How to Test for Black Mold

There are a number of different types and strains of mold that can exist in the home and many more that exist naturally out in nature. Not all molds are bad either – blue cheese is the product of the controlled use of beneficial mold. However, there is one type that is unequivocally bad for humans and their homes: black mold.

You’ve probably seen plenty of stories about black mold, the damage it causes and the health issues surrounding it. But how do you know if you have it? Here, we’ll take a look at what black mold is, why it’s so dangerous and what you can do to test for and remediate it. Hint? You may be better off calling a professional.

Black Mold: Is it really that bad?

You may be sitting in your basement looking at a patch of black mold and thinking, “it doesn’t look that bad. I’ll get a sponge.” Stop! It really is that bad for both your health and the health of your family, no matter where they are in your home.

First things first, however. What we commonly refer to is black mold is actually a type of mold called Stachybotrys, which also comes in red and green colors as well. This mold grows on any surface that has a high cellulose content, meaning virtually anywhere in your home. Constant moisture is also required for its growth, so areas around pipes, under sinks or around leaks are perfect breeding grounds.

According to the National Institutes of Health, black mold can cause a variety of health problems and has been casually linked to pulmonary hemorrhage among infants. Among adults, black mold commonly causes respiratory tract symptoms include nasal irritation, burning and congestion, cough, wheezing, chest tightness and dyspnea. Central nervous system manifestations include headache, irritability, lightheadedness, sleeping difficulty, concentration problems and mental fatigue.

In short, something you want to get taken care of immediately.

How do I test for black mold?

There are a whole host of tests for various types of black mold, that cover a wide range including those that are done completely at home or those that require a laboratory. When shopping around for a do-it-yourself test, make sure you’re aware of what you’re getting. Some tests will test for the presence of mold but not tell you what kind is present. Others will only test certain surfaces like the air or the ductwork.

  • At Home Tests – These tests are done entirely at home and require the homeowner to mix mold growth medium in a petri dish then add samples from the included swab. These tests will often result in mold growth because mold spores are ubiquitous in nature.
  • At-Home/Mail-Away Tests – These tests can often be more accurate because a laboratory is involved in interpreting the results. If you’re inclined to purchase this type of test, ensure you understand the fees involved with processing the results – sometimes they are included and sometimes they are not.
  • Certified Testing – Here, a professional will come to your home and perform a thorough assessment, followed by testing for specific types of the mold that may be found as a result of that inspection. Professionals often used rapid tests in combination with laboratory studies to ensure a complete assessment of your home.

What do I do when I test?

First, if you’re disturbing mold that is already growing, ensure you wear gloves, eye protection, an N95 mask and clothing that covers all exposed skin. Additionally, turn off any HVAC systems – this prevents the mold spores that you are disturbing from being disturbed around the home. Be sure to follow instructions exactly to prevent over exposure of mold and to ensure that the test is completed properly.

Call a Pro

Testing for black mold can be a DIY job but it’s often not advisable. Between ensuring you’ve acquired the proper testing equipment, have adequately followed testing protocols to ensure an accurate test and limiting the exposure of you and your family to mold spores, you may be completely overwhelmed. That’s why it’s advisable in many circumstances to simply call in a professional who, for a fee, will be able to provide you with accurate, verifiable results. They’ll also be able to suggest and work with you toward remediation.