Don’t Let Mold-Testing Fears Prevent You From Having a Healthier Home
I get it. Mold testing can be scary. Well, actually, I get that the testing itself is not the scary part. The results or the potential results and what they could possibly mean for your living situation, the well-being of your family—both emotionally and financially, and the future of your health are what’s scary. But, today I want to reassure you that fears of the unknown or worst-case scenarios should NOT deter you from testing and from continuing to test your home for mold. This is because when mold and your health are concerned, ignorance can be far from bliss. The continual exposure to mold can eventually take such a toll on your body that your symptoms will no longer allow you to ignore it and you’ll be forced to act. For mold-sensitive children, the effects could last a lifetime. To help you avoid such situations, I want to explain, with a real-world example from a reader, exactly how testing for mold and continually knowing what is going on in your home in terms of mold can be extremely helpful and beneficial to your peace of mind and health.
Do any of the following scenarios sound like you?
- You are finally to the point when your health symptoms make you suspect mold in your home or indoor environment, and you want to test.
- You have obvious high indoor humidity, musty odors, visible mold growth, or had a known leak, a wicked storm, or a water incident that lead you to want to test your home for elevated levels of mold spores or growth.
- This isn’t your first rodeo, as they say, and you have done some remediation work yourself or had your home professionally remediated and are re-testing to make sure that all of the work to eliminate the mold is working.
Whatever the case, you decide to mold test your home, and await the results. This waiting time is when all of the “what ifs” start invading your mind: What if the tests come back showing that my house is moldy? Is it safe to stay in? Will I have to leave my home and all my things? What if I can’t afford to fix the problem? What if I have to leave my home? Where would I/we go? What if the “the fix” attempted doesn’t work?
All of the internal questioning can paralyze and drive you crazy. I know, because I have lived all of the above scenarios. In each, I was wondering, questioning if I should test, and then fraught with anxiety as we tested for the sake of my health and the health of my family. What I can tell you, since living each scenario has produced more wisdom that I had before, is that mold testing, especially if your health is suffering or still suffering after a remediation, is ALWAYS a good idea. Fear be damned.
Mold testing doesn’t need to be scary and shouldn’t be scary. If you get nothing else out of today’s post, I hope you come away feeling empowered with that sentiment. My aim, if you have felt at all on the fence about it or afraid of going through with it until now, is to try to alter your perspective a little bit. I want to help you to approach and view mold testing as your window to freedom. This is because it can put concrete knowledge in a petri-dish snapshot of exactly what is going on in your home directly into your hands.
Mold testing can tell you if mold levels in your home are problematic. It can confirm or deny if your health symptoms are caused by indoor mold. It can show you if what you are doing is working or not working, in terms of mold. Continuing to test can also allow you to tweak your cleaning and daily protocols, so that they work best for YOU and YOUR LIFE, making your home the healthiest it can be. This use of mold testing is particularly helpful to me now, because we each need something a bit different to reclaim our health. All of our bodies are different. We are all at different stages in our recoveries or in our illnesses. What works well for me (exercise, continual detox, mold avoidance and mold maintenance) may not work well for you and vice versa. The significance of these internal bodily differences cannot be ignored inside our homes either. Simply put, I may do fine with slightly elevated levels of outdoor molds in my home, whereas you may not and may need to vacuum your downstairs rooms more often to keep counts down. Using mold testing to scientifically see what you can and cannot tolerate and seeing how well your cleaning techniques are working will help you learn your best practices for health. Does that make sense?
I must confess that the reason I really started thinking about this topic comes from some reader interaction that I had this week, and the way that this particular reader is continuing to use inexpensive mold plate testing as an important tool in sleuthing her home for reasons as to why she and her family are still sick. You see, she and her children had all sorts of symptoms, tried everything, and couldn’t get well. Then, because high humidity in her home was problematic, she decided to test for mold. To her dismay, mold was discovered in their ductwork and crawlspace. Her family has since done extensive work and remediation of their entire home and ducts. At this point, everything, according to the “experts” should be fine and good, but her symptoms are lingering, and there are still some rooms in her home that make her feel worse than others.
Rather than just taking someone else’s word for it, even though she sensed that things weren’t yet right, she decided to continue using her EC3 Mold Test Plates to air and TAP test rooms and things in her home to find out what remediation efforts worked, what areas still need more remediation attention, and what belongings may still need more cleaning or to be thrown out. I love that she didn’t take a defeatist mindset of, “Oh, no, this didn’t work! I am going to be sick forever!”
Instead, she is acting proactively and figuring out what and where the problem is coming from. Her example is so valuable for all of us, because knowing what and where the problem is allows you to fix it. In other words, continuing to test, while it does tell her that there is still a mold problem in some places, also tells her the information that she needs to know to FIX it. I’ll state that again, because it is so powerful: A “bad” mold test also is a valuable mold test, because it clarifies that there IS a problem, and shows WHERE the problem is, so that you can FIX it. Not doing a test would just keep her sick. So, while the results sound a resounding alarm, they can actually lead to a happy, healthy result.
I hope you are still with me, because I don’t intend to leave you with the “Test for mold to know if its what’s causing your sickness” mantra. I am actually going to take you a bit further, because I know that one of the scariest parts about testing for mold is the reveal. The “Okay, I have mold, now what?” scenario. Or, the “what do the dots on this petri dish mean?” experience. It is the point where you are looking at your mold plates, seeing all of the multi-colored colonies, wondering what all of the dots and colors mean, and wondering how to find, diagnose, and solve the problem that is obviously still there.
To take you into the real-life scenario of someone actually going through this, and using mold screening plates to diagnose her home, I want to share some of our most recent emails with you. I think doing so will bring you into the conversation and will shed some light on ways to use the plates to take control of mold in your home, simply because you will then know what is going on.
I just opened up my Ec3 mold screening plates and I am very sad!! The room that I have thrown most everything away in is the only room that came back with one white colony—does this mean that in order to be healthy, we are going to just have to get rid of everything?!!! Also, I have several rooms that came back with 1-3 medium-sized colonies which look dark grey.
I called MicroBalance and they told me not to be too concerned with the color, but I was wondering how you feel about the different colors that show up on the screening plates? They told me to be more concerned with the number of colonies. I also have one room which showed as having 10+ colonies. It is the room where the HVAC system is located within a closet. I noticed there was some orange and green color on the concrete, and I asked two different mold specialists about it. Both told me it was nothing. However, I know now that it is definitely mold and I am closing it off from the rest of my house and trying to remediate it. I have fogged twice (with the Sanitizer fogger and EC3) and I am wondering how often I can fog?? This has been the most trying experience!! I have included some pictures of my testing plates but totally understand if you do not have time to look at them. Thanks again in advance!!!!
Here is my reply:
First, I agree with MicroBalance, kind of, on the types of mold present. This is because, if you have as many colonies as what is showing on the 10+ test plate, more needs to be done to make that room safe, regardless of what kind of mold the plate cultured. In other words, if the conditions in that room are fostering that level of viable mold in the atmosphere (air spores), it is one that needs to be altered (aka further remediated) to be healthier for you and your family. Said another way, the mold must be removed, regardless of species. I think the rooms with 3 colonies could just be fogged again and thoroughly HEPA vacuumed once the spray has completely dried. Honestly, though, I think those look pretty good!
Now for some questions and possible conditions that could be causing the mold in the 10+ room:
You said that the HVAC is in a closet in that room—is this the unit that you had all of the work done on? Was the filter removed and replaced with a new MERV 10 or higher pleated filter? Did they open up the unit itself and thoroughly clean it? Did they clean the condensate coil of all microbial growth? If not, they should have, because your problem could lie within the HVAC unit itself. If this needs to be done, the room does need to be fully contained and quarantined from the rest of your home (I have a post detailing containment HERE for guidance on that) and the HVAC unit needs to be thoroughly cleaned by a professional who knows how to clean for mold. This is not something that you should do yourself. It is also not something that should be done with harsh chemicals. They can use the EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate at its full strength to clean the machine and the coil safely and effectively. But, if this was already done, but proper containment, negative pressure, and an air scrubber weren’t used, all of that activity could’ve really brought the mold spore count up in that room. This is because while they were cleaning, they were also releasing any mold that was inside the HVAC unit into the room.
(Note: I have actually read many scientific studies that indicate that a successful remediation still takes up to 2 years if continual, active mold maintenance for a home to fully return to and stay at “healthy” mold levels. I hope more study is done on this topic as it interests me greatly. My personal experience also indicates that this is true. That is why I am such an environmental mold maintenance advocate.)
It may be a solution as simple as renting an air scrubber from your local home improvement store and an industrial HEPA vacuum. With those tools, you can further clean the air, flooring and things in that room much more thoroughly. The fogger certainly will help the matter, and probably has already significantly brought the counts down, but you may need to get more aggressive with physical cleaning like the HEPA vacuum and air scrubber. If you still have an active mold source, the fogger is a band-aid solution. It may take more than one fogging initially to get counts down, but it should take several days or longer for mold to get a foothold and grow to a colony size that will send spores airborne.
One thing you should seriously consider is to removing any wall to wall carpet in that room. If it has it, it is probably harboring a lot of mold. Maybe just getting rid of that would help?
You also said that there is concrete in that room? I assume it is a slab in the HVAC closet? If so, was the HVAC leaking at some point? Could the discoloration be rust stains? Any rust stains or copper staining that could be a greenish color are indications of leaks and water. If your unit is leaking, it needs to be fixed or replaced. Also, if the HVAC leaked, the concrete probably does have mold on it. It needs to be cleaned properly. (Note: Containment, again, will be important if any of this done to not further spread mold spores throughout your home. Please make sure to take proper precautions and to wear safety gear.) You will need to manually scrub and disinfect the concrete with water and a mild detergent soap, like DAWN. Once all visible mold and discoloration is gone, you can then use a solution of dissolved Borax (about 1 cup per gallon of water) and EC3 on it to kill the mold. If the concrete sits right on the slab or the ground—aka no basement or crawlspace under it, there could be some ground water seeping up into the concrete and causing the mold/discoloration.
If this is the case, you will need a professional to come out and help devise a way to divert the water with grading or drains, and to seal the concrete properly from the ground water.
As you can see, I am just throwing darts in the dark here, though, since I don’t really know and can’t physically see what is going on. My best advice to you at this point is to use the valuable information that the mold plates have given you to start asking questions: What is the humidity in that room? Is there a hidden leak? You could purchase an inexpensive moisture meter and put it against the concrete and walls in that room to test. Are there pipes in the walls in that room? Are any of the walls harboring moisture? Are the windows leaking? You could use the moisture meter around the windows as well. Is there condensation on the windows or walls?
I guess what I am saying here is that mold has to have moisture to grow. I am sure that the fogging has helped a lot, but fogging twice should have yielded a better plate test, if all of the issues in that room have been properly addressed. You can keep fogging and it won’t hurt anything (watch the moisture levels, though, you don’t want to be saturating the room and the things in it and not drying them properly before fogging again), but it looks to me like you still may have a moisture issue in that room. Something is causing the high counts, so regardless, even if fogging completely eradicated the mold, it would still only be a temporary solution.
Now to come back to mold plates and your questions. I definitely believe that pricey tests like the ERMI and the HRSTMI2 that look for and id mycotoxins and mycotoxin-producing molds are beneficial, (there is a new one by Great Plains Laboratory too) because they look for the most dangerous molds to human health. With those tests, you gather vacuum or tape samples of dust for analysis, because many toxic molds are very heavy and don’t appear in air testing. What I don’t believe is that you have to do those tests and spend that kind of money to KNOW what you are dealing with. That is because, in my opinion, high levels of airborne mold spores in indoor environments are ALWAYS problematic to health, regardless of the genus, species of mold. If the indoor environment is mold fostering and mold friendly, it is also friendly to a whole host of other contaminants, like bacteria, VOCS, viruses, and microbes. This is scientifically proven and is where the term “sick building syndrome” originated. The indoor environment is “sick,” because it contains living organisms that will make you sick.
I know you don’t need to worry with more info like this, but I wanted to make sure you understand why some folks don’t think the colors of the mold on the plates is important. I am just trying to help you to make sense of all of the conflicting info. That being said, if you want to know more about the kinds of molds you are dealing with, would you be willing to redo the tests in the 10+ room with the diagnostic tests from Immunolytics? This would id the molds present. That could also be helpful in finding what is causing the mold. This is because some molds may be coming in from the outside (windows need sealing), some molds are signs of water leaks (aka they grow indoors on wet building materials), some molds like active water sources (the groundwater issue), and some molds commonly grow in HVAC units. Does that make sense? I can look at the plates and speculate, but that won’t really help you right now.
Anyway, I sincerely hope that I have helped you in some way shape or form. I feel like I haven’t, though, which I hate. Please, please never hesitate to write and to ask more questions or for more clarity. I am happy to provide whatever info and guidance I can. I also commend you on continuing to test and to try to figure out what is going on. Each test is going to bring you closer to answers and to health. I also continue to test our home a few times a year to make sure everything is still stable and that my mold maintenance efforts are working.