

Photo by Jas Min on Unsplash

How to safely remove old carpet

How to safely remove old carpet

Upon testing my bedroom carpet as part of a series of mold tests in my home, I found this:

I scheduled time to remove the carpet the next week.  Now, how do I do this safely?

Research revealed two extremes:

  1. removing the carpet with no breathing equipment and no dust abatement (although this guy has some great tips, I cringe at the way he’s throwing the carpet around with no dust mask)

  2. removing the carpet with breathing equipment, a zillion garbage bags and gallons of mold eliminator (this method is costly and WET!) 

I had to find a solution in the median.  Here’s what I came up with for my situation (I am moderately sensitive to mold). 

Supply list:

  • Respirator with extra set of filters

  • Heavy gloves

  • Old clothes

  • Knee pads

  • TotalClean concentrate (or several pre-mixed spray bottles)

  • Clean garden sprayer

  • Rags

  • Plastic sheeting and painters tape for taping off vents and covering heavy furniture

  • Old towels to block under door

  • Heavy duty garbage bags (also known as contractor bags)

  • Carpet knife with extra blades or utility knife with extra blades

  • Duct tape

  • Pliers for pulling carpet

  • Nail puller to remove staples in padding

  • Pry bar and hammer to remove tack strips

  • HEPA vacuum with new bag for cleanup

  • Air Angel and/or Germ Defender: helps with dust and mold mitigation

Prep, prep, prep…it’s tedious but so worth it.  

  • Move whatever furniture, clothing and decor you can easily move, into another room. I took the long-overdue opportunity to get a new mattress, so I could escort my old one to the dump!

  • Use dollies on furniture that is too heavy or large to move out of the room.

  • Turn off the HVAC and cover any ceiling, floor or wall registers with plastic sheeting and painter’s tape

  • Measure TotalClean concentrate and water into garden sprayer at 1:7 parts respectively or empty pre-mixed spray bottles into sprayer.

  • Block under door(s) with old towels so that dust doesn’t migrate through the house.

  • Open window and remove screen if you plan to toss the carpet out of the window (also block off the area below)

  • Turn on the Air Angel and/or Germ Defender to help dust particles clump together and fall to the floor; the ions also destroy mold and bacteria on contact

  • Suit up with all protective gear including your respirator!

My strategies for minimizing dust will be to dampen a section of the carpet with the sprayer; cut the carpet into a  manageable section, remove it, and do the same three steps for the carpet pad underneath.  You’ll want to make the least number of cuts, because cutting through the carpet releases a lot of dust and fibers into the air.  I realize that this method will only wet the top of the carpet and not the cut edge or bottom, but short of soaking the carpet and subfloor, I found this is the best solution.  I liked the idea of tossing the carpet out of the window on a good weather day and bagging or binning it outside so that I didn’t drag the bags through the house.  I removed the carpet, padding and staples as I went, because I had a heavy piece of furniture left in the room and did not want to move it around more than necessary.

  1. Starting in one corner, use the sprayer to dampen the carpet in a 2’x8’ section.  Cut just inside that section with the carpet knife.  

  2. Use pliers to grab the carpet in the corner and wrestle it from the tack strips. If you can’t get it out, try cutting the corner out with your knife and pulling out just the corner.

  3. Roll it up gently and dispose of it in a contractor bag (or toss it out a window!)  If bagging it, then you can use the duct tape to keep it rolled tightly.

  4. Spray the carpet pad underneath and cut it.

  5. Dispose of it in the same way.

  6. Remove staples holding the padding to the floor with the nail puller.

  7. Remove tack strips using the pry bar and hammer.  They are super-sharp!  (If you plan on replacing with new carpet and the tack strips are not rusty or damaged, you can leave them in place).  

Repeat steps 1-5 until the whole room is devoid of carpet and padding!  If you can handle more than 2x8’ of damp carpet at a time, you can  Then, use a HEPA vacuum to thoroughly vacuum the floors to remove dust.  You will want to wipe down the walls, window(s) and ceiling fan with TotalClean because dust is now everywhere.  Finally, you can remove the sheeting from your register(s) and change clothes and shower–you earned it!  It’s best to add a bit of EC3 Laundry Additive to your clothing when washing it to avoid spreading mold to any of your clean clothing. 

If you have a new floor already scheduled for installation, good for you! Make sure that the subfloor dries out completely before 48 hours have passed, and definitely before installing new flooring (use of the sprayer makes it unlikely to soak the subfloor).   If you haven’t picked out new flooring yet, you can remove/replace any nails or screws that are sticking out, use a non-toxic floor paint, and/or use an area rug to cover over any rough areas until that day comes.  Try not to wait too long, however, so that excessive wear of the subfloor doesn’t occur.  

Photo by Julie Marsh on Unsplash

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