To Clean or Pitch Belongings After Toxic Mold?

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mbg senior sustainability Editor

By Dr.lauryn

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Should I throw away items after mold? Like seriously…get rid of everything?!

It’s a question most everyone who experiences “mycotoxin illness” or toxic mold exposure asks: To clean or pitch belongings after toxic mold?

And it’s a topic that website forums and Facebook groups go crazy over—with many folks swearing up and down the only way to heal is to get rid of everything. It’s vital to remember that, while you can get rid of the mold source via remediation (such as fixing a broken pipe or cleaning mold out of the shower)…it is the mycotoxins from mold that are VERY difficult to get rid of and make people very sick.

MYCOTOXINS…ON YOUR STUFF!

To Clean or Pitch Belongings After Toxic Mold - woman checking on molds on their kitchen

Even though you may not see “visible” mold on the clothing, books, or other contents of your home, this does NOT matter (nor does it mean that those items are safe). In fact, mold spores (mycotoxins) are often invisible to the human eye—approximately 3-40 microns (note: a human hair is approximately 100 microns thick).

Mycotoxins are so small that as many as 250,000 can fit on a pin head, and a person can breathe in as many as 750,000 spores in an hour. Mycotoxins are only visible to the unaided eye when mold colonies grow. These colonies can have billions of spores. So, if you are actually seeing the mold on a wall, flooring, or on objects inside your home, you are dealing with a huge health issue. The mycotoxin gasses emitted by the molds penetrate materials, are very sticky, and can attach to practically everything in your environment, consequently making you sick (even after you’ve left the moldy environment if you still have lots of stuff from it).

At the very least, everything must be cleaned properly, professionally sanitized for mold and mycotoxins, or completely discarded.

SHOULD YOU CLEAN OR PITCH BELONGINGS AFTER MOLD?

Depending on the severity and length of toxic mold exposure, some people find that they can keep some of their stuff from their home or workplace—especially if they were only exposed for a very short time (a few weeks to a few months). To clean or pitch belongings after toxic mold? There are things you should consider.

However, other patients report the “best” approach for them was to leave the majority of things behind and start afresh—as if a fire had happened and destroyed all of their belongings.

Every body is different and will react differently.

If you are unsure whether you should pitch or clean some of your belongings from a moldy environment, if anything, I recommend initially cleaning items (either yourself or another one) with the mold cleaning protocol below, and storing items in a contained plastic box and storage space or unit. This step at least buys you some time to later slowly open up your boxes and introduce items into your life—one at a time. By doing so, you discover your own sensitivity threshold and whether or not your items are making you sick.

In summary: Yes, some items may be salvageable, but it really all depends on your personal sensitivities. Ultimately, you must do what is best for you, while keeping in mind: When in doubt, throw it out!

In my own experience, approximately 95% of any of the items that I kept in storage, I completely forgot about and realized…I didn’t need them after all. In fact, less is more.

GETTING RID OF MOLDY STUFF: MY EXPERIENCE

To Clean or Pitch Belongings After Toxic Mold - woman checking on molds with a professional

When I first found out why I was so sick, I ferociously Google searched advice about ridding of items during mold recovery, and although there is not much information out there, I continued to find answers encouraging me to “get rid of everything.” To clean or pitch belongings after toxic mold? It was challenging for me.

Really, everything? Psh. Surely not.

I was fine with leaving some clothes from college I had not worn, old books and loose leaf papers behind, but my furniture? My Anthropologie and Lululemons? My laptop computer? My backpack? My car? My designer bags? My blender?

Surely not.

So I went “halfsies” on it—got rid of some things, particularly things I hadn’t used in a long time, while clinging to other things, determined to remediate it.

However, the decision backfired. Big time!

Three weeks into my escape from “Moldageddon,” I found a room to rent in a home a couple streets over, and was excited to breathe clean air and start a new life over in a mold-free environment.

I quickly learned my lesson.

I brought mold with me! Lots of it.

In my small 8×9 foot bedroom, my boxes and bags of clothes, my bedding, my towels—all of it—radiated with mycotoxicity. Sleeping on my new plastic blowup mattress that first night, inhaling the fumes from my own belongings, quickly triggered the same exact symptoms I’d experienced in my old home, and I realized I really had not escaped.

The next day, I called my mold inspector to come “remediate” my items, using a fogging spray solution to try to clean the items…but it was too late. The environment was already contaminated, and my body was still much too weak to “fight it”.

To say the least, my stay in my new rental home only lasted 3 weeks, and after much contemplation, tears and prayers, I decided leaving everything behind was the best option for me.

I had become so sick that parting with items that continued to trigger my asthma, neurologic and autoimmune symptoms really was a no brainer. I just wanted to feel well!

I got rid of:

  • Books
  • Binders with papers and looseleaf maillothes—bags and bags of clothes (good bye Lulu’s)
  • My laptop computer
  • My yoga mat
  • My backpack, my wallet, lunchboxes and designer purses
  • My favorite Frye cowboy boots
  • Most of my jewelry
  • My makeup and makeup bag
  • My stuffed dog “Benji” (I had had since I was 4-years-old)
  • My printer
  • My ring light and podcast equipment
  • My pots, pans, blender, toaster, plates, glasses, silverware
  • My car—the air vents circulated the mold I’d been living in for the past 2 years

Yes, I thought it sounded extreme too, but holding on to old stuff only weighed me down more. I found, as I gradually let even these things go, the more freedom I felt and ability to start new—from the inside out. I could breathe again—physically and mentally—better than I had in two years.

I call this “Marie Kandoing” your life—you know the author who wrote the book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”?! I embraced minimalism, and as a result, healing and freedom from mold really began.

YOUR TURN: MOLD MINIMALISM

When trying to decide what to keep and what to toss, remember: When in doubt, throw it out!

If you are truly struggling with mycotoxin illness (not just mold allergy), many of your things are NOT worth it if they’ve been extremely contaminated and exposed to the environment for longer than a month or two.

That said, if mold exposure was contained, minimal (such as isolated to a bathroom or one room in the house), or short-lived, then such extremes are probably not necessary (especially with a good cleaning). Also, if items in your home truly were isolated (such as a pair of earrings in a box under your sink, or never-worn shoes in a shoe box in your closet), extremes are probably not necessary.

Non-Porous Items to Likely Keep After Mold

To Clean or Pitch Belongings After Toxic Mold - man on his bicycle under the sun

These items are generally safe to properly clean and keep.

Check out this ARTICLE for tips on how to clean items from a moldy home.

Non-porous items are definitely worth a shot. “Non porous” means that the material does not have the ability to absorb a contaminate such as mold. It doesn’t mean that mold spores can’t get trapped in them though. You need to be thorough in cleaning these items.

  • Metal and glass furniture
  • Dishes, serving bowls, platters, plates
  • Glassware
  • Silverware, metal cooking utensils
  • Pots and pans (except cast iron)
  • Baking sheets and bakeware
  • Silicone cooking utensils and bakeware
  • Non-wood cutting boards
  • Anything made of glass
  • Eye glasses
  • Metal jewelry
  • Essential oil bottles and glass bottles
  • Bicycles
  • Brass or metal instruments
  • Metal framed glass members

Porous Items That MAY Be Safe After Mold

Porous items absorb contaminates much more easily as mold spores and mycotoxins either take up permanent residence in these items or utilize them as food. Although this list of porous items may be able to be properly cleaned and kept, this may not be the case for everyone, depending on your health

  •  Cell phones
  • Clothing (non dry-cleaned)
  • Towels and linens
  • Weights and barbells
  • Hair irons
  • Irons
  • Non-porous surfaces (able to clean well)—such as that plastic waste bin or desk
  • Office chairs
  • Leather (bags, purses, briefcases, furniture, clothes)
  • Kitchen appliances without a motor (Instant pot, toaster, toaster oven, etc.)
  • Oven/stove
  • Saunas
  • Your car (yes some folks get rid of their’s—including me)

Definitely Toss These Items After Mold

Cleaning has not shown to fully remediate the following items and they are best left behind for your health’s sake:

  • Anything made of wood (furniture, wood cutting board, etc.)
  • Papers (if needed: Store them loosely in plastic bins until a decision can be made at a later date)
  • Laptop computers (the fans in the computer can pick up mycotoxins; *if ridding of your this is not easy, look into selling back your machine or trading it in to the store, or using it outside of your new, clean environment to avoid cross-contamination)
  • Backpacks, purses, suitcases—things exposed to mycotoxins in the environment (they will most likely smell like the home as you leave)
  • Appliances (Refrigerators, washers, air purifiers, and dryers harbor dust in their coils and fans and are difficult to clean. Spores and spore fragments easily attach to washing machine parts)
  • Rubber items
  • Cork
  • Foam
  • Wool
  • Hemp
  • Fur
  • Cardboard
  • Anything made of cloth that cannot be put in a washing machine on high heat
  • Lamps
  • Video game consoles (with motor)
  • Upholstery (couches, curtains, rugs)
  • TVs
  • Vented items (your hairdryer, fans)
  • Pens, pencils, office supplies
  • Electric shavers
  • Books and magazines
  • Ironing board
  • Area rugs
  • Wood and stringed instruments
  • Pianos
  • Mattresses
  • Pillows
  • Stuffed animals
  • Down comforters
  • Antiques
  • Cloth suitcases
  • Non-leather couches/sofas
  • Candles
  • Silk plants
  • Baskets
  • Wall art/paintings
  • Pictures
  • Vacuums
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Air purifier filters used in the moldy home
  • Space heaters
  • Window AC unit

If the idea of tossing everything out is devastating, recruit a cleaning company, family member or friend to box things up for you, or wear protective clothing (here) and a nose and mouth mask to put things into bins, large plastic bags or trash sacks to store away while you remove yourself to heal.

This also may mean renting a storage facility for a period or storing your items in a family member’s garage. If you’re going to the trouble of moving away from a toxic environment, don’t apologize for being “extreme.”

Do what you need to do to break free, allow for healing to occur and then decide what to keep or toss (chances are, you may realize you can live without it).

GETTING RID OF MOLDY STUFF: EXTREME OR NECESSARY?

“But it sounds so extreme…”

Just breathe. No one is holding a gun to your head to get rid of everything.

Ultimately, you may have to find out for yourself what you can and cannot tolerate, and perhaps, more than anything, time away from your contaminated items can help you strengthen your body from the inside out—and also realize…it’s all just stuff.

Stuff is helpful for doing some things in life, but we come into this world bald, curled up and naked, and leave it bald, curled up and naked…and we take nothing with us. In other words: It can be replaced.

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