Torula is a mold that grows on cellulose surfaces such as wicker, jute, straw baskets, wood and paper. Drywall or sheetrock and ceiling tiles can be susceptible to this mold. Outside, it is commonly found in soil, in piles of dead stems, grasses and wood, and on groundnuts and oats. It’s very common, often measured at the second highest level of spores in the U.S., especially in the fall and late spring/early summer.
A torula colony can be shaped like an arrowhead, and the mold tends to be grey, turning white to brown with age. The spores are dry and spread easily in the wind, which contributes to its allergenic properties.
Torula is a useful organism for food production. In its inactive form, torula yeast can serve as a flavor enhancer in replacement of monosodium glutamate (MSG) because it is rich in glutamic acid. It can be used as a starter culture in the production of some cheeses. Dissolved in water, it serves as traps for the organic control of olive flies in Europe and California.
Torula is a known allergen. People with a sensitivity or allergy to this type of mold may experience hay fever like symptoms: itchy eyes, runny or stuffy nose or sneezing. Mold can also cause asthma symptoms like coughing and wheezing.
A rare but more serious risk due to torula is an infection called phaeohyphomycotic sinusitis. This infection progresses slowly, affecting primarily the sinuses but occasionally the surrounding facial structures. Symptoms include long lasting nasal cold symptoms, nasal polyps or sinus pain. The nasal passages are typically blocked with thick, dark-colored mucus, and a CT scan will show a large mass in the sinuses. Treatment includes anti-fungal medication and may require surgery.
If you find torula is growing in your home, you need to get rid of it. Small amounts of mold on non-porous surfaces can be cleaned using a HEPA vacuum and wiping with a cloth dampened with a household cleaner. A small area of mold on the surface of a wicker basket may be able to be cleaned if you catch it early, but the varied texture of wicker, straw and jute can make it impossible to get rid of the mold entirely. These items may need to be thrown out.
Wood furniture or wood trim that exhibits surface mold growth can be cleaned using a HEPA vacuum and damp wipe with low-toxicity cleaner. If the mold has penetrated the wood, it can’t be cleaned. It needs to be replaced or encapsulated. Wood flooring that has gotten wet enough to warp or buckle probably has water trapped underneath that will start to grow mold, and it will need to be removed and replaced.
Books and paper should always be dry before attempting to clean off mold. Mold on the outside of a book can be wiped off using a cloth dampened with mild household cleaner. You should also HEPA vacuum the cover.
Mold growth on paper or book pages can be treated first by drying the pages. Lay them out in the sun to dry – the UV rays will also kill the mold. Or you can put paper towels between pages and wrap the book in a towel to extract the moisture. Once the pages are dry, HEPA vacuum the mold dust from the paper. Be cautious not to spread mold within your home, so if practical, work outside. Valuable books may need to be treated by a professional conservator. Here are some more helpful tips on cleaning moldy books.
If any type of mold is growing on ceiling tiles, you’ll have more work on your hands. A brownish stain on your ceiling tiles due to one-time water damage is probably not mold. But if the water damage continues and a black center appears in the stain, you probably have a mold growing. Because ceiling tiles are made of an absorbent material, they can’t be cleaned if they become moldy. These will need to be removed and replaced.
To avoid spreading this mold, you need to use a zero-dust-release procedure. Cut plastic sheeting and tape it over the discolored portion of the tile(s). Remove an adjacent tile and HEPA vacuum the dust from the top side of the moldy tile. Then tape plastic over the discolored area on the top side of the tile and carefully remove the tile from the frame. You should also take personal precautions by wearing gloves, goggles and a mask or respirator.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that mold covering an area of 3 feet by 3 feet or smaller can usually be handled by the homeowner. If you are facing larger areas of mold or if you have mold allergies or a compromised immune system, we recommend that you have a professional perform the mold remediation. Not only does porous material like moldy drywall need to be removed and replaced, but underlying structures like studs and joists need to be inspected, cleaned and encapsulated if they show mold growth.
If you find mold growing on any structural part of your house like the wooden studs, getting rid of it is a bigger job. We recommend that you get a free home inspection from a mold specialist in your area in order to understand the extent of the problem and what your treatment options are. A professional mold specialist can give you helpful hints for removing the mold, as well as a free estimate for mold remediation work.
As important as removing any existing mold is, preventing the mold from recurring is just as important. Always repair plumbing leaks promptly, vent your bathrooms and kitchen to the outside and keep household humidity levels between 30 and 50 percent. Moisture in the home can cause expensive damage as well as serious health problems due to mold.