Mold and its spores are a part of our everyday living and breathing space. And, while many molds are quite harmless, Black Mold and Black Mold Spores can be quite harmful to our health and do lead to many upper respiratory issues.
Mold testing can be a useful tool to understanding the air quality of your home.
In small amounts, mold spores are generally harmless. However, certain types of molds can compromise good air quality. Especially, for infants, the elderly and anyone with a challenged immune system.
The process of mold elimination often will begin with a mold test so that the type of suspect mold can be identified.
By identifying the type and where the mold is located, the appropriate methods can be used for removal.
Table of Contents
What Is Mold Testing?
This important type of testing is the practice of taking air samples and/or surface samples to determine if mold is present.
A common testing method is the “spore trap (cassette trap is another name for this type of testing).”
This method traps the mold spores from the air so it can be determined what type of mold is present.
It may seem rather odd when companies that test for mold take spore samples because the spores are so small that they can’t be seen by the naked eye.
So yes, it can look a little funny when the mold inspector catches “nothing.” Nonetheless, they may be catching a lot of somethings that could be making you and your family sick.
For example, you could be experiencing allergies or headaches with no apparent cause. You may smell a musty odor or you see mold climbing up a wall.
If any of this is occurring, it is time to have a test performed. When the test is done, your suspicions can be confirmed so that the issue can be resolved.
It is very important to make sure you have clean air to breathe in your home.
After the samples are gathered, they are sent to a lab so a report can be generated. Now, this may sound a bit overwhelming, but it is very important.
Even if you use a do-it-yourself test, sending samples to a lab may be best. Just keep in mind that the results of DIY tests aren’t going to be as accurate as a lab test using a sample captured by a professional.
What you do is entirely up to you, your budget, and how seriously your health is affected.
How Is Mold Testing Performed?
Believe it or not, the easy part is determining that there is mold present in the home. The value in the testing lies in the experience of the tester and how thorough they are.
Anyone claiming to be an inspector can look official and walk into a home with a swab or a tape-lift.
Anyone can wave a mold spore trap around in the air and catch spores like kids catch fireflies.
The real value lies in the results and the documentation that is used in the remediation process.
One thing to note is if the inspector spends a great deal of time taking samples and less time inspecting the property, you may be charged more than you want to be and still not have a full picture of what is going on.
No one wants to be left in the dark with a mold issue. That could be frustrating.
When the inspector comes in to take the tests, they may perform a swab test or a tape-lift test. These are done exactly as they sound.
They may also grab a sample of air in a small plastic cassette that takes in a measured amount of air so that the severity of the mold problem can be measured based on air volume.
Once finished, these samples from your home are sent to a lab so that the lab technicians can see how many different types of spores are present and how much of them are floating around your home.
They will create a report that states how many spores are present per cubic meter. The inspector may also take an outside air sample for comparison.
This helps determine if the fungal reserve in the home is high compared to the outside air.
While this sounds so involved it makes your head spin, know that the testing gives a general idea of the severity of the mold problem in the home.
The information can be used in an indoor air quality inspection, but the relevance of this test relies on the inspector’s interpretation and experience.
As for what can make testing for regular mold and toxic black mold different, black mold is going to appear in some of the same places as other types of mold, but not always.
Basements, crawl spaces, kitchens, and bathrooms are common black mold playgrounds, so a visual assessment may be enough.
If that’s the case, an actual test may not be done. This can apply to other types of mold as well.
If the inspector says a test isn’t required, you can still request the test so that you have a record of the mold issue.
If you suspect black mold, the testing is the same where samples of the air will be taken. Surface tests, such as the tape-lift test will be performed to test the mold on the surface.
There are times when a dark colored mold can look black, but it turns out it isn’t black mold.
Talk about a breath of fresh air (not really). What really sets black mold removal apart from removing other types of mold is the expense and the extremely careful removal methods that must be used.
Should I Have Mold Testing Performed In My House?
If you are sneezing, experiencing headaches, or having difficulty breathing, mold could be the culprit.
That means testing the air quality in your home is more than a good idea! However, there are times when testing is not necessary.
This is the case when there is an obvious roof leak that is tied to mold growth. In fact, any leak can be proof that there is a mold issue, allowing the mold removal company to go directly to removal rather than testing.
That’s if they perform mold removal. If they don’t, they’ll recommend a company.
Nonetheless, this also avoids testing cost, which can add a ray of sunshine to a dark problem.
Not knowing whether or not there is mold in the house constitutes a need for a test.
If you are buying a house, you may want to have the air tested because the presence of mold could alter the terms of the real estate transaction or the decision to continue with the transaction.
The last thing you want to do is buy a house and then find out that it has mold, resulting in even more money spent on the house.
If mold is visible, even in a house that you are getting ready to buy, it is possible to not have to move forward with testing.
A visual inspection can be a good supplement to testing or by itself.
Why You Should Test For Mold
Of course – You and your’ loved one’s health is the main reason why you should test for mold.
If you see mold, then you already know you have it and that means you need to have it removed as soon as possible.
If you smell a musty smell and you are sneezing a lot, your health may be at risk. Having the test done is going to confirm whether or not mold is the problem.
Mold can also ruin the surfaces that it touches.
You certainly don’t want the backside of that amazing piece of furniture that belonged to your grandmother to be ruined by a mold problem.
If you have the problem rectified quickly, then you can preserve affected belongings.
When the testing is done, you will know the quality of the air in your home and if mold is eating away at your living space.
Yes, this does come at a cost, but it can be worth the cost to preserve your family’s health.
Should I Test For Mold In My Home With A Mold Testing Kit?
When it comes to home mold testing kits, you may not get the results that you need to determine the severity of your mold problem.
Doing it yourself is cheaper. If you have a mold problem, the mold testing results may reveal the problem.
If the mold problem is just getting started, it may reveal nothing until the issue has gotten worse.
When comparing do-it-yourself testing with using a professional, the professional performs an inspection.
This is their specialty, so they may be able to identify factors that you can’t. They also send the samples to a lab so that a lab can evaluate them.
This is going to give the most accurate result, although there is still a chance it won’t be 100% accurate.
Professional testing, however, gives a good idea of how bad the problem is.
For most homeowners, a strict budget can be a good reason to perform the testing without the pros.
It is possible to get an immediate answer so that you know what is happening. Knowing what kind of mold is being detected, especially if it is black mold, can give you a good idea of what you need to do next.
For instance, you may want to remove your family from the home to put a halt to their exposure to this very toxic substance.
How Much Does Mold Testing Cost?
Mold testing companies can come to your home and perform tests using specialized equipment.
The mold testing equipment that they use ensures a degree of accuracy, but there is still the possibility of a false positive or false negative.
The exact cost is going to depend on geographic location. If the sample is sent to a lab, then that could add to the cost.
However, lab testing is more accurate than on-site testing. If you choose to use testing kits to test for mold, which comes at a cost of approximately $50, it is important to consider that accuracy may be compromised.
If you’ve heard the phrase, “you get what you pay for,” this is one of those situations.
What Questions Should I Ask A Mold Testing Company?
Before hiring a company that specializes in testing for mold in their lab, there are some questions that you will need to ask before hiring a mold company.
You need to know what to expect from the process, how long it is going to take, and how much it’s going to cost. Here are some questions you can ask:
- What are your qualifications?
- Are you certified to test for mold?
- Do you always recommend mold tests?
- Are your mold inspectors qualified?
- Do you remove the mold yourself or refer another company?
- Do you receive any kickbacks or commissions for referrals to mold remediators?
- How long has your recommended mold remediator been in business?
- How many mold tests has the person done the mold inspection performed in the past year?
- What is the cost of taking an air or surface sample?
- How many mold samples are usually taken?
- What are the qualifications of the mold lab and how long has it been in business?
- How long does it take to get the results back?
- What are my next steps if the result is positive?
- What are your payment terms?
One thing to note is that you need to be very cautious of a company that requests upfront payment for the entire mold test.
A reputable company may require a deposit before the testing is performed for the time spent taking the samples.
A bill will most likely be sent that asks for the remaining balance. You also want to pay very close attention to the company’s answers so you can identify conflicts of interest.
How To Test For Mold?
How to use a home mold testing kit is going to depend on the brand and method.
Some at-home kits involve connecting a collection device to the end of a vacuum hose, taking a swab sample, or using bulk testing to completely remove a surface and send it to a lab.
Some mold testing kits involve taking a sample of the air and leaving the sample open in a petri dish so the sample can grow and you can determine what kind of mold you have.
Looking at the second mold testing method, you would do the following:
- Prepare the petri dish by removing it from its plastic bag and placing it on a level surface. Remove the lid so that the growth medium can be placed in the dish
- Leave the lid off of the dish for the number of hours the test suggests so that the mold can grow for up to 96 hours.
- You can take an HVAC sampling, which will require tape and place it in a petri dish.
- You can also take a sampling of a visual mold with a swab and place it in the dish.
- Some kits allow for outdoor air sampling, so you will take a scoop of air into the provided container.
Using the petri dish method, you can determine what kind of mold you have based on a visual guide or other instructed method.
If you aren’t sure, you can sometimes send it off for lab testing. Lab testing always comes at an additional cost.
How To Test For Black Mold?
Testing for black mold can be the same as testing for other types of mold.
For instance, you can take the air sample, surface sample, or bulk sample with a black mold testing kit or the help of a professional.
As stated before, black mold can be tricky because there are other types of dark mold out there.
However, suspected black mold (or even unsuspected) requires you to take certain precautions.
If you are doing it yourself, you need to have gloves, cover your clothes, and wear a face mask.
You don’t want to disturb the mold and breathe it in. This could be very harmful to your health and anyone around you.
If there is anyone else in the home, you may want to have them leave the home while it is being tested for black mold.
If in doubt, you can have a professional come and test for black mold.
The experts use personal protection equipment and they are very careful in their technique as to not cause the mold spores to go airborne and spread to other places in the home.
It is very important when carrying out black mold testing to use as much caution as possible.
Treat all molds with respect accordingly and you will reduce your risks greatly.
Types Of Mold Testing
There are different methods used to test for mold. Those methods include air testing and surface testing.
If surface testing is needed, there are three different types and they are swab samples, tape samples, and bulk samples.
A swab sample involves swabbing the surface and collecting that swab for it to be tested at home in a petri dish or in a lab.
Even if it looks like there is nothing on the swab, that’s okay because mold spores are microscopic.
Using the tape sample method could cause some of the mold to be collected onto the tape, which is perfectly fine.
Air testing is fascinating in that a certain amount of air is captured in order to measure the concentration of mold spores in the air.
The air sample is sent to a lab to be measured.
The most invasive method is bulk testing.
You certainly don’t want a piece of that old 100-year-old book removed because it has developed mold, but that piece could reveal a problem in your home.
Bulk testing could mean a piece of grandma’s furniture has to be removed and sent to a lab.
You can discuss this with the inspector and determine which type of testing is going to be best. You will read more about these methods below.
Air Testing for Mold
The spore trap is just one of the ways in which the air can be tested for mold.
A known volume of air passes over the trap’s sticky surface and the spores will stick to that surface.
When the spore trap is sent to the laboratory, the lab technicians apply stains to the sticky surface for the mold spores to absorb.
This determines the type of mold and also quantifies it based on the amount of air that was trapped in the spore trap.
The laboratory can also grow the mold spores that were caught in the air samples, but this method is not used as often as it used to be.
Using the stain is a much faster method.
Surface Testing for Mold
Surface sampling involves taking mold samples from a surface. There are different ways in which this is achieved.
- Swab samples – An object similar to a cotton swab is rubbed against the surface and then sent to a testing lab
- Tape samples – A piece of clear tape is pressed against the surface and then removed. The idea behind this testing method is to remove mold from the surface so that it can be tested. It is similar to how you get lint off of black pants when you have no lint roller around.
- Bulk samples – Bulk samples involve removing a piece of the potentially affected area to be sent to a lab for testing.
All three of these testing methods are effective, but it is good to know what each method involves so you can make an informed decision about the method that will work for you.
Bulk Testing For Mold
Bulk testing is a type of surface testing that involves the tester cutting away a piece of the sampling surface (grandma’s old furniture) and sending it to a lab that tests for mold.
This can give the lab a clear picture of the mold problem, but the area from which the piece was removed may involve repair or replacement.
When asked if you are okay with bulk testing, it is good to consider how expensive repair or replacement would be.
Additional Mold Testing Methods
Mold Testing Labs
When a mold sample is sent off to the lab, it is carefully extracted so that the lab technicians can look at the samples.
They may grow the samples in Petri dishes to determine what is happening. Once they have a grown sample, they can determine the mold type so they can include it in their report.
For air samples, they will be able to report on the number of spores per cubic meter of air space.
When the report comes back positive, it is important to make arrangements for mold remediation.
Mold Testing Equipment
Home test equipment is going to vary based on the type of test.
The most important elements are Petri dishes, tape, swabs, and a growth medium (potato dextrose is common).
You may also be provided with a bag to send samples to a lab if you opt for lab testing. You will also need gloves, a face mask, and it is best to cover your clothes.
Professional testing companies will have a plastic cassette trap for air testing, tape and swabs for surface testing, and cutting devices if bulk samples must be taken.
They will also wear personal protection equipment to protect themselves from mold spores.
Types Of Mold Testing Kits
If you decide to do home testing, it is good to know about the most common types of testing kits.
Really, there are many, so it is best to do a little research to find the one that is going to suit you best.
Nonetheless, there are test kits that have it all.
They can test surfaces, HVAC systems, outdoor air, allow you to identify mold on the spot, and you can even identify fungus.
There are kits that allow you to take physical samples and even identify yeast.
Here is something to keep in mind: accuracy and speed are going to vary based on a number of factors.
For instance, a test kit that has it all may only be 90% accurate and take a couple of days to produce the results.
However, a kit that allows for only one type of test could be more accurate and provide results in 5 minutes.
It depends on what you want the test to do and how fast you need the results.
There are some tests out there that can take as long as 7 days to show testing results.
You have to look at usability, test time, and how many tests there are per kit.
Many homes require multiple mold tests to be performed on their home. This will that the most accurate results will be obtained from the lab.
It depends on which is going to give you what you need and the most peace of mind.
As an example, you may need HVAC testing, which means you are going to need a kit that allows you to do this.
If you need surface testing as well, then it is ideal to have a kit that does both rather than having to buy two kits.
Different areas of the home may need different types of testing.