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By Michael Tucker

This is a story about Black Mold, and how you can use silica gel to stop it.

Unfortunately, it's also from my own personal experience.

My parents own a house on South Padre Island, Texas. It is a good old-fashioned beach-house, built to withstand wind and rain. It's on stilts so it stands over floods if they happen. It's got metal hurricane shutters on all the windows. And it has a steel hurricane door. For all those reasons, their beach house has weathered a lot of, well, weather over the years without a hint of damage.

Until 2008…when Hurricane Dolly came to town.

Fortunately, my parents weren't there when Dolly visited. They're Winter Texans. They live in another state during the summer and then come out to South Padre when the season gets chill.

Still, they were worried about their property. They knew the beach house was tough, and they'd buttoned it up tight when they'd left the previous spring. But Dolly was a major storm. It hit South Padre hard. Power lines went down, billboards and signs went whirling off in the wind, and large swaths of real estate were simply covered with water.Black Mold

But, my parents were relieved when friends on the island called to say it looked as if the beach house had once more dodged a bullet. The friends had gone over to check out the house and everything seemed fine from outside. Not a bit of damage. "Great," my parents said, but of course they made plans to drive out to take a look at things themselves.

It took them a while to get from where they live to South Padre (Texas is a big place). In fact, it took them a week -- a week in July, when Texas weather was at its hottest.

Finally, they arrived and hurried up the stairs to the beach house. Just as their friends had said, everything looked fine. But, then…they unlocked the door. And looked at the ceiling. And stared in stunned silence.

 It was covered with streaks of inky black growth.

There had been a single nail hole in the roof of the house. When Dolly hit, a jet of high-speed water went through that hole. It was like the squirt gun from hell. The whole attic got wet. And then it sat there for seven days in the summer heat.

The result was a batch of Stachybotrys chartarum, a.k.a., Black Mold, which can make you very, very sick. My parents ended up spending quite a lot of money rebuilding a major section of the house.

Which brings us to silica gel. Now, not even silica gel can stop hurricanes. But, as more than one homeowner has learned the hard way, you don't need a hurricane to get Black Mold in your house. Anywhere you've got heat and humidity —a basement, an attic, a backroom—you can get Black Mold.

But with silica gel, you can fight back.

Black Mold is a fungus. The Fungi Kingdom contains everything from mushrooms to mildew to the nasty little microbes that cause athlete's foot. Most fungi are harmless. Some are actually useful. Yeast is a fungus, and we use that to make bread and beer.

But some fungi are not nice at all. And Black Mold is definitely not nice. It loves to eat cellulose, which means it grows on the wood and wood-based products in your house. Worse, under the right conditions, Black Mold produces chemicals called "mycotoxins." These are poisonous. Just breathing them can give you everything from headaches to nausea. That's why when you get Black Mold in your home, you may have to tear down quite a lot of the house to get rid of it—and you'll probably have to hire specialists to do the job

So, how do you stop Black Mold from getting into your house in the first place? The answer is water. Black Mold needs water, a lot of water, to grow. Take away the water, and Black Mold stops in its tracks. And that's where silica gel comes into the picture.Dry-Packs Dehumidifier

Silica gel is a "desiccant." In other words, it is a substance that sucks up water in its environment. There are a lot of different desiccants around. Ordinary clay is one, and that's why you find clay in things like kitty litter. But, silica gel is the champ of desiccants. It can consume up to 40% of its own weight in water. Which means you can put it into environments that are vulnerable to mold and it will help keep them bone dry. 

Personally, I use silica gel in my basement for that very purpose. I live in a humid environment, but I use the basement to store papers. In other words, it's a Black Mold crisis just waiting to happen.

To keep that crisis as far away as possible, I keep a Dry-Packs silica gel dehumidifier from on a strategically located shelf. While the container itself is rather small (about the size of a box of baking soda) it contains 200 grams of silica gel, which is more than enough for my purposes.

Of course, you can use silica gel from any source for the same thing. But, I find the product attractive because it is inexpensive, and easy to get (just order from the web). My experience with the Dry-Packs box has been good. While of course I can't claim that silica gel gets all the credit, at least I know that Black Mold hasn't shown up in my basement. Moreover, other troublesome fungi that I did have, like mildew in my papers, seem to have taken a hike.

So, consider investing in a little silica gel for your basement, attic, or anywhere else where you might have dampness, wood, paper, or drywall. Of course, silica gel can't make Black Mold vanish once it has gotten into your walls. But, before then, you can use silica gel to keep threatened areas dry and mold-free.

And believe me, it is a lot easier to keep Black Mold out of a house than it is to deal with the stuff once it's inside.

I should know. Hurricane Dolly, and one heck of a lot of emergency carpentry, taught me more about Black Mold than I ever, ever, ever wanted to know.




PHOTO ONE: "FEMA," should be captioned "Black Mold is destructive. This image shows a flood-damaged house in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Source: Patsy Lynch/FEMA photo library."


PHOTO TWO: "A Dry-Packs silica gel dehumidifier from can save you a lot of grief."