For those who find themselves in a mold-infested environment and must leave it, it is adviseable to proceed with the utmost caution when it comes to belongings. It is often best to start fresh and make decisions about possessions later. Once you're settled and established in a fresh environment, the desire to bring things with you often lessens. If stachybotrys is not involved, items may be successfully cleaned. Often professional cleaning is optimal. Other times, white vinegar and/or hydrogen peroxide can be used. Remember, you can’t lose if you proceed with caution.
Toxicologist Dr. Jack Thrasher addresses the issue of cross-contamination this way:
The toxins produced by mold are basically free radicals, i.e. they have reactive oxygen radicals that bind to fabrics and can be released with time. Also, not only Stachybotrys, but other dangerous molds release fine particles as well as larger particles, e.g. spores. The fine particles (less than 1 micron) permeate fabrics and are not readily removed. In addition, the mold spores bind to fabrics and can lead to cross-contamination of the new environment.
Also, do not forget the presence of potentially pathogenic bacteria. They can be aerosolized and also contaminate furnishings and clothing.
Dr. Thrasher mentions the smaller particles. Smaller than mold spores. Let's first consider the size of mold spores. According to Minnesota State University Moorhead's Environmental Health & Safety: Mold webpage:
Most fungal spores range from 1 to 100 microns in size with many types between 2 and 20 microns. People with good vision may see 80-100 micron particles unaided, but below that range, magnification is generally necessary.
To put things in perspective, you could place over 20 million five-micron spores on a postage stamp.
As for the smaller particles, a study conducted in 2005 and published in the journal Atmospheric Environment demonstrates that "fungal fragments" may be deeply inhaled and cause significant problems. The study focuses on fragments and spores of three different fungal species (Aspergillus versicolor, Penicillium melinii, and Stachybotrys chartarum). All three were aerosolized by the fungal spore source strength tester. The conclusion:
Fungal fragments released from contaminated surfaces outnumber spores.
S. chartarum fragments demonstrated 230–250 fold higher respiratory deposition than spores, while the number of deposited fragments and spores of A. versicolor were comparable.
The conclusion of a second study published in the January 2009 edition of the journal Science of the Total Environment:
The present study indicates that long-term mold damage in buildings may increase the contribution of submicrometer-sized fungal fragments to the overall mold exposure. The health impact of these particles may be even greater than that of spores, considering the strong association between numbers of fine particles and adverse health effects reported in other studies (Gold et al., 2000; Magari et al., 2001, 2002; Pekkanen et al., 2002).
These studies clearly suggest that there is more than meets the eye when toxic mold is involved.