Home Cleaning Tips DIY Home Testing and Cleaning—Before Getting a Professional Quote AND Before Panic Sets In

DIY Home Testing and Cleaning—Before Getting a Professional Quote AND Before Panic Sets In

by Catherine

Hi, Friends! Today, I have a very exciting post to share with you. It comes to me from a reader of the blog. He encountered a mold problem in a friend’s home and decided to help her do something about it. He employed his OCD tendencies–you see, sometimes they actually help you–the science of mold, some inexpensive (although some of the dehumidifiers can get up there in price) industry-standard equipment, and some How To Clean for Mold-reader know-how, and conquered the project himself. I can’t say that I would recommend embarking upon such a feat without the proper training and proficiency, but he seems to have made some really useful inroads in cleaning for mold, and has some resourceful methods to share.

So…here is his story.

I read your blog and appreciate your non toxic approaches. I’m also OCD about home hygiene, read lots of mold information, and know a few professionals to tap into for guidance.

 This article isn’t for everyone or situation.  Always call a professional if you cannot follow all of the steps, safety guidelines, or you have a severe sensitivity to mold or chronic illness.

 So here is how the story goes:

Once upon a time, whenever I visited my friend’s home, my sinuses often got stuffy very quickly. This is abnormal for me. I do not have allergies or mold sensitivity.

Until one day, I became frustrated, then curious, and then suspicious. Was there something more than meets the eye? Was something about my friend’s house making me sick?

To investigate properly, I did some research with my good friend Mr. Google and his friends that produce Podcasts and YouTube videos. 

Because of what I found in my research, I decided to take on a BIG and ambitious mold remediation project that I believe is worth sharing.  It is not text-book, nor am I expert professional in the field.  Therefore, I must offer these disclaimers:

I did this prior to involving paid professionals that still may need to get involved down the road.  I knew mold was present, because of the musty smell and prolonged levels of high humidity in the basement.  I also have no known allergies, mold or chemical sensitivities, and am healthy, active, and strong for my age. Safety was my first priority, because I knew that toxic exposure to mold could make me mold sensitive for life. Any DIY efforts with mold should not be done by mold sensitive or immune compromised patients, ever. Disturbing mold can be very dangerous!    If this experiment failed, I knew that professionals would be required to do a much more technical diagnostic inspection.  This would also be very expensive. I must also confess that I am a DIY nut who is addicted to YouTube for directions, for better or worse.

 My efforts were all based on experimentation, so I wasn’t offering a cosmetically attractive solution.  This was not negotiable, because I didn’t know where dehumidifier placement would be necessarily and I have little regard for colors, hoses, etc.  I focused on cost only.  My friend always has the option of replacing my quick solution with whole home humidifiers and placement by professionals.  This was for my mental health!

We began by using mold test plates from Microbalance Health products. (They come in packs of 5 for 30 dollars, cheaper than other places).  From everything I read, traditional test plates are reliable for the binary question on whether there are alarming amounts of mold or not.  I did not send the plates in for lab results, because I believe that mold is mold.  I didn’t care if my friend’s home contained a species that produce mycotoxins OR any of the zillion species of molds that can be an allergenic or trigger an immune reaction.  She wanted it all gone. 

The results were scary!  The home owner wished to be anonymous out of embarrassment and fear that she would no longer have visitors.

Musty basement with prolonged, high humidity (60+ %)

Too many mold colonies to count! This is a high risk area for anyone to be in.

The basement results: Too many mold colonies to count! This is a high risk area for anyone to be in.

First floor with a new A/C and 43% humidity.

The main downstairs living areas also have too many colonies to count.

The main downstairs living areas also have too many colonies to count.

Upstairs with a new AC that is challenged, or not working to its full capacity and 48% humidity.

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The hits keep on coming! I think there is a definite mold issue in this house.

 

These visuals temporarily created panic and damaged my friend psychologically!  Therapy could be next!

Because I am not a professional, my course of action was to search for water sources and dampness. I searched for damp cement in the basement! All visible signs of plumbing leaks inside and out, HVAC leaks or mold growth, damp wood and drywall, outside drainage, gutters and downspouts, damp foundation on the outside of the home, etc. With this information alone, I would, at the very least, be knowledgeable if she used a pro. From what I understand, non-licensed remediators, offer limited testing to “save money”, and scare tactics to sell services, practices that are not uncommon in this field. Any reader should look up these practices because it is a relatively new industry.

The basement was obviously very humid and dusty.  The perfect environment for mold to thrive!  I couldn’t find a water source in the house, as it is well kept, clean, and not humid.  So I decided to do an “amateur” effort to see if I could clean out the mold without any demolition.  This was a $ 300-500 experiment depending on availability to borrow or rent equipment (the advantage to knowing professionals; however, much of this can be rented at Home Depot or other equipment renters).  The Dehumidifier was the only expense or purchase that I made, would’ve made it regardless, because Atlanta is in the humid south.

Now, we developed a plan.  I also ran it by a pro to see if we were doing anything wrong.  I did not want an intervention at that stage, because “friends and contracting don’t mix,” and I wanted to do it myself as long as it was safe.

 We were ready to get started!

 Equipment: I purchased, borrowed, or rented these items: Tyvec safety suit, chemical goggles, gloves, an industrial HEPA vacuum, an industrial HEPA air scrubber, a “Cold” fogger, EC3 mold solution from Microbalance Health Products, and distilled water.

Some of my equipment assembled and ready for use: Tyvec suit, mask, gloves and goggles, cold fogger, and HEPA vacuum.

Some of my equipment assembled and ready for use: Tyvec suit, mask, googles, cold fogger, and HEPA vacuum.

Step One: Get rid of the humidity in the basement. Almost every source I researched indicated that humidity (above 60%) provided enough moisture in the air for mold to grow.  At the recommendation of several sources, the goal was to get the humidity below 50%).

We purchased a new 65 liter dehumidifier from a big box internet store (went for a good brand, ratings, and good price, <$200).  We placed it up high near the A/C and water heater with a 20 ft. clear rubber hose that drained from the elevated Dehumidifier “gravity” (garden hose) with a connector to a pre-existing external hole where the A/C pump drained outside to a drain away from the house.  I just used a small drill bit to widen the hole, added a 20 ft plastic hose and sealed around it.  We let it run for a full week and a half, and the humidity consistently dropped to around 40%.  We also placed fans to circulate the air in a circle throughout (around) the basement.

The dehumidifier set up to control the high humidity in the basement.

The dehumidifier set up to control the high humidity in the basement.

Step Two: Get rid of all the dirt, pollen and dust (and some mold). (Dust is food for mold, and mold spores are often found in dust gathering in your home.)   I moved everything away from the walls (circulating air is less hospitable to mold), threw away cardboard boxes (food for mold) where unnecessary, and gave it a thorough sweeping wearing recommended protective gear as recommended.  I wore a Tyvec suit, goggles, gloves, old shoes, and a recommended HEPA breathing mask because the mold swept up into the air can be very dangerous. I followed directions from a YouTube video to protect me and my clothes from overexposure to mold ant to avoid tracking mold into the house. (Follow each sentence with the why in terms of cleaning for mold.)

 

A shot of me, all suited up in my protective Tyvec suit, and ready to work.

A shot of me, all suited up in my protective Tyvec suit, and ready to work.

After it settled, I vacuumed well with an everyday “HEPA” vacuum, emptying the contents into a sealable garbage bag to throw away. (I borrowed a real industrial HEPA vacuum that I would use later.  I didn’t want to overwhelm or ruin the borrowed expensive equipment.) Note: after each step, I hydrated and rested outside so that I did not track mold into the interior.

Step Three: I fogged my suit before entering the home (fogging kills the surface mold) and proceeded to fog the entire home, basement, and attic with EC3 mold solution and distilled water.  EC3 is an all natural, non-toxic product using citrus seed extracts for their antimicrobial properties mixed with distilled water. (Tap water contains minerals and other additives that render the solution less effective).  It also dries fast, doesn’t smell, doesn’t harm upholstery, and doesn’t leave an undesirable coating. I also followed directions on safety and equipment usage to the letter because of the dangers of mold and not the EC3 product. I believe this equipment is required if toxic chemicals are the active ingredients (bleach, ammonia, etc.).  I was methodical in trying to reach every inch of surface area.  In the house, I fogged all furniture, rugs, pillows (both sides); mattresses (removed linens and washed using EC3 laundry additive.). This was a good “amateur” effort.  I’m sure the professionals have many tools and techniques. (This is necessary, because anything inside the house was exposed to the mold, so if you get rid of it in the air, but not on the belonging, you still have a mold problem when you are finished.)

Step Four: Using the industrial HEPA vacuum, I vacuumed EVERYTHING: floors, carpets, furniture with upholstery tool, mattresses, drapes, blinds, and pillows.  I vacuumed all sides!

Step Five: I used the HEPA air scrubber to capture all air in the basement and the home rotating at regular calculated intervals. I also replaced the air filter for the HVAC with a high rating to collect mold spores.  These should be replaced more regularly since the HVAC is the primary air handler circulating the air for the entire homes. (Necessary, because filters prevent dust and clean the air. Clean air is less hospitable to mold growth.)

 

The HEPA air scrubber purifies the air inside the home, because mold does not like clean air.

The HEPA air scrubber purifies the air inside the home, because mold does not like clean air. There isn’t any dust or other organic matter for it to thrive on.

Step Six: We let the place settle for a few days, and retested for mold in the exact same places we did before following directions.

Here are our results:

The first floor air cultured 3 mold colonies–acceptable, and safe.

 

The upstairs air cultured 2 mold colonies–acceptable and safe.

IMG_0237

The basement air only cultured 1 mold colony–WOW!

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This part of the story ended well!

 But, Mother Nature has proven things aren’t always so easy…

 The experiment is not over. We are waiting 2 weeks for a repeat test. If it yields similar results, we will stop crossing our fingers that a full remediation job is required, because of lack of mold spores in the air flow.  If the humidity stays in the 40s, mold will not grow without a source of water!   One important observation is that fogging is ridiculously efficient and easy.  A fogger costs less than $300.  It uses just a portion of the EC3 mold solution &distilled water mixture, and takes around 10-15 minutes to do the whole house.  This is something my friend can continue to do regularly on her own.

It is my personal belief that a thorough cleaning should be done in any household periodically.  This effort took a little planning and a full day of burning calories. Whether we find a water or mold source in the future remains to be seen; however, the results were satisfying and will be invaluable if she needs to involve professionals down the road.

I’m sure you can read about many solutions, some more costly than others.  This solution was developed on the hypothesis that the humid basement was accumulating mold to source the entire house.  Looking for the source and getting rid of the mold in the air and surfaces seemed like simple logic to me.  I could have been wrong; however, budget was in the hundreds for the time being. We wanted to be educated and sure the problem wasn’t solvable with some straightforward solutions before entering the four and five digit solutions.  So far, it was a good investment that required some work and must be performed safely.  Cutting corners could be much more costly to your bank account and health.

The End!  Hopefully, there will be no sequel.

 

I hope you enjoyed reading about this reader’s experience. I hope he will follow up with me and let me know how things are going now. I sure hope the mold stays away!

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