Mold is natural and part of the great outdoors. When it’s indoors, however, tiny patches of mold can lead to big problems. While there are many different types of mold, and it’s generally not a problem until it grows, all of them grow under the same conditions. Unfortunately, some types—like black mold—are more toxic than others. Mold can cost a lot of money in damage to buildings and objects, and black mold symptoms can be dangerous. Black mold can cause health problems including allergy symptoms and asthma attacks, and it can also irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs. It’s spores are potentially toxic, so it is important to know if mold is in the environment, and how to safely clear it out.
Mold and MoistureAll types of mold grow in moist environments, so the key to controlling its growth is controlling moisture. Mold grows when spores that are invisible to the naked eye land on a wet surface. Drying anything damaged by water within 24 to 48 hours is usually enough to inhibit mold growth. Once the mold is cleaned up, fix the plumbing leaks and all other water problems as soon as possible and make sure everything is dry. Reducing the humidity in an area, increasing ventilation, running fans, insulating cold surfaces, making sure moisture-producing appliances are properly maintained, and increasing the air temperature will help prevent moisture due to condensation, which can cut down on mold problems. Completely getting rid of mold is difficult if not impossible to do. The only real solution is to clean up mold promptly and fix and control any moisture problems. When getting mold off of hard surfaces, detergent and water can be used, and while biocides and other chemicals can be used to clean mold they’re generally not used in routine cleanups and require professional judgment. Always wear a respirator appropriate for the job and avoid exposing yourself or others to black mold symptoms. Absorbent or porous materials may have to be thrown away if they become moldy. Don’t paint or caulk anything that’s still moldy. If you’re not sure how to clean an item, or the extent of the mold issue, consult a professional who has experience in mold inspection, remediation and moisture prevention. Do not hire a mold inspector that also does mold remediation. Find a reputable inspector that is qualified to do mold and air testing first.
Testing for MoldThere aren’t any federal limits, including by the EPA, set for mold or mold spores, so sampling won’t be able to check for compliance with mold standards. It can be used to determine if an area is properly cleaned. When it comes to detecting or diagnosing mold problems, including those that you can’t see, there are two tests: a mold test and an air quality test. The two tests reveal different things about the air quality, and the distinction is important because of the information each test provides.
Mold TestA mold test is a very quick test that can tell you whether a surface has mold. It involves taking a swab of the material that you suspect has mold, inserting it into a liquid, and waiting for the liquid to change colors. The colors can tell you whether the material is mold-free or if you have a mold problem. However, it only reveals that there is some type of mold—it doesn’t provide any information on how much you’re dealing with or what type. It also can only tell you about the contents of objects and structures, not what’s in the air around you.
Air Quality TestThis test analyzes samples of air collected from rooms that could be contaminated. These contaminants can be particles of mold spores, asbestos, VOCs, pollen, and other allergens. The results can provide a picture of the indoor air quality as well as provide insight into major mold, moisture, or ventilation problems. Since it provides a bigger picture as well as more and more accurate information, air quality testing is generally recommended for people who want a little more than a “yes or no” answer about mold. This is also useful for instances when a tenant or property owner needs a report of the air quality to make decisions on whether mold remediation is needed and how soon to tackle it, or to prove the air is safe to breathe. Knowing what’s in the air at a worksite can also help you determine the appropriate respirator to wear if you or your team are doing the mold remediation.
What to Wear While CleaningWhat you wear to clean up mold depends on how big the job is. If an area is less than 3’x3’, a homeowner can likely handle the job (after consulting their healthcare provider if they have health concerns). Significant water damage covering more than 10 square feet, contaminated HVAC systems, and water damage caused by sewage will all require experienced professional intervention. For most mold jobs, the important parts are avoiding breathing in spores or letting them land on you, which will require some personal protective equipment (PPE).
- An N-95 respirator, which can be found in many hardware and online stores, including yours truly. These can look like anything from a paper dust mask with a nozzle on the front, like the 3M 8511 N95 General Use Respirator, to something made of plastic or rubber with removable cartridges to trap mold spores, like the Moldex 9000 Full Face Respirator Combination. These need to be properly fitted, especially in occupational settings with OSHA requirements.
- Long gloves, like the Ansell Sol-Vex Unlined Nitrile Chemical Resistant Gloves that extend to the middle of the forearms. Never touch mold or moldy items with your bare hands. The glove material matters depending on what types of cleaning products you’re using. For normal detergent and water, household rubber gloves may be used. If you’re using disinfectants, biocides, or other strong cleaning solutions, look for something in natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane, or PVC.
- Goggles to keep the mold and spores out of your eyes. Get a pair without ventilation holes to maximize your protection.
- To find all of these items in one place, see the PK Safety Mold Cleanup and Remediation Kit.In extreme cases, you will also need a ventilation system in place to bring fresh air in and push the contaminated air out. For this, professionals and DIYers can use the Allegro Confined Space Blower with Ducting.