How to Do Mold Testing in Your House

There are many cases where a mold testing or a mold inspection is an excellent idea.

Mold is not always seen with the naked eye like the black splotches you see on blog articles—this is especially true since toxic mold is toxic due to mold spores or mycotoxins, ranging from 3-100 microns in size. (Note: For Size comparison, 1 micron equals .00004 inches; a human hair is about 75 microns across).

There are three primary methods for mold testing:

  • Method 1: Do-it-Yourself (using an at-home test kit, like the EMMA or ERMI)
  • Method 2: Hire (the right) Mold Inspector
  • Method 3: Use Your 5 Senses!

The Three Primary Methods for Mold Testing

mold testing - woman thinking what method to follow to do mold testing at home

Method 1: Do-It-Yourself At Home Testing

The most accurate at-home mold testing methods I have found are called the:

  • EMMA mycotoxin testing (Real Time Labs), and;
  • ERMI mold testing (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index) testing (Mycometrics)

These two simple “DIY” that direct you to “swipe” a dust cloth in several areas of your home, then send it off to a lab where they assess mycotoxins, toxic molds and mold spore counts in your environment.

The cloth is able to pick up mold DNA on the surfaces of walls, furniture, clothes, as well as your air. After collection, you or the mold inspector send it back to the lab for testing and mold identification under a microscope.  If you find mold spore counts greater than 1500, you know you have a problem.

ERMI testing is best for mold alone, whereas EMMA is best for mold and mycotoxins. For this reason, if you are only going to do one, I suggest the EMMA (since mycotoxins are the real killers and threat for your health if you are feeling sick).

The EMMA test is simple: You need sterile gauze pads, freezer plastic bags, and a sharpie marker; and then you will take samples from the following areas using on sterile gauze pad per area that you will place into the bag, sealing and labeling it with the date, time, and sample name:

  • Air Intake Ducts (not the filter – remove the filter and reach into the duct and get as much dust on the cloth as possible)
  • Air Return from master bedroom, using same technique as the intake duct sample
  • Air Return from Living Room (or the most used living space)
  • Refrigerator coils
  • Behind Washer/Dryer (if there is a good dust collection)

Many people also talk about using mold plates, available at hardware stores, to “catch” mold spores in the environment. However, mold plates don’t typically catch the most toxic mold spores since toxic molds often don’t send out very many spores and they are also often heavy so they stay put—they don’t land on the plates. 

Method 2: Hire the RIGHT Mold Inspector

Not all mold inspectors are created equal.

Many mold specialists claim they test for mold, but do not utilize comprehensive or accurate mold and mycotoxin testing methods—often missing the lingering root causes of toxic exposure.

If you call up a local mold inspector and ask him to come assess your property, he will probably do a visual inspection and take some air samples, but  air samples alone are not enough. Air sampling does not allow identification of particular species. While this can be useful in concert with the ERMI and Mycotoxin tests, it alone won’t give you a clear picture of what is going on. It is merely showing you what mold spores and how many are in the air during a 5 minute sampling window. It doesn’t look at mycotoxins. Unless you are going to bring a lawsuit into play, I advise skipping air sampling. In fact, most inspectors can tell you stories of their general air sampling tests coming back completely normal, even when there were huge amounts of mold in the building.

That said, if you do choose to hire an inspector, to accurately assess your exposure, the best practice is to hire a mold inspector who is familiar with proper testing methods (ERMI and/or EMMA, plus air sampling, with EPA validated methods). Do your research. Visit ACAC.org (ACAC is American Council for Accredited Certification) and look for inspectors in your area with one or more of the following certifications:

  • CCIEC, council-certified indoor environmental consultant;
  • CMI, council-certified microbial inspector;
  • CMC, consultant

In summary: A good mold inspector will…

  1. Walk through your entire property;
  2. Be aware that mold can occur both in the air, as well as through the accumulation of spores or mycotoxins in the environment;
  3. They may ask you questions about your health or timeline of mold exposure;
  4. They will know what ERMI and EMMA testing is; and,
  5. They may have even heard about functional medicine

Method 3: Use Your Senses

Mold Testing - woman calling for help to solve mold at home

Lastly (but certainly not least), never discount your own senses for detecting mold.

This is something I definitely have developed a unique “super power” 6th sense myself, as I’ve learned and understood about my body’s own response and symptoms in the presence of mold and mycotoxins. (Read: whole body tingling, nausea, shortness of breath, chest tightness, brain fog, IBS and sinus congestion are not normal).

In short: If you see mold (i.e. green, gray or black specks; fuzz) or you smell mold (musty smell), there is mold. Since many molds are often actually hidden (behind walls, in HVAC systems, in window sills, in drip pans, etc.), consider yourself lucky to have an “upper hand” in detecting mold if you actually can see it or smell it.

If you identify or feel mold or mildew (like I do), the next question is:

Is the mold a bigger problem, and is it toxic?

Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.

Many people are confused about the difference between mold and mildew, or if there is any difference at all. While these terms are often used interchangeably, there are a few subtle differences that can impact how mold or mildew is identified and treated.

Mildew vs Mold 101

Mildew is an early-stage type of mold that grows on flat, moist surfaces. Mildew’s tendency to grow on flat surfaces (vs. anywhere and everywhere) is one of the main differences that can exist between mold and mildew.

Mildew doesn’t penetrate porous surfaces or release toxic mold spores like mold. Mildew is often also identifiable with the naked eye—it has a powder-like or spotty texture that is white or yellow when it first begins to grow but can turn darker yellow, green, black, or brown as it ages.

While mildew can cause damage to a home, the damage is usually more cosmetic. In nature, however, mildew can be very destructive to plants and food crops. Similarly, mildew may pose health risks but, again, not quite to the same extent that mold does. Both can smell musty—which is why testing and suspecting for mold itself shouldn’t be ruled out if you do identify mildew.

However, if caught or identified early, taking precautions to thoroughly clean the mildew areas (using clear ammonia, water, baking soda and EC3 spray), and keep the area dry with proper care (ie. Using ventilation fans in bathrooms during and after showers, drying floors and surfaces that get wet, etc.) should do the job.

Mold on the other hand isn’t so easy.

Mold grows and spreads quickly—sometimes for the naked eye to see; other times, it remains hidden in secret places (like in drywalls that get wet, under fridges and beds, under sinks and near plumbing sources, on wet papers and cardboard products, etc.)  As mold grows, it can emit gases (microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs))—often described as sweet, musty or stale. As mold grows it also can be different colors—not just black, but also white, gray, brown, green and yellow.

Compared to mildew, for most people, mold exposure and its mycotoxins are what cause mold illness symptoms (ie. Chest tightening, sinus congestion or runny nose, shortness of breath, brain fog, nausea, tingling, etc.).

Ultimately, going with your gut is a huge (highly underrated) barometer in testing and identifying mold in your home.

To further validate findings, consider using an EMMA test or hiring a quality mold inspector.

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