Holiday Decorating and Storage, a Hidden Source of Mold

Mold Thrives During the Holidays!

By Cesar Collado

It is common practice to use an unfinished basement and/or attic for holiday decoration storage. In most cases, these helpful storage places are partially unfinished and lack HVAC systems and proper ventilation. Thus, mold and dust often exist at much higher levels in these spaces than in the air-conditioned and filtered areas of a home.  Decorations may also be stored in cardboard boxes, bags, or even unboxed, making the lack of air circulation and ventilation extremely problematic in terms of mold.  Regardless, simply bringing the decorations inside without recognizing how to properly package and store them provides mold a “Trojan Horse” like mechanism to entry into your home and the air you breathe when inside of it.

If you store your decorations in an unfinished area, it is wise to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does the storage space have adequate ventilation and humidity control?
  • Do your decorations smell “musty” when you take them out? Can you see mold on the decorations?
  • Is your storage area dusty? Dust carries mold spores and mycotoxins.
  • Do you store items in cardboard boxes? (Cardboard is ideal food for mold. Cardboard also traps moisture and humidity, making it difficult for it to totally dry out after getting wet.)
  • Do you feel different or are you experiencing any symptoms since decorating? Do you sneeze at lot while decorating your home for the holidays? Are you often sick during the holidays when all of your decorations are out?
  • Will you be bringing a real Christmas tree indoors?

43% of homes in the US begin decorating for Christmas prior to Thanksgiving. The remaining 57% percent decorate during Thanksgiving weekend through the second week of December.  This wide window for festive decorating suggests that decorations remain up for much more time than just the immediate holidays allowing the mold plenty of time to contaminate your home. However, a few added steps to your decorating process can mitigate the risk of you or your family suffering unnecessarily.

First and foremost, if you suffer from mold sensitivity, an artificial tree is strongly advised. Outdoor trees are cut ahead of time and stored in moist environments which is conducive to mold growth while outside. A 2011 study by SUNY Upstate Medical University and published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that a small sample of Christmas trees carried about 50 different types of mold.

If you are decorating directly from unfinished storage, do you bring the boxes inside before unpacking? Are you treating for mold to ensure you are not releasing mold into your living area?  If you are not, mold can be released into your home and begin circulating and landing on upholstery, carpets, or in the HVAC system and ductwork.

STEPS TO MITIGATE MOLD CONTAMINATION

     1) Set a staging area on a patio, or outside, weather permitting. 

It is best to unbox decorations in an area that is not part of your air-conditioned space. For mold-sensitive people, wearing an N95 Dust Mask and latex gloves is highly recommended. Bringing cardboard inside from an unfinished area has too many risks of bringing in a significant source of mold.  Dampness or humidity in storage, combined with the paper and glue of the cardboard boxes can lead to significant mold colonization.  Unboxing the decorations can disrupt these colonies and release countless mold spores into the air.  Doing so outside prevents these disruptions from spreading mold throughout the home.

It is also advisable to assemble large items outside and in the staging area.

     2) Treat your decorations with EC3 Mold Solution Spray or EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate.

Simply spraying or misting artificial Christmas trees and decorations with EC3 Mold Solution will drastically decrease the mold counts prior to bringing the decorations inside. Fogging the items with EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate diluted per package instructions is even better as the fine mist will get to all of the surface areas and crevices. (We recommend the Curtis Dynafog Sani-tizer, available on Amazon.com for $289).

Wash any washable items with EC3 Laundry Additive prior to hanging or using to remove mold spores.  If the item is not washable, spraying it with EC3 Mold Solution Spray will help to reduce the mold counts that could enter your home.

  1. Avoid using real Christmas trees, garlands and/or wreaths inside of your home.

Many families have a tradition of celebrating Christmas with a living Christmas tree.  It is strongly advised to avoid bringing real Christmas trees, wreaths and garlands inside for mold sufferers.  The mold count can increase significantly over time. While outdoor mold counts are lower in the winter, mold spores simply become dormant.  Bringing the tree inside the warmth of the home allows mold spores to reproduce.  Physicians see mold allergies peak during the fall (due to dampness and leaves) and a second peak around the holidays. They speculate that natural Christmas trees and mold from decorations is the cause for this unusual spike in activity. For those of you who remain tied to tradition, it is recommended to have a natural Christmas tree inside for no more than 4-7 days.  Mold counts can significantly increase from day 4 to a peak around the 14 day mark. The longer the tree is inside, the higher the likelihood of increased mold counts. A study on a live Christmas tree validated this concept.  Measurements showed that mold counts were 800 spores per cubic meter of air during the first three days, which are just about normal levels. However, mold counts began rising from the fourth day on, and by day 14, when the tree was taken down, the measure was 5,000 spores per cubic meter of air (6.25x).

     4) Establish the “tradition” of employing other mold-safety precautions.

Keep an air purifier in the room where your Christmas tree and decorations populate the most space. This, in theory, will filter the mold spores within the areas covered.  Burning EC3 Air Purification Candles will also mitigate risks to family and friends by removing mold spores and mycotoxins from the immediate air where you celebrate.

     5)Purchase plastic, sealable bins for decoration storage for next year.

Doing away with all of the cardboard, paper and plastic can help mitigate dust and will protect your decorations better than boxes.  Plastic bins are also more easily stacked and stored in tight places. They will keep humidity, bugs, dust, etc. away as well.

Conclusion

Simple awareness of the challenges of storing items in unfinished space can be very beneficial to keeping your family’s home free of unnecessary mold contamination.  Keeping EC3 products, candles, N95 masks and latex gloves handy will help year-round when moving seasonal items into and out of storage.