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Forest Products Extension

Mold on wood

Recently there has been increased concern about mold on wood. Reports of so-called “toxic” molds in particular have caused people to be more interested in preventing, detecting and eliminating mold on the wood in their homes.

Mold can be seen as a fuzzy or discolored layer on the surface of wood. Molds are a kind of fungus that can grow on wood, concrete, bread, oranges, or any surface that provides a suitable combination of temperature, moisture and food. Molds feed on nutrients on the surface of wood – they do not eat or weaken the wood itself.

Molds produce millions of microscopic spores that can be carried in the air. If these spores land on the surface of wood (or other materials), and conditions are right, then a new growth of mold will result. Mold spores are all around us and in the air that we breathe. High concentrations of mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

The particular concern over the “toxic” molds is due to the fact that these molds can produce mycotoxins – special chemicals that may be poisonous. Despite the alarming name, the dangers of “toxic” molds are often over-emphasized. The musty smell of mold is not caused by mycotoxins. Most molds don't produce mycotoxins, and even those molds that can produce mycotoxins don't produce them all the time. In general, while moldy wood may be an unsightly nuisance, it is not usually a health hazard.

The best way to prevent or stop mold from growing on wood is to keep the surface of the wood dry. This means that bathrooms, kitchens and basements should be well ventilated. Existing mold can be removed by washing with water, and bleach or detergents can be used to eliminate discolorations. Unfortunately, if the conditions for mold growth remain, new spores will land on the wood and fresh mold will grow.

Chemical treatments exist that can kill mold and prevent future mold growth. However, the warm, wet conditions that lead to mold may also lead to wood rot, so preventing the conditions for mold growth is the best solution.

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Adam M. Taylor
Tennessee Forest Products Center
2506 Jacob Drive
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996

Phone: 865-946-1125
Fax: 865-946-1109

Adam Taylor's email