10/24/2011 12:01 pm ET Updated Dec 24, 2011

Put a Hold on Mold

When mold rears its ugly head, we usually want to hit it with maximum fire power. But hold on! Those caustic mold removers are as worrisome as the mold itself. Why leave yourself gasping for air when there are plenty of natural alternatives?

Mold is a microscopic fungus that needs moisture to grow, which is why we often see it in the dark corners of our bathrooms. Besides being downright ugly, mold can also cause allergies and trigger asthma. A new study led by scientists at the University of Cincinnati indicated that mold exposure during infancy plays a critical role in the development of childhood asthma. Lead author of the study, Tiina Reponen, explains, "This study should motivate expectant parents, especially if they have a family history of allergy or asthma, to correct water damage and reduce the mold burden in their homes to protect the respiratory health of their children."

It's clear that we need to keep mold from growing in our homes and that prevention is the easiest solution. But when you're stuck with some nasty black fungus in your tile grout, it doesn't have to involve caustic chemicals like bleach, formaldehyde, and fungicides to solve the problem. In fact, the EPA has classified 275 different active ingredients found in antimicrobial mold removers as... pesticides! Pretty unsettling, to say the least. The good news is that you can skip those commercial cleaners and try these surprisingly effective ways of killing mold without harming yourself or the environment:

1) White Vinegar and Baking Soda are two of the most versatile natural cleaning solutions around. Mix two parts baking soda with a one to one solution of vinegar and water to create a thick paste. Let it fully dry on the surface, and then scrub it off. Rinse and repeat for really stubborn cases.

2) Tea Tree Essential Oil is great for attacking mold and is also a natural antimicrobial. Mix one teaspoon with two cups of water, then spray on and let it dry. The mixture has a nice long shelf life, so feel free to prepare it ahead of time to keep handy for future cleanings. Remember to use care with essential oils, as they can cause harmful reactions when ingested or put directly on the skin. Some are considered dangerous for pregnant women, so it's better to stick with eucalyptus, lemongrass and tea tree oils.

3) Grapefruit Seed Extract is odorless, which is a nice alternative to the strong scents of tea tree oil and vinegar. Add twenty drops of grapefruit seed extract to two cups of water, add to a spray bottle, shake well and spray directly onto any visible growth. Don't rinse it off, just let it dry naturally.

4) Borax and Dishwashing Detergent. Add one teaspoon and some non-toxic dishwashing detergent to a quart of warm water. Then soak moldy areas with the mixture, rinse off and allow it to air dry. You can also use borax to scrub away soap scum and hard water deposits. It's still a good idea to use gloves to prevent sensitive skin from being irritated. You should also use caution around children and pets because it can be dangerous if ingested at very high levels.

Of course, it's easiest to prevent mold from taking hold in the first place by cleaning more frequently, keeping the bathroom well ventilated and wiping down the shower/tub after each use. But when that mold creeps in, you now know that you can remove it naturally.

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