Mold vs Dust – How To Tell Apart

If you’ve noticed dark specks around a bathroom vent, in a shower corner, or on your ceiling, you might’ve wondered, “Is that just dust or could it be mold?”

In this article, you will learn the answers to these essential questions: 

  • Can mold look like dust or dirt?
  • How can I tell if it’s actually mold and not dust?
  • & Can I wipe off mold like dust?

Mold is a living organism categorized as fungus, and it thrives in warm environments where moisture and oxygen are present. Mold feeds on paper, drywall, clothes, and most of all – dust.

Dust is a combination of dirt, dead skin cells, clothing fibers, pollen, mites, hair, and many other organic substances. Dusty areas of your home create the perfect living conditions needed for mold growth.

Although it isn’t always the case, sometimes a substance can be both dust and mold at the same time. Regardless, these substances should never be allowed to spread in your home.

Allowing mold to continue to grow or darken can lead to dangerous home conditions, and cause respiratory sickness in you or other home occupants. 

Can Mold Look Like Dust Or Dirt?

In certain cases, mold growth in a home setting can appear as dust-like specks or grains of dirt. The few variations of mold that can form in these ways are all dangerous if left untreated, and should be removed from your home immediately.

Black Mold

Black mold (stachybotrys chartarum) is a common toxic fungus found in high-moisture areas, such as under sinks and around or inside vents. As the name suggests, black mold forms in small dark spots that can look similar to dust or dirt.

Unfortunately, black mold is extremely dangerous. If you inhale black mold spores, you can experience severe allergy symptoms, such as:

  • Eye irritation,
  • Chronic coughing,
  • Frequent sneezing,
  • Continuous fatigue,
  • & Persistent headaches.

Luckily, you can prevent black mold growth by immediately repairing leaks or water damage, ensuring your home is properly ventilated, and keeping internal humidity levels as low as possible.

White Mold

Many types of mold (typically aspergillus or cladosporium) can take on a white color depending on the age of the growth, thus leading to a common name of “white mold”. White mold  resembles a powdery-like substance and is commonly mistaken for mildew or light-colored dust.

While both mold and mildew are types of fungi, they are still two different things. Mildew grows on top on surfaces in a flat shape, while actual mold can permeate the surface of the material it grows on and can produce spores in several shapes and colors.

Just like all other mold types, exposure to white mold can lead to serious health conditions and should be removed quickly.

Outdoor Mold Inside Your Home

Alternaria is one of the most common plant pathogens found in warm climates and it can also form mold with a spotty, dirt-like appearance. In particularly windy locations, Alternaria can become airborne and land in your home, leading to mold on furniture, plants, clothing, and even produce.

Alternaria mold can be harmful, and exposure symptoms include:

  • Nausea,
  • Dizziness,
  • Wheezing,
  • Sore Throat,
  • & Even rashes.

To lower the risk of Alternaria mold in your home, make sure to keep windows and doors closed as much as possible in warm, windy months.

How To Tell If It’s Actually Mold And Not Dust

A key difference between mold and dust is that mold is a living organism, and dust is not. However, this is probably not an obvious trait when you’re visually assessing the issue.

To determine if you have dust or mold in your home, check the following characteristics:

1. Smell

Mold typically has a musty scent, and it can produce a rotten or soggy smell. Dust is a nonliving organism, so it usually smells like dry earth and dirt.

Due to the fact that mold and dust both come with unpleasant smells, it’s critical to remove them in a timely manner. 

2. Location

Investigating the overall location of the affected area can help you determine what the substance is.

For example, dust is pulled downwards by gravity, so it typically doesn’t settle on ceilings or under shelves. Mold is alive and can attach itself anywhere, especially celling corners or under sinks.

Also, mold thrives in dark, humid environments (vents can be optimal for mold growth). If the substance in question has sprouted in a bright and dry location, it’s more than likely dirt or dust.

3. Bleach Test

If you prefer a more scientific approach, try using the bleach test to determine what the substance is.

Place a small amount of bleach onto the desired area, and wait 5 minutes.

If the substance appears lighter after the 5 minutes, it’s most likely mold. If it doesn’t lighten at all, it’s dirt or dust.

Does Mold Wipe Off Like Dust?

Luckily, dust settles on top of surfaces and is easy to simply wipe away. Use a duster or a damp cleaning sponge to clean the area and solve your dust problem in no time.

However, mold permeates the material it grows on and cannot be wiped off like dust. Simply wiping off the surface layer will not remove any deep, hidden spores that can’t be seen with your eyes.

Since mold infests more than just the surface layer, the removal process is more involved.

Here are a few steps you can take to rid yourself of a mold spot:

1. Wear Protective Equipment

Coming into contact with mold spores can cause both temporary and long-term health risks.

To protect yourself, be sure to wear:

  • A high-quality face mask,
  • Protective gloves,
  • Appropriate eye ware,
  • A long sleeve shirt,
  • & Full coverage pants.

2. Create A Cleaning Solution

Depending on the type of material the mold has grown on (drywall, wood, tile, etc.) you’ll need to prepare a cleaning solution to neutralize the spread.

Fortunately, you can make a highly effective cleaning solution using ingredients you might already have in your home, such as:

  • Bleach,
  • Hydrogen Peroxide,
  • Vinegar,
  • Borax,
  • & Water

3. Saturate & Scrub

Once you’ve got protective equipment on and have prepared a cleaning solution, you’ll need to saturate the entire mold growth in the cleaning liquid (usually with a spray bottle) and allow it to soak in for at least 15 minutes.

Use a scrubbing brush to remove any mold or stain left behind, and repeat the process as needed.

When To Call A Professional

While some mold spots can be handled without help, other spreads go unnoticed for too long and a professional will be required to assist you. 

Mold can be highly dangerous if left untreated, so reach out to a professional if:

  • The mold growth is quite large,
  • Black mold has appeared,
  • The mold has ruined sections of drywall and needs to be removed,
  • You do not have access to the necessary protective equipment,
  • Or in severe cases, you have a complete home infestation.

Mold is a very common problem most homeowners will deal with at least once, but it should always be taken seriously.

Always act swiftly when dealing with mold and guarantee you and your family stay healthy. If needed, consider reaching out to a professional for added reassurance. 

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