Black Mold 101: Mold Identification, Mold Health Effects and How to Get Rid of Black Mold

While hundreds of different species of microscopic molds with black spores have been catalogued by mycologists (scientists that study fungi), it is Stachybotrys chartarum (pronounced stack-ee-bot-riss chart-are-rum), also known as Stachybotrys atra, is the only one with wide name recognition – Black Mold. In popular usage, the Latin name Stachybotrys—which means “grapes on a stick”—has become synonymous with black mold (chartarum refers to its growth on paper and atra means black).


Recognizing Black Mold

When wet, Stachybotrys looks greenish black and slimy, but can also look sooty and black. The infamy of this particular fungus is due to its production of poisonous compounds called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are chemicals that can cause illness in people and animals.

Black mold spores occur naturally. They can enter indoor spaces in the air or can be carried inside on pets, on clothing, shoes or bags. When the spores come in contact with moisture, growth can occur. Black mold and mildew likes to grow on the nutrients it finds in damp or wet cellulose surfaces such as cardboard, carpet, drywall or ceiling tiles.

Black Mold Health Effects

Black Mold shown under a microscope

Black Mold – Stachybotrys chartarum

Stachybotrys chartarum is the infamous black mold initially associated with respiratory distress and the deaths of infants in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1990′s. It’s been associated with a number of symptoms some of which are highly controversial, including inflammation of the skin, cough, running nose, nose bleeds, a burning sensation in the mouth and nasal passage, cold and flu symptoms, headache, general fatigue, fever and pathological respiratory changes. Aspergillus niger is dark gray to black, looks dry, and is very different from Stachybotrys. Health effects associated with Aspergillus niger include allergy and infection of the respiratory system especially in individuals with weak immune system.

Refer to the sidebar on the right for more in-depth articles about health issues surrounding black mold or see Facts about Stachybotrys chartarum an other Molds by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The “Other” Black Molds

Other molds are usually more prevalent in buildings, and even when Stachybotrys appears, the presence of the toxins is not guaranteed. Another black mold, Aspergillus niger is dark gray to black, looks dry, and is very different from Stachybotrys. Health effects associated with Aspergillus niger include allergy and infection of the respiratory system especially in individuals with weak immune system.

Non-toxic Black Mold

There are many other types of black mold that are not toxic at all, although they could be allergenic. The most common is Cladosporium, which normally has no known toxic side effects. Cladosporium is common both inside and outside. Most of us come in contact with Cladosporium every day with no ill effect at all. Symptoms from heavy exposure are usually an increase in allergy and asthma symptoms. Other molds that may appear black include Alternaria, Aureobasidium, Dresclera, Pithomyces, Stemphylium and Ulocladium. None of these are known to produce highly potent mycotoxins; therefore, none of these are toxic molds but some such as Alternaria can cause severe allergy symptoms.

How to Get Rid of Black Mold or Mildew

When mold is found in any building the first step is always to address the problem of where the moisture came from to create the infestation. Leaks, floods and condensation are common causes.

Some items such as paper, carpets, insulation, wallboard and furniture may be unsalvageable from a mold infestation. Be prepared to discard some items for the sake of your family’s health. Black Mold or mildew can be removed from many hard surfaces using commercial products or household items such as vinegar, Borax or hydrogen peroxide.

Please refer to the sidebar on the right for instructions on how to get rid of black mold or mildew from specific locations and materials. Be sure to follow guidelines for containment and personal safety when removing mold.