Kitchens are one of the most important rooms in a home. From grabbing that much-needed coffee and filling up your water cup to trying out a fancy appliance or learning a new dinner recipe, these spaces are hubs for daily life. They’re where we make memories and spend time with loved ones. Basically, they’re a must-have for any home. The question, though, is whether or not you’re hanging out with mold in the kitchen.
Because that fungus among us? It loves these spaces just as much as we do and can pop up in the blink of an eye.
With how much time we spend in these spaces, having an indoor contaminant lurking around is definitely not beneficial to our health. Knowing where to look for mold in the kitchen can help ensure your culinary oasis isn’t a toxic hazard zone.
Why We Should Avoid Mold in the Kitchen
Before getting into the top locations for mold in the kitchen, here’s why you should avoid it. Think of it like a crash course that will help you promote your continued wellness.
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 in the Kitchen Happen?
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.
The Health Component of Mold in the Kitchen
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. Measured in a unit called a micron, mold spores, fragments, mycotoxins, and bacteria can all 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.
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 work to ensure mold in the kitchen is not a problem.
PSA for Mold in the Kitchen
A common misconception is that since mold is everywhere, it’s no big deal when it’s in the home. That’s untrue for a multitude of reasons, but the greatest one is attributed to 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, however, doesn’t lead to exposure to a few particles. As that mold colony flourishes, it continues to release spores (and sometimes mycotoxins) 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.
When mold grows inside a home, most of the particles it releases remain inside and continue to build up until the colony is removed. Thanks to their small size, they’ll ride the air current throughout the home, contaminating both the air and the surfaces inside.
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 it’s important to keep an eye out for mold in the kitchen and address it ASAP if it does pop up.
Top 12 Places for Mold in the Kitchen
One of the best ways to prevent mold in the kitchen and keep it in great shape is to regularly check hotspots for any potential microbial growth. The sooner you catch a problem, the faster you can begin to remedy it. This reduces the amount of exposure and decreases the opportunity for other contamination situations to develop elsewhere in the kitchen and at home.
With that in mind, here are the top 12 places for mold in the kitchen you should be on the lookout for.
1. Sink Faucet
Between constant use, particles from dirty dishes, potential leaks, mineral buildup from the water, and a lack of cleaning (typically), these little areas can become moldy dream homes. While gross to think about, it’s an extra big problem for a few reasons. You’re then washing your hands and dishes with mold. Spores can find their way into the sink’s garbage disposal and begin growing there. Not to mention, mold particles can make their way into your food if you use water from the sink to cook with.
2. Sink Drain
Water from the faucet, beverages, high humidity, and anything else poured down the drain are easy boxes to check off for the moisture microbial growth needs to grow. Add in the organic matter from food and drinks, mineral buildup, and other particles floating around, and it’s a prime location for growth. Lack of cleaning and particle buildup can quickly turn into mold in the kitchen.
Colonization inside cabinets can occur in a few ways, but there are a couple of common culprits. Excess moisture from high levels of humidity or flooding of some sort can create wet, habitable environments for mold spores. Other issues like lack of cleaning, old food, and improperly dried dishes can also help provide the qualities needed for mold growth in these areas, and oftentimes, the growth goes on for quite a while before you discover the problem.
4. Underneath the Sink
This area faces similar issues as cabinets, except it has one additional source of moisture: the sink. As a result, leaks can occur and create ideal conditions for microbial growth.
Appliances are some of the top places for microbial growth because of their use of moisture. All of the small cracks, crevices, and parts can also trap moisture and allow for issues to develop. Tack on the mineral build-up, food particles, and other organic matter and they're prime real estate for mold in the kitchen.
Some examples include:
- Coffee maker
- Refrigerator water spout
- Air fryer
6. Trash Can
This is an incredibly easy location for mold to begin growing. All of the particles from items being tossed into the trash, particularly food, can provide the nutrients needed for this indoor contaminant to grow. As for moisture, rips in the bag, overflow, food splatter, or high humidity can all create ideal growing conditions.
7. Refrigerator Water Spout
Between the constant state of wetness, mineral buildup, and random particles from the fridge, cooking, and everyday life, refrigerator water spouts can become moldy dens.
8. Calking and Grout
This material is typically located near an abundance of moisture that the porous material can trap. Coupled with structural issues such as misaligned tiles and cracks, which can trap water, you’ve got a perfect water oasis. As for an edible source, particles from the air, water, household products, and more can create the ideal conditions for growth. If the grout or caulk isn’t cleaned often enough, these particles will build up and create an edible buffet for a mold colony.
Condensation is a major source of mold growth! It just so happens that the temperature change between the indoor and outdoor air can cause this buildup of water in areas like the windowsill, so take a good look around all the windows to ensure there aren’t any problems. Improper construction or issues with sealing can also allow for moisture intrusion. Accidentally leaving a window open during a storm can lead to water buildup as well, allowing for mold in the kitchen.
10. Pet Food and Water Bowls
The particles from the food they’re eating, combined with the moisture from the water bowl and inevitable drool, can create the perfect conditions for contamination to move in. The area surrounding these bowls can also become bogged down with microbial growth from the overflow of moisture and organic matter. Mold particles can also be present in the food itself.
11. Kitchen Sponge
The moisture and random particles that can get trapped in the fibers of the sponge make this cleaning tool a mold and bacteria dream home. If it’s not cleaned properly and replaced on time, it can get pretty funky.
12. Food Pantry
The abundance of food items stored in these locations provides plenty of options for mold and bacteria to use for growth. As for moisture, spills and high humidity can further support growth in these locations. Lack of cleaning, improperly sealed items, and disorganization are some of the main culprits allowing these areas to become toxic.
What Do You do If You Find Mold in the Kitchen?
First off, it’s okay if you find a problem! It’s one of the main reasons for checking for mold in the kitchen.
If you happen to see some fungus staring back at you while inspecting, first determine if it’s a small problem that you can handle or if it requires professionals. Keep in mind, as well, that any mold growth has the potential to trigger symptoms, so all of it has got to go.
For little problems, have an action plan in place to quickly and correctly get rid of the issue. Mycotoxins and bacteria (the potential triple whammy when it comes to mold) stick like glue to surfaces and are particularly difficult to remove, so you need the right protocol for the job. The ultimate goal is to remove all contamination, including any that has spread to the surrounding area, and fix the problem that led to mold growth in the first place.
HomeCleanse has product options to tackle a remediation project and deep clean your home so that you can rest assured that the issue is handled properly.
Do NOT just throw some bleach on the mold in the kitchen because that will not solve your contamination issue!¹³ There are three boxes you have to check to successfully handle a contamination situation.
These three boxes are:
- Remediate the sources properly.
- Identify and address the problems that led to those sources in the first place.
- Eradicate all contamination created by those sources, including toxins and bacteria.
Failure to hit every point is an unsuccessful remediation.
If the source that led to the contamination isn’t addressed, the conditions for growth are still there, allowing the problem to come right back. Should the roots of the microbial growth be left behind, the colony can come right back. High levels of contaminants like mycotoxins and bacteria left behind can lead to continued exposure. Each scenario does not lead to a healthy home environment and can allow for any chronic symptoms to persist.
If you’re staring at a serious moldy fiasco, it’s best to call in the professionals. First up is to call a mold inspector. This person will create a snapshot of the status of your entire home and help determine how big the problem is. Not all inspectors are built the same, though, so make sure you know what to expect and who to call.
From there, the remediation team will use this information to come in and kick that mold to the curb. They should also fix the source and get rid of any other contamination as well. Again, not all remediation companies are built the same, so make sure you know what to expect. When these individuals leave, you should be looking at a safe and healthy home.
You’ve Got This!
Having a plan in place to handle mold in the kitchen is a key part of creating a healthy home environment. Just think about how much time we spend in our homes and in areas like the kitchen. When the average person breathes 20,000 breaths per day, it’s important to make sure the air you’re breathing isn’t packed full of microscopic particles.
Keeping your indoor environment in tip-top shape will help promote your wellness and allow you to enjoy that cup of tea or midnight snack without unwanted exposure. Life is busy enough without having to worry about that fungus among us hanging around.
- 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.
- Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Mold. EPA. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/mold.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basic facts about mold and dampness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm.
- World Health Organization. (n.d.). Mycotoxins. World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mycotoxins.
- FDA. (2016, September 30). Food and Drug Administration COMPLIANCE PROGRAM GUIDANCE MANUAL. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/media/140749/download.
- EPA. (n.d.). Health and Environmental Effects of Particulate Matter (PM). EPA. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/health-and-environmental-effects-particulate-matter-pm.
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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
- Fisk, W. J., Lei-Gomez, Q., & Mendell, M. J. (2007). Meta-analyses of the associations of respiratory health effects with dampness and mold in homes. Indoor air, 17(4), 284-296.
- Wild, C. P., & Gong, Y. Y. (2010). Mycotoxins and human disease: a largely ignored global health issue. Carcinogenesis, 31(1), 71-82.
- Bennett JW, Klich M. Mycotoxins. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2003 Jul;16(3):497-516. doi: 10.1128/CMR.16.3.497-516.2003. PMID: 12857779; PMCID: PMC164220.
- EPA. (n.d.). Should I use bleach to clean up mold? EPA. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/mold/should-i-use-bleach-clean-mold.
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