I think I have a mold problem. What should I do?

In order to tackle this question, there are several steps you should mentally go through. It’s important to understand what the problem you are experiencing is, what you are comfortable with, and what a good solution to the problem looks like to you. These things vary widely between individuals, so we really can’t give a one-size-fits-all solution.

Step 1: To test or not to test?

First, ask yourself what you want to get from testing. If you already know there is mold, and plan on remediating it, it may not make sense to do any further testing at this time. The key question is how the results of the test will affect you. If you’re experiencing health effects, it may be useful to know what types of mold you have been exposed to. You can then take this information to your physician, who can use it to improve your diagnosis. If you know there is mold, but want to prove it- for example, to get out of a lease- it may be a good idea to test (although in any situation where you’re trying to get proof, you’ll want to use an inspection company instead of testing yourself. See step 2 for further information). Finally, consider how the results would affect your decisions regarding remediation. Do you intend to clean the area yourself, no matter what kind of mold you have? Do you intend to hire a remediation company, no matter what kind of mold you have? Do you intend to leave it alone, no matter what? If the results of your test won’t affect any of these things, it probably doesn’t make sense to test pre-remediation.

 

Step 2: How should I test?

There are a couple decisions you’ll need to make regarding how you want to test. You’ll need to decide on a test method, and you’ll need to decide on who you’d like to do the testing.

The first decision you should make is whether you’d like to test yourself or whether you’d prefer an inspection company test for you. If you’re looking to prove that there is mold in your home, either to get out of your lease or for any other legal purpose, it’s a good idea to use an inspection company. This will ensure your data is as independent and unbiased as possible and will give you a stronger case. If not, then consider how confident you are in your own skills.The act of mold testing is not especially difficult under normal circumstances. However, same cases may require more difficult tests such as wall checks, for which we recommend hiring an inspector. Interpreting the results of testing can sometimes be confusing, so having an inspector who has been on site can be helpful. Also, consider what you would do if the tests come back negative- if you plan on hiring an inspection company if you can’t find the mold on your own, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to test yourself.  Another reason to use an inspection company is because in the event that water damage and or mold contamination is found, then the inspector will write a protocol for its remediation. Any remediation company you may hire will follow this protocol per the recommendations of your inspector.  Finally, if you’re planning on testing a commercial building, there are usually legal requirements dictating the use of an inspection company. These may vary by state.

When looking for an inspection company, you’ll want to find one that’s certified or licensed in your state. In Texas, mold companies are licensed by the Department of State Health Services and are publicly listed here as ‘mold assessment companies.’ Certifications and licenses may vary by state. Then, you’ll want to be sure that the company you’ve found is independent from any remediation work. This prevents a conflict of interest on their part. In Texas, any company in the mold industry is not allowed to occupy more than one role, but this may not be true in all states. Finally, you’ll want to check the reputation of the company. There are plenty of trustworthy inspectors in most areas, so don’t settle for an unreliable one!

If you are having difficulty finding a company, feel free to give us a call (1-866-416-6653). We know and work with inspectors in many areas of the United States, so we’re happy to check our database for you.

Deciding on a test method is fairly simple. What makes you think you have a mold problem? If you see mold in a particular location- or something you think might be mold- then you should take a tape lift, bulk, or swab sample. Tape lift samples are the preferred option here at Moldlab, but all three are essentially identical in terms of analysis. If you’re able to easily reach the location where you see mold, you should take a tape lift sample. If it’s in a difficult to reach place, using a Q-tip to swab the location may be a better option. If you see an area which you believe has mold, but aren’t quite sure which part is the mold, you can send in a small piece of the area, and we’ll analyze what looks ‘suspect’ to us. See here for more information on D-I-Y surface testing.

If you don’t see anything, but still believe you have mold, an air sample is the way to go. Alternatively, if you do see something, but want to know whether the mold is airborne or not, an air sample can be helpful. For more information on air tests, go here.

Step 3: Eek! I have mold!

Mold can be scary, and some molds are potentially dangerous, but take a deep breath. Some are fairly minor. Take a look at your report and investigate each of the mold types listed on it. Our test reports come with a glossary describing some basics about them to get you started. If you’re a renter, this is probably all the information you need- just show your landlord a copy of the report, use the report to help get out of your lease, or ask to be relocated to an unaffected unit. If you’re experiencing health effects, it’s a good idea to show to report to your physician to help determine whether they are caused by mold or not.

Carefully consider the known and potential health effects of each mold type listed before making any remediation decisions. Also consider the area and size of the contamination, if you know it. If the size of the contamination is small and it’s on a non-porous material, it may be easy to clean yourself. Non-porous here refers to materials such as metal. An example of porous material might be wood or sheetrock. The reason this matters is that the root structures of mold, known as hyphae, are able to grow into the pores of materials. If you were to simply clean the surface with something such as vinegar or bleach, these ‘roots’ would still be there and could potentially grow back in the future. If you found out about your mold problem through air testing and don’t know where the mold is, you may need to hire an inspection company to help you find it.

Next, find your water problem. Mold needs water to grow, so you need to find out how the area got wet and prevent it from getting wet again. If you don’t, the mold will just grow back as soon as the area gets wet again. There’s no point to getting rid of the mold if you’re just going to let it grow back! Even if you plan on cleaning the area yourself- or not cleaning it at all- you should still make sure to fix your water problem in order to prevent further growth.

Now it’s time to take care of the problem. Based on all the information you have, decide whether to hire a remediation company or take care of the mold yourself. If you hire a remediation company, consider the same things as with an inspection company. Make sure they’re certified/licensed, well-regarded, and independent.

If you’re going to clean the area yourself, please use appropriate safety equipment. Cleaning the mold may disturb the spores and increase your exposure. At a minimum, wear a high filtration mask and vinyl or neoprene gloves. Your health is the most important concern, so if you aren’t sure your safety equipment is sufficient, don’t start cleaning!

The recommended way to clean porous materials is to remove and replace them. As discussed above, materials such as wood and sheetrock allow the hyphae (root-like structures) of mold to grow into them. Cleaning the surface with any substance will not remove the hyphae/roots and can allow the mold to grow back, so it’s best to simply remove the contaminated area.

Once you believe you’ve corrected the problem, it’s a good idea to perform another air test. This will allow you to confirm that the problem is solved and that you no longer have a mold problem. Once you get those results back, you’ll finally have your peace of mind back and can move on with your life!

Helpful resource: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/molds/control.html

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