Everything happens in the kitchen. No, really, it does! This is the space where we provide our bodies with life-giving fuel, allow our creativity and imagination to run wild while creating new recipes, discover new tastes, and give rise to forever memories with our loved ones. See! They play a huge role in our lives. It just makes sense to make sure your “heart of the home” is a safe environment. Working to prevent mold in the kitchen?
That should be at the top of your list!
No one wants to hang around with a fungus while they’re trying to drink their morning coffee or make that incredible recipe from Pinterest. Unless, that is, the recipe calls for mushrooms, of course! As for mold, that particular fungus among us is an unwelcome guest.
The best way to deal with this gatecrasher is to prevent it from being able to settle in the first place. Aka, knowing how to prevent mold in the kitchen so you can enjoy this indoor space.
Why We Should Prevent Mold in the Kitchen
Before getting into how to prevent mold in the kitchen, here’s why you should avoid it.
“When you know your why, you’ll know your way.” -Michael Hyatt
All About Mold
Mold is a type of fungus, with over 100,000 species identified so far. These species come in a kaleidoscope of colors, textures, and shapes, and they’re found throughout the entire planet. Every species of mold also reproduces by creating microscopic spores and releasing them into the air.¹’² These spores will ride that air current wherever it leads and land on any surface they come into contact with.
The key thing to remember is that these spores are microscopic, so just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean that they’re not there. It also gives them the ability to zip all over the place, even right into our own homes. This ability isn’t a problem unless the spore stumbles on a nice little surface with all of the components it needs to survive and thrive.
Why Does Mold Love Our Kitchens?
In a nutshell, kitchens are filled with all the things that mold spores love and need to live!
A mold spore needs two main things to survive and thrive: a food source and a moisture source.³ When it comes to kitchens, they offer a plethora of edible options for a lucky spore. Between particles from food products, skin cells, building materials, mineral buildup, and more, there’s plenty of organic matter to keep a mold colony happy.
That leaves moisture, the often-missing element. Mold spores only need 24-48 hours to begin colonizing a space, so if they find even a slightly damp area for that period of time, all bets are off.
Which room in a house is often filled with moisture? Kitchens are! Between cooking, spills, humidity, appliances, and running water, the kitchen is overloaded with moisture. These wet surfaces and moisture-rich air can easily lead to mold in the kitchen. Before you know it, poof, there’s mold in the kitchen. Once that colony is established, it can begin to wreak havoc on our home health and our bodies.
Spoiler: Working to prevent mold in the kitchen involves eliminating these key things needed for growth!
Why Prevent Mold in the Kitchen? It’s Unhealthy!
So, when mold grows, it releases microscopic spores into the surrounding space. Some species of mold also create microscopic toxins called mycotoxins when threatened, further adding to the particle party.⁴ Interestingly, while mycotoxins are regulated in our food products, no limits exist for acceptable levels in our homes.⁵
And, on top of all of that, bacteria can often grow in the same conditions as mold.⁶ This adds yet another complex layer to the contamination situation going on.
The ability of these particles to cause problems largely rests on their size. Mold spores, fragments, mycotoxins, and bacteria are small enough to be inhaled, ingested, and absorbed into the body.⁷ This triggers an immune response as the body attempts to rid itself of those foreign particles. Over time, this can lead to the immune system becoming rundown or malfunctioning, creating a long list of potential adverse health reactions.⁸’⁹’¹⁰’¹¹’¹²
Common symptoms of mold exposure include:
- Headaches and migraines
- Digestive issues
- Hair loss
- Joint and muscle pain
- Brain fog
- Chronic fatigue
- Cold/flu-like symptoms
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Mood swings
- Hormone imbalances
The tricky thing is that no two people react to exposure in the same way. One person may have the occasional upset stomach while another individual develops 11 symptoms and an autoimmune disease. Not normalizing symptoms and looking to our indoor environments as possible root causes are essential to ensuring people around the world aren’t suffering from chronic illness.
Much more research is needed to better understand how exposure impacts our bodies, but it’s a tough subject to nail down. Genetics, length of exposure, volume of exposure, species of mold, presence of mycotoxins, presence of bacteria, and immune system status all play a role. Those with compromised and developing immune systems, for example, are prone to experiencing adverse reactions faster and to a greater degree.
The potential for chronic symptoms is reason enough to actively prevent mold in the kitchen.
“Mold is everywhere, so it’s no big deal when it’s in the home.” That is NOT true for a multitude of reasons, but the greatest one is the differences in the volume of exposure. Yes, it’s impossible to avoid exposure to mold particles in nature. With so many species and the particles’ ability to go everywhere, we can encounter them while walking into the grocery store, driving in the car, or out on a jog.
Typically, this exposure doesn’t cause a problem because there are only a few particles. Mold growth in a home? Not the same situation. As that colony flourishes, it continues to release all sorts of particles into the indoor environment. And let’s also not forget about the potential bacteria!
Thanks to modern construction’s effort to create homes with net-zero energy efficiency, there’s very little airflow between indoor and outdoor environments. Combine that with the lack of filtration measures in place, and it essentially creates an indoor air bubble full of particles.
Most of the particles released remain inside and continue to build up until the contamination is removed. Standing in what is essentially a contaminated bubble is not the same as standing outside, where all of those particles have the big, wide world to disperse through.
That is why we should all work hard to avoid the situation altogether and prevent mold in the kitchen.
With that in mind, here are steps you should add to your home maintenance list to prevent mold in the kitchen.
11 Ways to Prevent Mold in the Kitchen
1. Check for Water Damage
The sooner you catch any sort of problem, the less opportunity there will be for microbial growth to develop. Oftentimes, issues spiral into much larger issues because they’re not discovered for quite a while.
If you can catch a leak early on, you can minimize the damage and contamination that microbial growth causes.
Places you should check include:
- Underneath the sink
- Around refrigerator
- Behind the dishwasher
- Sink faucet
One great way to help avoid costly issues is to place a waterproof mat underneath the sink to help protect against water damage and prevent mold in the kitchen.
2. Reduce Clutter in Cabinets and Keep Them Clean
Everyone loves an organized and streamlined space! It’s easy to navigate and makes your brain go, “Ahh.” Reducing clutter and keeping everything neat and tidy can also help promote home health too!
Cleaning these often-neglected spaces helps reduce the number of particles present, including mold spores. Working to not have Tupperware containers and pots and pans packed precariously into your cabinets helps to make cleaning easier and allows you to peek around for any water damage.
3. Maintain Humidity Between 35-50%
Some species of mold can grow in high humidity, so the goal is to keep it below that level.
While cooking, use the exhaust fan or open a window to replace that moisture-filled air with drier air. If it will not lower to the appropriate level, consider investing in a dehumidifier.
Pro tip: Use a hygrometer in these rooms to monitor humidity levels in real time and address issues as they pop up.
4. Keep Appliances Clean and Dry
Appliances are some of the top places for microbial growth in the kitchen because of their use of moisture. Cleaning them frequently using botanical cleaning products with surfactants helps remove contaminants like mold spores and mycotoxins, as well as food sources such as mineral buildup. Check with the manufacturer’s instructions for their suggestions on cleaning methods, products, and frequency.
Another rule of thumb is to ensure they’re dry after every use to further prevent mold in the kitchen.
A few top appliances include:
5. Ensure Windows and Doors are Sealed Properly
This will help maintain ideal humidity levels in the room and prevent water damage. Improperly sealed windows and doors can allow for condensation to develop along the windowsill and doorframe from the different temperatures between the outdoor and indoor environments.
6. Clean Regularly
This is huge for helping prevent mold in the kitchen. Cleaning often reduces microscopic particles within the space, including mold spores. It also helps reduce food sources for microbial growth, like mineral buildup in the coffee machine.
With that in mind, create a cleaning schedule and equip your cleaning arsenal with the tools needed to battle those microscopic particles.
A quick, birds-eye view of areas to tackle include:
- Daily: Wipe countertops, clean dishes, remove any particles from the dishwasher, wash out the sink, dry appliances
- Weekly: Mop floors, clean the sink faucet, clean out the fridge, throw dish towels in the laundry, clean the garbage disposal, and dust horizontal surfaces
- Monthly: Deep clean any appliances (like the refrigerator and dishwasher), grout or caulk, cabinets, trash cans,
- Bi-annually: refrigerator coils and water line
Pro Tip: Throw all machine washable items in the laundry with a botanical product like EC3 Laundry Additive to help remove microscopic particles from the surface.
7. Don’t Put Wet Dishes or Items in Cabinets
This can create moisture-rich environments that allow for microbial growth. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, mold loves water! That’s why moisture mitigation is at the top of the list to help prevent mold in the kitchen and home, in general.
With that in mind, make sure everything you take out of the dishwasher or drying rack is completely dry before placing it in its designated storage spot.
8. Throw Away Food On Time
Chances are that we’ve all experienced those moments of looking in the fridge or pantry and seeing some unidentifiable item covered in a layer of mold. First of all, let’s be honest: it's seriously yucky. But more importantly, it’s also not healthy! That microbial growth can be releasing all sorts of particles into your kitchen.
Spoiled food creates an excellent opportunity for mold growth, so we should actively throw food away before it gets to this point. This is an incredibly easy way to prevent mold in the kitchen. Not to mention, avoid that ick factor.
9. Keep the Trash Can Clean
Our holders of items destined for the landfill don’t always get the TLC they deserve. Not only does that often lead to some unpleasant odors, but it can also allow for microbial growth. Keeping your kitchen trash can in great shape helps keep the space smelling fresh and clean.
This includes cleaning up any spills or splatters, using trash bags with heavy-duty protection against leaks, wiping down the inside every time you take out the garbage, and not overstuffing it.
10. Wipe Up Spills ASAP
Again, mold can grow in as little as 24-48 hours given a source of moisture. Quickly wiping up spills and pooled water reduces this opportunity. So take care of all of those rogue ice cubes, faucet splatters, spilled cups, and whatever else is adding moisture to your kitchen.
11. Toss the Kitchen Sponge
One thing that can become seriously gross in a kitchen? That sponge. Seriously, how long has it been sitting on your countertop? No shame here! However, to prevent mold in the kitchen and keep the space healthy, this little scrubber needs to be added to our maintenance list.
On top of keeping this item clean and dry, toss it every week or two to ensure it doesn’t become a hotspot for microbial growth.
Collectively, these actions will help keep your kitchen in tip-top shape.
Home health is a network of actions that all come together to create a safe indoor environment. With that in mind, here are a few other things that can keep your kitchen in great shape.
Mold growth isn’t always apparent and visible in a home. A good practice is to test dust annually using a product like The Dust Test to ensure that microbial growth isn’t leading to increased contamination.
Double-check that the kitchen exhaust vents outside and not into the attic. This can lead to condensation and high indoor humidity, both of which can allow for microbial growth.
Regularly check for mold growth throughout the kitchen. Here is a list of hotspots to add to your list.
Speaking of checking for mold, even with all of your hard work to prevent mold in the kitchen, contaminants may still manage to slip in and start growing. Or, some random event will happen, like a faulty dishwasher, and you’ll walk into the mother of all water damage in your home.
Annoying? Yes. But, it’s something you can handle!
Your main concern should be addressing any problem you find as quickly as possible. If it’s water damage, again, mold can grow in as little as 24-48 hours. The sooner you dry out and clean up that space, the less opportunity there will be for growth. As for any contamination present, the more quickly you take care of the problem, the fewer particles will be released into the surrounding environment.
The key is to ensure you’re using the right steps and products to tackle the problem. For more information on how to handle a contamination situation, check out this article. (Insider tip: scroll to the bottom of the article.)
If you have any questions about how to prevent mold in the kitchen or resolve a current issue, contact a qualified professional to get their hot take on how to address your concerns.
Battle Dirty Dishes, Not Mold
At the end of the day, no one wants to deal with mold in their home. Especially when it’s hanging out beside your ingredients for dinner. Working to prevent mold in the kitchen will not only help keep your space clean but also healthy!
With how much time we spend indoors, especially in highly trafficked areas like the kitchen, it’s important to ensure these spaces are supporting our wellness and not negatively affecting it. That way we can focus on what really matters: living a happy life full of all the things we love.
- Lstiburek, J., Brennan, T., & Yost, N. (2002, January 15). Rr-0208: What you need to know about mold. Building Science Corporation. Retrieved from, https://www.buildingscience.com/documents/reports/rr-0208-what-you-need-to-know-about-mold/view.
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- Curtis, L., Lieberman, A., Stark, M., Rea, W., & Vetter, M. (2004). Adverse health effects of indoor molds. Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine, 14(3), 261-274.
- Bush, R. K., Portnoy, J. M., Saxon, A., Terr, A. I., & Wood, R. A. (2006). The medical effects of mold exposure. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 117(2), 326-333
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