Deep breathing expands the lungs and delivers more oxygen to the bloodstream. As such, many massage therapists incorporate breath work into their sessions. While breathing deeply can be both relaxing and enhance a massage’s therapeutic goals, it can have a detrimental effect if the air quality is compromised. Especially because 2011 logged in record quantities of rain, mold and mildew problems are being encountered in countless homes and businesses across the U.S. Since mildew in a massage practice can impair clients’ (and practitioners’) ability to breathe deeply, the following tips will help therapists assure the air in their space is as clean as can be.

About Mold and Mildew

A type of fungi, mold and mildew has a characteristic musty odor, may cause considerable damage to affected surfaces and can spawn an array of health problems. Molds produce tiny spores which waft through the air continually. Mildew is a thin, often whitish to bluish-green growth produced by mold. Although mold is always present in the air, it only causes mildew when sufficient moisture and the right temperature are present. Molds that cause mildew tend to flourish:

  • in areas that are damp, warm, poorly lighted or where air is not circulated
  • on products made of cotton, linen, wood, paper and protein substances such as silk, leather and wool

Often, massage locations aim to provide a warm, dark place that encourages rest and relaxation. All too often, those seemingly desirable characteristics also make many massage practice spaces vulnerable to mildew. This problem is particularly prevalent when excessive moisture or water accumulates indoors – especially if damp spots are ignored. This scenario is currently happening in record numbers since many of us are contending with the consequences of the extraordinary amounts of rain and flooding seen this year.

Health Effects of Mold and Mildew

While some people appear to be relatively unaffected, others are sensitive to mold and mildew. Ranging from mild to severe, potential health problems associated with mold exposure include allergic reactions, asthma and other respiratory complaints. The mild symptoms most commonly experienced are:

  • nasal stuffiness
  • eye irritation
  • wheezing
  • skin irritation

Severe reactions may include fever and shortness of breath. Prolonged exposure can cause certain individuals with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, to develop mold infections in their lungs. Needless to say, a mild or severe reaction to mold and mildew can easily jeopardize the healthful intentions behind massage therapy – and make deep breathing particularly uncomfortable.

Eliminating all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment is unrealistic. However, thorough cleaning of existing mildew and controlling indoor moisture levels can dramatically minimize fungal growth.

Tips to Reduce Mold and Mildew

Prevention is the best mildew policy; a space that is kept clean, well-ventilated and dry has a lower chance of developing a mildew problem. These two strategies are crucial for preventing the growth of mold and mildew:

  1. Eliminate any causes of excess moisture – This involves detective work and has the potential to be costly, because structural corrective measures may be needed. This could involve improving ventilation with exhaust fans or vents, fixing faulty gutter systems, reducing condensation on cold surfaces by adding insulation, blocking water seepage with strategic caulking or vapor barriers and waterproofing unseen areas like an attic, crawl space or basement.
  2. Reduce air humidity – Moist air encourages mold and mildew growth. Some strategies for reducing air humidity include running air conditioners or dehumidifiers, enhancing air-flow to vent dampness and using moisture-absorbing silica gel, anhydrous calcium chloride or a similar moisture-trapping product.

If mold and mildew have already established themselves, the preventative steps listed above must be taken AND the affected area must be properly cleaned. The best approach to cleaning mold and mildew varies depending on the surface.

Wearing gloves and a mask, clean visible mildew off hard surfaces and dry completely. Absorbent materials such as ceiling tiles or upholstered furniture that are moldy may need to be replaced. Depending on the practitioner’s preference and the item needing cleaning, the following solutions can be considered:

  • Perborate bleach – Mix one tablespoon sodium perborate bleach and one pint of water, soak or blot affected area, allow to sit for 30 minutes, then rinse.
  • Chlorine bleach – Mix two tablespoons of liquid chlorine bleach with one quart of warm water, soak or sponge the affected area, allow to sit for five to 15 minutes, then rinse.
  • Lemon juice and salt – Moisten affected area with lemon juice, spread on salt, place in the sun to dry, then rinse.
  • Alcohol – Wipe affected surface with a cloth moistened with a solution made from one cup denatured or rubbing alcohol and one cup water.

After the mildew is removed, some experts suggest applying a fungal preventative to deter new growth. Three natural ideas for this purpose include:

  1. Vinegar – Soak or spray affected area in white distilled vinegar then allow to thoroughly dry. The smell of undiluted vinegar is intense but will eventually dissipate.
  2. Tea Tree Oil – Spray a tea tree solution on affected area: two teaspoons of tea tree oil in two cups of water and shake to blend. The tea tree oil aroma will be strong for several days.
  3. Grapefruit Seed Extract – Spray a grapefruit seed extract solution on affected area: mix 20 drops of grapefruit seed extract in two cups of water and shake to blend. This solution has little aroma.

Getting rid of mold and mildew is not a simple task, but it is an important project to tackle. Besides the musty smell accompanying its growth and the damage to affected surfaces, mold and mildew can create health problems for susceptible clients and practitioners. By cleaning any existing mildew, working to eliminate excess moisture and controlling humidity levels, the air in your massage practice space can be safely breathed deeply into the lungs – a well-known approach for improving the effectiveness of any bodywork session.

References:, Three Ways to Kill Mold Naturally, Annie B. Bond, Retrieved September 24, 2011, Inc., 2011., Mold Resources, Retrieved September 24, 2011, United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2011., Mildew Prevention and Removal, Dale Dorman, MS, Retrieved September 24, 2011, University of Georgia College of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2011.