Checking For Mold In Your Home

How to check for mold in your home by Woodard Cleaning & Restoration in St. Louis, Mo.

Did you know that there are over 1,000 known species of mold, 50 of which are toxic to humans? This dangerous stuff can be growing in our homes and affecting the air we breathe without us even realizing it. Beyond health threats, exacerbated mold damage can be very expensive to repair (into the thousands). Your best weapon against mold is preventative maintenance. Here we’ll cover some common areas for mold development and steps you should take (now!) in checking for mold in your home. Keep in mind you can always hire a professional mold remediation firm to evaluate your home. Companies may have access to more comprehensive testing methods and equipment that could set your mind at ease.

The Nose Knows

Mold has a very distinct musty, dirty, wet sock smell, and your nose can be the most effective detection device. If mold exists in walls, under carpeting or in or near other objects, you’ll smell it in the air. Do be very careful if you think you’re detecting odors of mold, however. While you need to know it’s there, breathing in mold spores can accelerate existing lung problems and allergies or even cause health issues for a typically well person. So if you think you smell mold, shift into remediation mode immediately as mold is incredibly invasive and spreads rapidly.

What to Look For

Most everyone knows mold when they see it, but let’s review just to be safe. Mold can be white, black or even yellow in color. It’s often splotchy in pattern and has a leathery or cotton-like texture. Never touch mold with your bare hands. When you’re checking your home for mold, make sure you’re wearing a mask over your nose and mouth and long rubber or neoprene gloves.

Where to Look

While you do need to do a thorough mold investigation, you run the risk of disturbing mold colonies and releasing additional spores into your home. Check the surface areas that are the most likely to be harboring mold and contact a professional service if you believe you have a problem. (This is especially important if you believe that you have mold under your flooring or in your drywall. Calling a professional before you find your sledgehammer is a very wise choice.) While checking for mold, open windows (unless it’s especially windy) and turn off your home’s HVAC system and any fans that may be running. This will prevent spores from spreading in the event you disturb a growth area.

Here’s a list of some common hiding places for mold. Use a flashlight where necessary to check the areas thoroughly:

  • Base of bathtub and shower
  • Shower doors (or edges of shower curtains—wash in hot water with bleach)
  • Tile grout
  • Base of toilets
  • Faucets, in and around
  • Underneath sinks (check for leaks while you’re there!)
  • Windowpanes (formed by condensation of warm air)
  • Cabinets and closets
  • Ductwork
  • Basement drywall and drop-ceiling tiles
  • Pipes of all types
  • Carpet and carpet pads—test with bare hand or foot for moisture
  • Behind draperies
  • Behind drywall and wallpaper
  • Attic—check around edges of attic opening to your house and any storage areas. *Also check around roofline.

Do-It-Yourself Mold Removal

If you’ve detected mold in your home, it’s important to act fast. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that a professional handle mold remediation for any area covering more than 10 square feet. If the issue is contained and reasonably small, you should be able to tackle this yourself. Lay plastic sheeting around the area where you will be removing mold. A bleach and water solution (1 cup bleach to 1 gallon of water) is commonly used because it’s accessible and inexpensive.

Another proven winner is tea tree oil. This is a safe and effective mold killer. In a spray bottle, combine 1 teaspoon of tea tree oil with 1 cup of hot water. Spray on the mold and let it dry, killing the spores. If the items in your home affected by mold are washable in the machine, (clothes, curtains, etc.) run everything in a hot-water load and do not combine with any fabrics that have not been contaminated in order to keep the issue as isolated as possible. In the case of porous materials (certain furniture, ceiling tiles, etc.) upholstery and carpeting, salvaging these items is nearly impossible if they’ve been impacted by mold. Your safest bet is to relegate them to the curb. Once clean, keep the air as dry as possible by running a dehumidifier in all areas that were affected.