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Does My Home Contain Toxic Mold? Detection and Remediation Tips

After finding mold in her home, Robin did hundreds of hours of research to learn how to identify and remove mold.

How to detect toxic mold . . . and what to do about it.

How to detect toxic mold . . . and what to do about it.

Detecting Toxic Mold

No matter the climate you live in, your house may contain toxic mold due to humid air or any kind of water damage. Unless you built the home you live in, it's hard to know its history—mold may have started growing decades ago or more recently. Normally, homes and apartments are painted before new owners or renters move in, further hiding (but definitely not fixing) the problem. Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it can't cause you serious health issues or even death.

Should You Check for Toxic Mold?

If any of the following applies to you, it would be worth taking the first steps to determine if you have a toxic mold in your home:

  1. You live in a humid area.
  2. You live in a dry area, but have had spills, plumbing leaks, or floods.
  3. You or your pet have unexplained illnesses, especially related to your cardiovascular system, such as asthma, an allergy to mold, a fungal sinus infection, a cough that isn't cured by antibiotics, bronchitis, and much more.

Toxic vs. Everyday Mold

First, be aware that there are many types of mold—some are harmful to humans and some are not. Some are only harmful at very high levels. Toxic mold is generally not the kind that grows in a cup of coffee you haven't washed for a couple of days. It is more insidious and often hidden, like in a water heater cupboard or inside your air vents.

Molds come in thousands of varieties, but Susan Lillard describes molds that contain mycotoxins in an article posted by the well-respected Mold Help Organization:

The most dangerous mold strains are: Chaetomium (pronounced Kay-toe-MEE-yum) and Stachybotrys chartarum (pronounced Stack-ee-BOT-ris Char-TAR-um) as they have been proven to produce demyelinating mycotoxins, among others, meaning they can lead to autoimmune disease. Under certain growth and environmental conditions, both of these fungi release toxic, microscopic spores and several types of mycotoxins that can cause symptoms that are potentially irreversible- such as neurological and immunological damage. Some of these natural mycotoxins include a very strong class known as trichothecenes. Trichothecenes are also produced by several common molds including species in the genera Acremonium, Cylindrocarpon, Dendrodochium, Myrothecium, Trichoderma, and Trichothecium. The trichothecenes are potent inhibitors of DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis, and have been well studied in animal models because of concern about their potential misuse as agents of biological warfare, due to their ability to destroy human health (mentally and physically), and never appear in an autopsy.

Mold discovered inside one of the vent covers in my home.

Mold discovered inside one of the vent covers in my home.

How to Test for the Presence of Mycotoxins

When I discovered a black, flowery looking mold when painting a vent cover, I did hundreds of hours of research including talking to public health officials, doing extensive reading on the EPA, CDC, WHO, Mold Aid, ducting manufacturer websites, reviewing tenant/landlord laws in my state, and much more, to determine the proper course of action.

I first needed to determine what type of mold was growing in my HVAC system and the levels just floating around in my home's air, to know if I had anything to worry about.

Keep in mind: Mold does not need to be growing to have toxic effects on humans and animals. When it dries out is when it is dispersed into the air. So, the presence of current moisture is not needed. Mold only needs darkness, moisture, and a food source to grow, but the mycotoxins exist even if the mold has dried out.

The basic steps that were recommended to me were:

  1. Home Test
  2. Professional Mold Inspector
Taking swab sample of suspected mold.

Taking swab sample of suspected mold.

Step 1: Do a Home Mold Test

Keep in mind that a home mold test holds almost no weight in the legal world, but it can be used as an indicator to see if further investigation is needed.

I ordered three tests from Amazon to test for the following:

  1. Mold obtained directly from where I first saw it (the vent cover)
  2. Mold being blown out of the HVAC ductwork
  3. Mold in the still air in my home

The instructions for the tests were very clear. I performed the tests and sealed and mailed them off (with payment) to the labs, per the instructions, and waited a week for the results.

Step 2: Hire a Professional Mold Inspector

Because of the results I got from the home tests, I decided that I needed a professional mold inspector and talked to my landlord about the costs, as this is a very expensive procedure if done right. I learned that MANY organizations advertise tempting low-cost inspections, but that certain state governments have mandated training and certification programs. So, I obtained a list of certified inspectors, checked their resumes, credentials, and reviews online, and ended up with an inspector that cost $1200 (an average price for this type of professional).

He and his assistant were extremely professional, had the latest detection equipment, and were able to detect behind walls and places I never could have reached. About 2 days after they left, we received a 36-page report, with pictures, that described in detail the location, types, and levels of mold present in various areas including the air.

Certified mold remediators are required to wear biohazard gear.

Certified mold remediators are required to wear biohazard gear.

What Happens After the Mold Inspection?

Based on the inspector's findings, you will probably want to do the following:

  • Breathe a big sigh of relief; or
  • Hire a state-certified remediator to fix the problem. Check your insurance at this point, as the expense to properly remediate (do your research here—don't let anyone just brush out your ductwork or apply bleach to visible mold—both the entirely wrong course of action) can run into the multiple thousands of dollars.
  • If you are a tenant, read your state's landlord/tenant laws, and give the landlord, in writing, the appropriate notice to accomplish the remediation (Again, do your homework here. I knew I was in for a struggle when my landlord sent out a chimney sweep to remediate.)
  • Have your and your pet's health problems checked for toxic mold—this could entail blood tests for mold allergens, sinus scans for fungus, and the list goes on.
  • If you are not getting proper remediation from the responsible party, hire an attorney who is an expert in this type of case and can give you references.
  • Most importantly, and this is the one that I had the hardest time with, GET OUT of your mold-ridden home. Unfortunately, all of your clothing and soft surfaces (couches, etc) are not remediable—some hard surfaces can be saved if professionally treated (bleach does not kill mold - just changes its color). Even if you've hired an attorney, the case will take many months or even years to resolve—in the meantime, you are breathing in deadly mycotoxins. If you cannot afford remediation, the responsible party isn't taking proper steps, and you can't find an attorney, this will probably be a permanent move.

My Experience

My experience with toxic mold was, I believe, typical. The property management company for my apartment complex hired expensive, high-power attorneys to win their case, and I was forced to move out, leaving behind nearly everything.

But, now, about six months later, I appreciate my simpler life. I got to make a whole new start. And best of all, my dog has quit wheezing and I no longer cough day and night. I feel 100% more healthy than during the two years I lived in the mold-infested apartment—and that is priceless.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


jelly gamat gold G on January 27, 2013:

interesting posted bro... like this

Lori Colbo from United States on January 20, 2013:

Thank you so much. I have a friend who lives here in the Pacific Northwest and lives on the waterfront. She has developed a chronic fungal/allergic condition. I will pass this on. Perhaps it will help.

Elizabeth Barrett Kearney from Maine on January 20, 2013:

Your experience is very typical. I was a mold remediation specialist for a few years, and some places harbor some nasty stuff. Very useful article, I think it is extremely important to educate yourself about mold in homes, no matter if you live in an apartment or own your own home.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on January 20, 2013:

Congrats on a deserving HOTD! Mold is an ever present problem where I live in S. Fl. I have a dear friend who were forced to move out of their new house because of mold from the China drywall you may have read about. The builders reimbursed them for the house, but they had to put their belongings in storage while they shopped for another house.

I just saw a home test in Lowe's last night. I didn't know you could buy them. Good information here.

I voted this UP, and will share.

Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on January 20, 2013:

Thanks for sharing your personal experience here. I'm sure many will benefit from this great writing of yours. And I'm sure glad that you and your dog are during much better healthwise. Those other things will be replaced eventually. Health is wealth.

Voted up and useful, and congrats on the HOTD award!

Wendy Golden from New York on January 20, 2013:

This hub has a lot of useful information and is very timely for me. I just had a battle with my landlord over a moldy shower wall that had a leak behind it. Luckily New York City has agencies in place to assist a tenant facing mold problems. It took awhile but they finally replaced two walls in the bathroom. I will refer to this hub in the future if I run into more mold. Voted up!

billd01603 from Worcester on January 20, 2013:

Thanks, very informative Hub. I've been concerned what that black stuff was on my bathroom ceiling. I'll get a home mold test. voted up and useful- Congrats on Hub of the Day.

Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on January 20, 2013:

Thanks for turning your experience into a guide we can all use. Voted up and useful. And I appreciate your upbeat view of what must have been a difficult situation with the mold, your old apartment, and the landlord. I'm glad you and your dog are healthy now.

acaetnna from Guildford on January 20, 2013:

This is really great information, rather scary too I might add! I shall certainly keep an eye on any mould from now on!!

Levertis Steele on January 20, 2013:

What great information! Frightening, though. I have had mold in times past and probably now! I assume that mold is dark and clings like paint, but mildew is fuzzy like webs. I always fought it with clorox or lysol. I have not had an inspection of my air ducts or anywhere in my home, so, we could be under attack. Thanks for the reminder.

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on January 20, 2013:

Great information! We live in an older house that has had some water leaks previously. We are in the process of remodeling every room, one by one. We have found some moldy areas, but replaced everything and are hoping we got it all. We may find more as we proceed and I will keep this article in mind. Voting up and more! :)

Dr Penny Pincher from Iowa, USA on January 20, 2013:

Mold is scary- it can be hiding where you can't see it. We had a major flood in our area a few years ago. Some of the houses were demolished and some remodeled. I bet mold is more of a problem than most people realize. Appreciate the info.

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on January 20, 2013:

Hi LucyLiu,

Great information here to take on board! What research you did, well done! Toxic mould is incredibly worrying so thanks for this really well written piece everyone should take note of!

Well deserved HOTD!! voted up, useful interesting and shared!

Electro-Denizen from UK on January 16, 2013:

This has been a very helpful and informative hub to read. We've been living in an old cottage (constructed about 1890) for over 3 years, which have the typical problems associated with new and old methods of construction stuck together. That is, old stone walls, and modern double glazed windows. This is a bad combination - in the old days, air circulation and open fires ensured good airflow, even in cold weather. The double glazing stops the air flow, and due to cold ingress, mold forms on the walls and so on, due to the humidity we make living here. I would say our health has definitely deteriorated a little in this time, small things that add up. I love this place, but also want to move, unless we can solve this problem. Opening windows just isn't enough. I have heard of a ventilation system that can be installed in lofts and that circulate air 24/7 and that stops mold forming, but all doors have to be open, and apparently it takes months to really take effect. I think I may even get myself a mold analysis kit, to either sigh with relief, or feel horrified! Thanks, good hub.