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Signs of Mold Poisoning I Missed: What I Wish I Knew Back Then 

Last year, I shared part of my journey of recognizing that I had mold poisoning. In this post, I’m going to share the specific signs of toxic mold that we initially missed around our house (and places we rented).

My hope is that if you suspect that you are dealing with mold issues, you’ll use these signs of mold poisoning to determine if you need to get your house tested. May this empower you to take control of your health and not scare you. 

We did not have the typical signs of water damage like paint bubbling on the ceiling or obvious water leaks. When we were looking at houses, we avoided ones with basements and crawl spaces because I knew they could harbor mold. 

I had no idea how easy it was for mold to grow from a seemingly tiny water leak. Behind our walls, mold was releasing many mycotoxins and it was contributing to my histamine sensitivity and other bizarre health issues. 

I missed many signs of toxic mold in hindsight. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to identify mold exposure

Why We Missed Signs of Mold Poisoning 

In both the family I grew up in and the family I’ve created now, everyone’s symptoms were quite elusive

I initially became chronically Ill after some intense medical trauma. But what I didn’t know was the house I grew up in had two roof leaks, an inadequately vented bathroom fan that caused mold in the attic space over the laundry room next door, and mold on some of the floor joists in the basement. Looking back, I think the medical trauma was just a straw that broke the camel’s back for my immune system

In the house I grew up in, everyone was sick. We all had leaky gut symptoms and all of us had sinus congestion of some type. As long as I can remember I’ve always had a post-nasal drip (This is mucus draining down the back of your throat into your stomach) along with nasal congestion. Now I suspect that’s because I got irritation in my sinuses from mold.

But all of our other health problems seemed unrelated. My biggest complaint was chronic pain. 

They aren’t my stories to tell, but one person was having memory, mood, and brain issues; another only had kidney stones, vertigo, and weight loss resistance. Surprisingly only one had the classic allergy-type symptoms with coughing, sneezing, daily nose bleeds, and needing to rely on daily antihistamines and a myriad of allergy shots. 

Two people were diagnosed with a mold allergy and had penicillin reactions. You might not know that penicillin is an antibiotic that is sourced from a type of mold that kills bacteria. If you have a penicillin reaction, I’ve heard it’s likely you’ve likely had toxic mold exposure in your past

Another was told by a functional medicine doctor that they probably had mold colonized in their lungs. 

No one in our family had asthma, coughing, shortness of breath, or severe allergy issues. However, I had evasive immune system issues and I later had Mast Cell Activation Syndrome.

women looking at a moldy wall

Because we all had different symptoms, we didn’t pinpoint the signs of toxic mold poisoning until the person with brain issues and memory loss seemed to have dementia. 

After that, my folks worked with an environmental mold specialist to identify that the house had these mycotoxins contaminating their air quality: 

  • Aspergillus
  • Penicillium
  • CladosporIum 
  • Mitospores 

Fast forward to my adulthood, I still had joint pain and chronic fatigue syndrome. I also developed reactions to foods (over a decade later I identified them as coming from oxalate antinutrients) and a histamine sensitivity that gave me nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. 

You can see why it took us all years to put the pieces of the puzzle together based on our symptoms. 

Next, here are the signs of mold poisoning in our homes that we missed

Signs Of Mold Poisoning In Our Homes

I suspect my prolonged exposure to toxic mold was in the house I grew up in and then the house I bought in my 30s. Additionally, I’ll also share about some of the places I rented that I also believe had mold. 

My hope is that you all consider these warning signs even if there is not an obvious mold residue. Mold spores can release dangerous mycotoxins even if you can’t see them. 

There isn’t always a musty smell. It’s also important to note that there are different types of mold and that not all molds are toxic to humans.

Let’s look at some of the signs I didn’t realize meant mold

mold on studs in a wall

Mold Growing on Shampoo Bottles

I woke up one morning to go to the bathroom in an apartment rental and I realized I was stepping in water. I looked up and there was water running down the wall in the hallway and the bathroom. I immediately called my landlord and she informed me that the hot water tank in the apartment above me busted a pipe. It was spraying the ceiling like a fountain and running down all the walls. 

Remediators arrived in less than two hours. They pulled all the baseboards off the walls and drilled big circles in the drywall for airflow. They put giant dehumidifiers that were as tall as I am in my apartment to pull all the moisture out of the drywall. 

After this acute water damage, mold started growing on my shampoo and conditioner bottles. I never made the connection. I thought this was just life in the midwest, sometimes your shower stuff gets moldy. 

Fast forward to after we remediated the mold in our home’s bathrooms, my bottles stopped growing mold! I had started keeping my bottles in a shower caddy and carrying them out of the bathroom for years, and I just assumed that everyone’s shower products would grow mold if left in the shower. I had no idea that mold spores could spread so easily. 

Water Stains on Laminate and Wood 

Our house has three sinks. There’s one in the kitchen and one in each of the two bathrooms. I noticed stains on the base cabinet floors, but I naively assumed that they were from product spills. I knew there were kids in the family before us. 

However, whenever I would open any of the cupboard doors, I would start to get mouth tingling and immediate brain fog, especially in the guest bathroom cabinet. 

So I began using my Air Angel Hypoair filter inside that cabinet (More than a HEPA Filter like what the Air Doctor has, it also has germicidal UV blue light technology that kills mold spores and other bacteria that can cause infection. 

Mold on a cabinet

I knew that if I didn’t react as badly after using it, my Air Angel Hypoair was either killing some type of VOC or mold. I’ve also struggled with multiple chemical sensitivities so initially, I thought I was reacting to the plywood outgassing formaldehyde in the particle board glue.

But what I’ve learned since is I’ve misassigned chemical sensitivity reactions to mold. In the past, I’ve had bad reactions to old library books. I misattributed my reaction to the petroleum-based adhesive glue used on the binding. But what I know now as I believe the paper was actually moldy. Recently, my husband was given some books by a retiring colleague, and I immediately got the same mouth tingles that the moldy bathroom gave me

But back to my bathroom, I ended up putting a pie pan underneath the pipes, and after seeking expert help, we realized the carelessness that happened in the building of our house. All of our sinks were not measured exactly with the pipes.

The one with the worst leak had one piece of piping that was half an inch too long so that no matter how much you tightened the joints, one of the joints would be misaligned and leak, because of the stress of the pieces not being cut to the proper size. This led to there always being a water source for mold to grow. 

Always check to confirm the source of water stains

Mold and Mildew Grew Back Fast 

I’ve noticed this in multiple cases.

Growing up, I remember my mom scrubbing mold off of ceiling tiles in one of the showers with bleach carefully wearing gloves, a mask, and long sleeves. We would later find out that there was a small leak in the flashing of the vent pipe for the plumbing. Roofs and roof flashing tend to leak as the time to replace the roof nears. The mold kept growing back fast until this was repaired.

My husband and I rented an apartment early on in our marriage with a window next to our bed. I noticed some mold around the window, so I just used vinegar to wipe it off. But it would come back the next day. Sometimes condensation would collect on the window too.

At that point, I knew that mildew was bad so I reached out to the apartment complex and told them how I kept trying to clean the window and it got grubby fast again. 

It turns out that the window from the apartment immediately above us had been leaking down the back side of the drywall, and the entire back side of the wall behind my headboard was moldy

I didn’t know anything about mold remediation. So all I did was fog once, and I moved our mattress out of the room for a week while they tore it out. But I did nothing to cover the carpet or any of our other furniture. 

But looking back, I’m glad that I advocated for us and complained repeatedly to the landlord about the mold growing on the window because it was a blatant sign of mold poisoning prowling behind the walls

Need More Baby Steps?

Monday Missions Baby Steps Back to Basics

Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.

That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and got them all spruced up to send to your inbox – once a week on Mondays, so you can learn to be a kitchen steward one baby step at a time, in a doable sequence.

Sign up to get weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.

Mold on Terra Cotta Pots

In that same bedroom, one of my favorite plants had gotten mold growing around the plastic saucer. I thought I had just over-watered it but now I wonder if the mold spores from that leaky window were contributing to that as well. 

Similarly, on my plants that are just outside of the guest bathroom door, mold started growing on the terracotta saucers where the water pooled at the bottom

This didn’t happen to plants in other locations around the house so I suspect that the mold spores from the weak fiberglass spread out this way.

To remediate this, I started sprinkling a little bit of cinnamon on top of the soil.

moldy roof

Sprouting Got Moldy Fast

As I was trying to reduce anti-nutrients in my food, I began soaking foods like rice and beans overnight and tried sprouting seeds.

Even though I rinsed the seeds every 12 hours, they got moldy so I quit trying.

With the soaking, I got really frustrated though because sometimes if a piece wasn’t fully submerged under the water it would be moldy by the time I got up in the morning. I tried placing a plate over the bowl to cover it. This did help some. 

After we had finished remediating the mold issues in our kitchen, one night I forgot to put a plate on top of a bowl of soaking beans. I noticed immediately when I walked into the kitchen that my heart sank that I had wasted food. But when I walked up to it I realized no mold had grown

Now I wonder if the mold spores from under the kitchen sink were contaminating the food I was trying to soak and sprout.

Porous Materials

Because we’ve dealt with so much water damage, I’ve learned what materials are actually hard surfaces and what materials can absorb moisture that leads to mold

Cheap cabinets with vinyl over particle board can easily absorb water. Now I know to look for vinyl bubbling as a warning sign of mold. Solid wood that is sealed is a better option. 

You can read more of the history in my mold poisoning symptoms post, but long story short, our shower base had a porous piece of OSB that was soaking up water when the acrylic cracked. It had both mold and green algae inside it. There ended up being 10 square feet of visible black mold under the leaking shower base that had started growing up the walls behind the shower enclosure. 

I suspect we had stachybotrys chartarum toxic black mold. When we discovered it though, we were so eager to get it completely out of the house we didn’t take the time to have it tested

After we had removed the 10 square feet of black mold that was growing there, replaced materials, and remediated what was left, my migraines and headaches reduced significantly. It was no longer a guarantee that I had them during certain phases of my cycle. I believe that reducing my black mold exposure improved this because of the close correlation.

Be on the lookout for bubbling materials in case they are harboring moisture or mold.

Aging Materials 

Our current house is only about 30 years old, but a lot of builder-grade materials are starting to break down from normal wear and tear. For example, the laminate counter has started to crack around the hole that was cut for a kitchen sink to be installed. We didn’t realize that it was allowing water to seep into the particle board layer below, and therefore growing toxic mold.

We also had some leakage around the acrylic grab bar above the soap dish in the fiberglass one-piece bathtub and surround in the guest bathroom that resulted in mold growth on the back of the fiberglass. It grew this gnarly-looking mold spore.

hidden signs of mold before and after

Paint Bubbling 

Even though we didn’t have obvious ceiling paint bubbling, I later realized there was paint bubbling around the border of the shower and the bathtub because of poor craftsmanship in our house. 

The space between the top of the fiberglass shower and where the drywall started was not well done. The paint was bubbling some there. To my horror, when we took the drywall out to fix the shower base, we discovered that instead of using a piece of drywall or solid wood, someone had used a piece of cardboard to fill a gap between the acrylic shower wall and the drywall and then mudded over it–right at the top corner of the shower wall. A piece of cardboard! 

We were remediating, in one room I had set out an Air Angel Hypoair filter, and that was enough to reduce my symptoms in the room so I wouldn’t get the mouth tingling and headache right away.

However, in another space, it wasn’t until we bought this dehumidifier to get the moisture out that it reduced my symptoms. I think there was just so much moisture that we had to get that humidity level down to reduce the mold growth.

Slow Leaks

Small water leaks can grow mold colonies inside walls and remain undetected for years. 

Initially, in our guest bathroom, we thought the bottom of a cabinet was moldy because the pipe was too long causing a joint to always leak

Even after we had fixed the piping and replaced the particle board cabinet with one made from solid wood, I continued to have mouth tingling in the guest bathroom. My husband noticed a little bit of moisture on the ground by the toilet so we took the tank off first and replaced that wax seal. But after fogging and treating everything with rubbing alcohol I continued to have mouth tingles.

We took the base of the toilet off and we discovered that the toilet flange (the pipe underneath) was buried too deep in the concrete floor, which led to failure of the wax ring. The flange was repaired with a flange extension kit to bring it to the proper spec and prevent this issue from recurring.

Again we treated everything with rubbing alcohol or vodka and fogged to the bathroom, but I continued to have mouth tingling. So we took the baseboard off the drywall and noticed some mold growing on both sides of the wall and the bottom plate of the wall, as well as the back of the wood molding and the quarter round.

This led to us taking the bottom 10 inches of drywall off behind the toilet. We discovered that one of the joints in the copper piping behind the toilet had not been properly cleaned and fluxed before soldering, and there was a pinhole leak in the solder joint. It was slowly dripping (less than a tablespoon in 24 hours), and appeared to have been leaking like that for 30 years behind the wall. 

Moldy leak behind the toilet

There was mold on the 6 inch piece of the bottom plate of the wall, the drywall on both sides of the wall (But the bathroom side was hidden behind the baseboard), and both the baseboard moldings. 

Not including the aging fiberglass bathtub, our guest bathroom alone had three instances of poor craftsmanship where water was leaking and allowing mold to grow. 

We ended up having to take the drywall off in the family room and behind the toilet. Thankfully,  the studs were fine. We just cleaned and painted them with anti microbial paint as a precaution. We cut out a 6 inch piece of the bottom plate (2×6 because it’s a plumbing wall) that was between two studs and below the leak – it was not necessary to replace it.

However, it was necessary to notch a couple of the studs to make the copper repair, as the copper was running through holes in the studs, and the leaking fitting, the stub that went out to the toilet and a short section of the copper line were replaced, using a repair coupling to reassemble and solder the new joints. 

Poor Ventilation 

The home inspector noted that the guest bathroom exhaust fan was broken. But the inspector missed that the exhaust fan was only pulling moisture into the attic and not all the way out of our house. It was actually my dad who noted this problem when he helped us install the new bathroom fan. And he suggested we buy a humidity gauge to make sure we weren’t having mold growing in that room

We didn’t buy one. 

This is important because you want exhaust fans to pull the moisture steam completely out of the house and not just into another room. You want the moisture out, not merely moved. 

But our house passed the bank’s mold test so we weren’t concerned about it. 

However, having poor ventilation can be a warning sign for toxic mold

cleaning and remediating mold

Signs of Mold Poisoning Commonly Missed 

Beyond what we experienced above, I want to mention some of the other common signs of toxic mold that may not be immediately obvious. Even though we didn’t have them in any of our residences, they are important signs of mold poisoning you don’t want to miss. 

Air Conditioner Stains

We didn’t have this but it’s a common issue for air conditioners to harbor moisture when the filters start to get clogged. With reduced air flow, the filters can get moldy and then blow mycotoxins throughout the house. 

If you suspect this is happening in your home, you’ll also want to have all of your duct work fogged and cleaned

Peeling Materials 

I have not lived anywhere with wallpaper yet, but I’ve seen it in hotel rooms. 

Wallpaper peeling can be a sign of excess moisture because the humidity can weaken the adhesive seal to the wall. 

You’ll have to do more specific troubleshooting now because the moisture could just be from poor ventilation like an exhaust fan only taking water into an attic space instead of the outdoors, or it could be moisture from a source behind the drywall. 

Pets with Mystery Symptoms 

I had a coworker share it was her dog that got sick from mold in her house first. She wondered if this was because the dog had a smaller body than her so it didn’t have the ability to process it as fast.

If your pets have strange symptoms your veterinarian can’t pinpoint, mold may be worth exploring. 

Your Unique Symptoms 

Last, the biggest sign of mold poisoning I missed was all my reactions. The mistake I made with mold is not acting on the signs soon enough.

For years I had joint pain and inflammation. What I later learned is that chronic mold exposure and exposure to mycotoxins can deplete your body’s ability to handle anti nutrients like oxalates. So I’m working on a protocol currently to slowly reduce my oxalate intake and I am hopeful that it will resolve or significantly reduce the chronic pain that I’ve had for decades.

If you are struggling with mystery health problems, and you’ve not been able to put the pieces of the puzzle together, I would strongly encourage you to find a functional medicine doctor, or someone with International Society for Environmentally Acquired Illness (ISEAI) certifications to see if you have mycotoxins in your body or a mold expert to see if you have signs of toxic mold in your house

Do You Have Hidden Signs of Mold Poisoning?

Mold poisoning is no joke. For decades, I missed the signs of mold poisoning in my own environments. 

It started with some mouth and throat irritation and turned into full blown mouth tingles. I’ve continued to have the 6th sense that I suspect is a mast cell activation response. It’s happened to me occasionally when I’ve gone into someone’s basement. 

I’m able to look back on myself with compassion even though I regret not acting sooner

Do you have any of the signs of toxic mold poisoning? Are there other hidden places where you found mold? 

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

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