Mold exposure is an all-too-common problem that can cause serious health complications for your entire household. Unfortunately, it’s also a difficult and potentially expensive problem to solve.
Mold is composed of small spores that can grow into fuzzy patches of fungus if left unchecked in high-moisture environments. Mold thrives in warm, moist environments on organic matter like wood, paper, and even sheetrock.
Unfortunately, some molds produce biotoxins that can seriously affect your health and that of your family. Mold illness also isn’t as recognized as it should be within the medical community. Consequently, it’s likely that mold illness affects far more people than can be accurately estimated.
Consider if you’ve ever been exposed to mold. If not in your home, then perhaps in a school building, your car, your holiday cabin, your church, someone’s home that you visit frequently, or at your workplace. Maybe mold spores and mycotoxins still exist on the clothing or furniture that you moved to your new home from a previous residence that was infected by. As prevalent as mold growth is, especially in older or water-damaged buildings, it’s very possible that many of us have experienced sustained mold exposure at one point or another. However, not everyone is susceptible to the chronic inflammatory responses from which genetically predisposed individuals often suffer.
The symptoms of mold exposure vary widely from person to person, but may include fatigue, headaches, weakness, digestive issues, nerve and joint pain, anxiety, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, and autoimmune problems, among others (1). Unfortunately, mold illness may often be one of the last considerations when a physician is presented with such seemingly disparate symptoms in a patient.
Of course, mold prevention is the best way to avoid mold illnesses. Mold comprises microscopic spores and as a result it can be difficult to completely remove. However, if there is mold in your home, removal is your best option unless you decide to move out.
“In order to reverse and prevent some of the deleterious effects of mold exposure, a complete mold remediation, or removal, should be performed in your home.”
In this article, you will learn what mold remediation is, what tests you need to identify mold growth in your home, how to hire a good mold inspector, and how to remove mold from your home.
What is mold remediation?
Mold remediation is the process of identifying and removing mold from your home. This process should be thorough and comprehensive.
“One of the most important steps in recovering from mold-related health issues is removing the mold so you’re no longer exposed to it.”
Mold remediation includes conducting some home testing to assess the extent of mold growth, followed by hiring a mold inspector. Mold is then removed from your home and the contents are all cleaned.
Not only should you remove the mold, you should also seek to fix the problems that initially caused the mold growth in your home, such as excessive humidity, ventilation problems, or leaks. This process can be expensive but the only other viable alternative to mold remediation, especially if the mold is affecting you or your family’s health, is to move to a new house.
What’s the Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI) test?
This test is an easy way to measure the extent of mold growth in your home. It involves collecting carpet dust, which serves as a reservoir for mold spores, for a specified amount of time before sending it to a lab for testing. You can perform the collection yourself using an ERMI testing kit.
Within the dust sample, the ERMI test is able to detect 36 different types of mold. ERMI scores range from – 10 to +20, with 20 being the highest mold level. However, some extreme cases of mold contamination may have ERMI scores that are higher than 20 (2). A shortened form of the ERMI is called the HERTSMI-2 test, which measures only five species of what are considered the most pathogenic mold species to humans. These are Aspergillus versicolor, Aspergillus penicilloides, Chaetomium globosum, Stachybotyrs chartarum, and Wallemia sebi. A different score system is used to evaluate these five mold species but generally a score greater than 10 is considered problematic for many individuals.
The presence of some mold in a home is to be expected, but the ERMI test helps you to determine if there are unhealthy molds present in your residence, even if they’re not visible to the naked eye.
This can offer a great starting point for you and help you to determine if you need to move on to the next step of mold remediation, which is hiring a mold inspector.
Hiring a mold inspector
A mold inspector will provide some additional insights into the causes and sources of mold growth in your home.
A mold inspection will involve not only air quality tests, considered to be the gold standard of mold assessment but fraught with caveats, and most certainly an ERMI test if you haven’t completed one already. The process also involves a thorough inspection of the different surfaces or areas in your home where mold could be growing or where mold spores may collect.
A mold inspector will also look for signs of past and present water damage, which is a significant risk factor for mold growth. Mold requires moisture in order to propagate. Mold lives on drywall, paper, cloth, carboard, food compost, wood, and carpet. In Calgary where I live there has been massive flooding in the past, leading to many homes and offices becoming mold contaminated, in spite of remediation attempts.
A good inspector can identify not only active mold growth, but also areas in your home that are susceptible to mold or conditions that are likely to promote mold growth. They may be able to provide recommendations regarding how to prevent further mold growth by conducting some home repairs, improving ventilation, and sealing up areas where moisture may be able to enter.
According to the Professionals Panel of Surviving Mold, inspection involves two key steps (3). An exterior inspection should be carried out from a distance and at at close range, examining the roof, gutters, seals around windows and doors, the foundation, and areas where water may be likely to pool. An interior inspection will involve the use of several specialized tools to measure moisture and humidity levels and to count the particles in the air. Close attention will be paid to walls, crawlspaces, areas around plumbing fixtures, and carpeting, looking for actual water damage and/or evidence of condensation on wooden window and door frames.
Mold does not proliferate as greatly in drier air. Within the home, it’s important to keep humidity below 50% and a dehumidifier may be needed in certain cases. Air conditioning units, heat furnaces, and air vents can house mold spores and mycotoxins. Regular maintenance, cleaning of vents, and use of HEPA filtration is crucial to maintain safe air quality.
You should hire a trained and certified mold inspector with the experience and tools necessary to perform a comprehensive inspection of your home. A good mold inspector will take their time, inspecting everything methodically from inside the attic all the way down to the basement. Amongst other issues they will look for water staining on structural beams, the condition of fiberglass insulation, water staining around celling pot light fixtures, roof leaks, and buckled base boards. The inspector will uncover the toilet water tank looking for mold growth, examine the front-end seal on washing machines, pull out your dishwasher and washing machine looking for water leakage, and inspect your showers and bathrooms. They should come equipped with an infrared camera or a device to measure moisture ithat’s present in drywall. If someone comes to your house, looks around for a few minutes, and sets up a five-minute air sampling device, this is not the person you need!
Removing mold from your home
The final step of mold remediation is the remediation, or removal, itself. This a multi-step process that in most cases will require hiring a professional mold remediation team. You may or may not be advised to move out of the home temporarily while the process is ongoing.
Removing mold from structures in your home
Unfortunately, according to the Professionals Panel of Surviving Mold, structures made from organic materials, including wood and drywall, will need to be completely replaced if they’re infested with mold or even if only a small amount of mold is present (3).
This can be quite costly and requires professional help, but is the only way to ensure that the remediation is complete. It’s also best to replace caulking and seals in areas that have experienced water damage to ensure that the mold is completely removed.
Water damaged carpeting should also be disposed of. In fact, carpeting in general is a poor choice for flooring because it serves as a reservoir for dust and inactive mold spores. If that carpet becomes wet then mold can rapidly grow out of control. If carpet becomes wet, it’s recommended that it’s replaced. If a home has been contaminated with mold but the carpet wasn’t wet, the carpet still has to be extensively HEPA filtered and cleaned appropriately with Benefect Decon-30 Disinfectant.
Flexible ductwork and air filters should be completely torn out and replaced too since these are difficult to clean completely. Inadequate cleaning can lead to the reintroduction of mold into the ventilation system of your home (3).
For the structures that don’t need to be replaced, Greg Weatherman, Certified Microbial Consultant (CMC), recommends the following steps regarding cleaning (4).
- Vacuum using a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) rated vacuum, not a ‘HEPA like’ vacuum cleaner. Regular vacuum cleaners will suck up the mold spores only to redeposit them back into the air.
- Vacuum the carpet in multiple directions.
- Empty the vacuum cleaner outside. If using a bagless vacuum clear, you should be wearing a N-95 mask and clean the inside of the vacuum cleaner with Benefect or a similar compound.
- Wipe down vacuum cleaner with a residue-free cleaning agent using a damp cloth.
- Clean porous materials and surfaces that have visible mold growth with a hydrogen peroxide or 5:1 water to vodka mix. Some people find Benefact, which contains botanical essential oils, mainly thyme, to be useful. Nonporous surfaces will only require additional cleaning if they are caked with residue.
- Vacuum once more using a HEPA vacuum.
Multiple attempts at vacuuming may be necessary before the full benefit is realized.
Depending on the extent of the mold contamination, the cleaning crew may need to take additional steps.
- Contain and seal the relevant area with plastic containment material.
- The HVAC system must be isolated from the rest of the building. Taping may be necessary to seal room leaks around windows or other openings.
- In order to allow technicians to clean equipment and change protective gear when going in and out of the work area, an anteroom should be established to serve as an entryway.
- The room requiring remediation needs to be at a lower pressure than the surrounding area.
- A negative pressure HEPA filtration extraction unit must be used.
- Personnel involved in the cleanup must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) up to and including respirators and protective suits (3)
After cleaning, porous surfaces such as wood should be sealed with antifungal paint.
Removing mold from your household items
Next, you’ll need to remove mold from your personal items and belongings. As a general rule of thumb in cases of mold contamination, you should throw away anything porous that you’re comfortable getting rid of.
However, there are steps you can take to clean items that you wish to keep. As with the structures in your home, the first step is to vacuum your belongings with a HEPA vacuum (4).
Inorganic, nonporous surfaces and items such as plastics and metals can be thoroughly wiped down with a residue-free cleaner. Porous materials with visible mold growth should be cleaned with a hydrogen peroxide cleaner, Benefect, or the vodka 5:1 mixture. Using a wet and then a dry cloth method is recommended.
- Use disposable wipes to clean the surface twice.
- Follow up with a dry cloth to remove any moisture.
- Throw the wipes away without cross-contaminating your clothes or other surfaces.
- Clean the dry cloth with hot water and borax.
After cleaning, your items should be vacuumed once more with a HEPA vacuum (4).
Items generally considered safe to keep and clean include:
- Hi-Fi equipment and electronics
- Artwork, although this still needs to be wiped down and cleaned
According to Larry Schwartz, council-certified Indoor Environmental Consultant (CIEC), certain household items may require special attention or consideration. Here’s some additional guidance for household items that you may not feel comfortable disposing of (5).
- Papers and documents: Scan them electronically and place them in long-term storage.
- Books: Wipe down the cover with mild borax soap and water. HEPA vacuum the outside and edges of the book.
- Upholstered furniture: Vacuum with a HEPA vacuum and wipe down with borax, vodka mixture, or Benefact.
- Mattresses: Vacuum with a HEPA vacuum although you should strongly consider replacing your mattress as it can collect moisture, dust particles, and mold spores.
- Bedding: Wash in laundry borax and detergent or have bedding professionally cleaned.
- Electronics: Disconnect the wiring and clean the cables and the exterior of the electronics or have them professionally cleaned. Computers may blow mold spores around when the fan starts up when turned on.
- Clothing: Wash in laundry borax (sodium borax) and detergent. Borax is a natural anti-mold and antibacterial solution. One recipe is to soak your clothing for half an hour in one cup of borax to one gallon (approximately four litres) of water before washing. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling borax.
- Shoes: Depending on their material, they can be wiped down with borax soap and water. You may also HEPA vacuum them.
- Indoor plants: These should be disposed of since they retain mildew and mold spores.
- Antique rugs: Rugs are a frequent source of mold spores and are difficult to clean.
- Toys: Stuffed childen’s toys and animal toys should be disposed of. Plastic toys can be cleaned with the recommended solutions.
- Washers and dryers: If you have a front-end loader washing machine, check the inner seal for mold contamination and wipe down with borax.
- Portable air conditioners or purifiers: New filters must be used when transporting these items from a moldy environment to another area.
- Food: Be sure to get rid of open food packets, jars of rice, and other grains, flours, or spices.
- Animals: Pets may need to be boarded elsewhere while your home is undergoing remediation and then thoroughly washed before being reintroduced back into the home.
If you are unsure regarding what to do, place your questionable items in a sealed container and remove this from the area you’re attempting to remediate. Be sure to use an N-95 mask and even consider purchasing a hazmat suit when working with contaminated materials.
Although a professional remediator will need to handle the structures in your home, you can clean most of your household items yourself. This will save you some money by decreasing the workload of the remediation team (5).
Fogging for mold
The final step in remediation is fogging.
“HEPA vacuums are powerful, but they are unable to filter certain particles that are too small or light.“
This can include mold spores (3). However, fogging or misting the home with an air purifying solution, once all other remediation steps are complete, can help ensure that even these smaller particles are disposed of.
There is a certain protocol that should be followed to ensure that fogging is as effective as possible, so it should be handled by a remediation professional.
Prevention and maintenance
After remediation, you should take steps to prevent further mold contamination by performing routine maintenance on your home and taking action to fix water leaks, ventilation problems, or changes in humidity.
Mold is a very common contaminant of water-damaged or damp buildings but it has been estimated that there are over thirty other contaminants that can be found alongside mold. These include, but are not limited to, volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), gram negative and positive bacteria cell wall components, glucans, mannans, hyphal fragments, inorganic xenobiotics, antinomycetes, mycoplasma, and chlamydia fragments.
You may want to invest in HEPA filters for your home, which can help cut down on dust and mold spores settling on surfaces such as carpets and upholstery. It’s important to use HEPA filters that filter down to 0.1 microns. Most commercial HEPA filters only filter to 0.3 microns and will not be adequate for removing mold spores or mycotoxins. The Blueair Sense HEPA filter, the IQ Air purifier, and the Austin Air purifier are three recommended brands.
If your home is humid, you should also use dehumidifiers to remove some of the moisture from the air, which will discourage mold growth.
Post-remediation, you may also choose to do follow-up EMRI testing or have a follow-up mold inspection to ensure that the remediation was successful.
Mold illness can be daunting, especially since treatment requires not only medical care but also a potential remediation of your home. As a Shoemaker protocol certified physician, I’m uniquely positioned to help you manage and treat your mold illness. My team can also help point you in the right direction to start the mold remediation process. Contact us today.
- Hope, J. A review of the mechanism of injury and treatment approaches for illness resulting from exposure to water-damaged buildings, mold, and mycotoxins. The Scientific World Journal. 2013; 2013:767482. Published April 18, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/767482
- Kamal, A, Burke, J, Vesper, S, et al. Applicability of the environmental relative moldiness index for quantification of residential mold contamination in an air pollution health effects study. J Environ Public Health. 2014; 2014:261357. doi:10.1155/2014/261357
- Schwartz, L, Weatherman, G, Schrantz, M, et al. Indoor Environmental Professionals Panel of Surviving Mold Consensus Statement: Medically sound investigation and remediation of water-damaged buildings in cases of CIRS-WDB. SurvivingMold.com
- Weatherman G. A condensed remediation plan for small microbial particles. AerobioLogical Solutions Inc. Published January 2013.
- Schwartz, L. Suggested protocol for preparation of home prior to fogging or ventilation treatments of the air. SafeStart Environmental.
Dr. Bruce Hoffman, MSc, MBChB, FAARM, IFMCP is a Calgary-based Integrative and Functional medicine practitioner. He is the medical director at the Hoffman Centre for Integrative Medicine and The Brain Centre of Alberta specializing in complex medical conditions. He was born in South Africa and obtained his medical degree from the University of Cape Town. He is a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner (IFM), is board certified with a fellowship in anti-aging (hormones) and regenerative medicine (A4M), a certified Shoemaker Mold Treatment Protocol Practitioner (CIRS) and ILADS trained in the treatment of Lyme disease and co-infections. He is the co-author of a recent paper published by Dr. Afrin’s group: Diagnosis of mast cell activation syndrome: a global “consensus-2”. Read more about Dr. Bruce Hoffman.