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Which DIY mold test kit should I get?

Which DIY mold test kit should I get?

Every home has some mold, because mold spores practically hitchhike into the home on our clothing, groceries, and even the air.  The difference between acceptable levels of mold and an infestation, however, is whether the moisture and food sources exist to feed an infestation.  There are many reasons to test your home for unacceptable levels of mold, some of which are:

  • Musty smells in an area

  • Recent flooding in or around your home

  • Roof damage

  • Renovations like roof, siding or foundation repair that expose your home to the elements

  • Mysterious health issues in any resident of your home

If you suspect an infestation of mold in your home, there’s no time to waste in testing, stopping the growth and removing the mold!  The health effects of living with a mold infestation are too costly not to do anything! 

Of course, if you have the resources and are able to hire a trained, reputable mold inspection and remediation company, they are often preferable to DIY kits because these inspectors have the training and equipment to make a thorough inspection and testing of your home.  However, working on a budget often means if you spend too much on inspection, there isn’t enough money to make a thorough remediation.  We get it, and so do makers of DIY mold testing kits.  For this reason, we have investigated some DIY kits and even partnered with one. 

There are several types of DIY mold testing you can do in your home.  Here is a description of each, from lowest to highest costs:

  • Gravity plates (also commonly called petri dishes)--an Air Sampling method:  When opening a sealed petri dish to the air in your home, mold spores in the air land on the sugar coating (agar) lining the dish and start to grow.  This method does grow mold!  However, unless you get your samples analyzed by a lab, you will not know for sure what species of mold is present, and even then, only “relative” quantities of mold colonies can be inferred.  If you decide to go this route, we recommend Micro Balance Health Products’ EC3 Mold Screening Test Kit - 6 Pack, which retails for $36.  It has detailed, easy to follow instructions to determine a relative “mold burden” in your home, but does not include the option to have your samples analyzed by a lab.  Because it’s sold by a company that has developed several mold abatement products and  many more highly reviewed health supplement products, you can be sure that they are interested in your best health!

  • Spore traps–an Air Sampling Method: GotMold combines the best of professional technology with DIY convenience.  Although it’s a major step-up in pricing from agar plates (a 3-room kit is $299 including return shipping and analysis), you can use the same sampling procedure that professionals use, and professional lab analysis is included in that package.  Their patented BioVac™ Air Sampler can be reused, so if you decide you’d like to retest after completing renovations to make sure the mold is gone (wise idea), you can get refill “cassettes” to use with your machine (again, postage and analysis is included in the cost of the cassettes).  In the lab report, each area tested will be grouped under the following severity of mold: 

    • GREEN — Not Evident

    • YELLOW — Slightly Evident

    • ORANGE — Moderately Evident

    • RED — Significantly Evident

Then, you’ll get spore counts from 4 common and 14 other types of mold, as well as an indication of whether these molds are usually found with water damage.  It gives “next step” recommendations in the conclusion of the report.

  • Immunolytics’ Kit–Combination Air and Swab sampling method: Since not all types of mold reveal themselves in an air sample, Immunolytics offers a Quickstart Kit ($198) made up of gravity plates and 1 swab or “Build Your Own” kit ($33 per sample) that combines the two methods. Like Micro Balance Health Products’ kit, gravity plates are interpreted by number of colonies formed, and swab samples give a percentage of specific molds found in the sample.  You can also ask for a consultation to determine the next steps for your home. 

  • EMMA–Air or Swab sampling method:  Offered by RealTime Labs, This method is VERY simple in that you use the provided swabs or gauze, or cut out a section of your home’s AC filter.  The separate samples can be combined into 1 sample, or charged as separate samples. This test is ideal for homeowners who are already experiencing mold-related illness symptoms, as their “combo” tests not only test your home for 12 of the most common molds, but also detect 5 of the most common mycotoxins (mycotoxins are responsible for illness).  Knowing the mycotoxins floating around your home may help you develop a treatment plan with your doctor, and the company also offers urine tests, pet tests, and tests for other known toxins.  One disadvantage of this method is that combination of samples will not allow you to learn where the mold is coming from (which room has the highest count).  Check out our article “What’s the Difference between EMMA and ERMI?” to learn more about EMMA.  

  • HERTSMI-2–Dust sampling method:  ERMI was a test developed for research purposes by the US government.  Although it can tell you the presence of specific molds, it is unreliable for determining whether a building is safe to re-enter after remediation.  HERTSMI-2 is a method of interpreting the results of ERMI that is much more reliable (for mold scores less than 10) of whether you will get sick again when returning to a water-damaged building (WDB). HERTSMI-2 analyzes the results for 5 specific molds, also called the “Big 5”, which are most likely to cause relapse of symptoms for patients.  EnvironBiomics offers a very reasonable price ($130) and fast service for HERTSMI-2.  They also offer separate tests for endotoxins (bacterial toxins) and actino microbes (gram-positive bacteria), which are not common to be tested (see our article here about endo-and exotoxins).  If your home was heavily water-damaged or had water damage in multiple areas, you may want to opt for a HERTSMI-2 to make sure it’s safe to inhabit after the remediation.

Since the unconditioned outdoors has its own mold biome, it’s a  helpful baseline to reference.  Most tests do not suggest taking an outdoor sample, but GotMold includes one air cassette specifically for the outdoors in each of their kits.  That way, you can see the types and concentrations of mold directly outside your home, which may be influencing your indoor scores.  We have chosen to partner with this company because of the owner’s passion for helping average homeowners detect mold in an economical way (read his personal story and the company’s philosophy here).  Their air sampler was one of the first affordable machines for DIY air sampling.   

Of course, there are many more test kits out there, but be sure to do your research!  Some have extra fees for lab analysis, postage, or consultation, and each lab report reveals different information.  Companies started by physicians (like Realtime Lab or SurvivingMold.com) are even more helpful because they have taken the time to screen and affiliate with doctors around the US who can physically treat homeowners and their families who have been affected by mold.  Whichever method you choose, don’t stop looking for the source of mold in your home and remediation of the damage until retesting comes back with an acceptable score.  Even then, “acceptable” to one person may cause relapse in someone whose health has been severely impacted by mold.   Mold can be sneaky and hard to find, so if DIY tests don’t reveal the problem, check out our articles on Taking our Homes Back from Mold and article on How to Choose a Mold Remediation Contractor (which also speaks about inspection) to partner with professionals.  We at HypoAir are also available to help with products that can help keep mold at bay while you're remediating or on a maintenance basis. 

Our Top Articles for Reference by Topic

Our Top Articles for Reference by Topic

We have published a lot of information for you on our website, so we understand it can be a lot to digest!  Here’s a shortlist of our top articles 

Mold and Mycotoxins

Mold Prevention

Mold Testing

Cleaning

Air Filtration

Humidity

New Home Search

Ventilation

Home Projects for Better Air Quality

HVAC

Disaster/Emergency Preparation

How to choose a mold remediation contractor

How to choose a mold remediation contractor

It’s a scary prospect to think that mold in your “safe place”--your home–may be intruding and possibly causing illness in you or family members.  Whatever your training in other disciplines (even medical doctors), you can still be largely unprepared in knowing about mold and fungi and their effects on your home and body.  There are many “smart people” who get overwhelmed and discouraged when doctors or inspectors “miss” or mistake their symptoms.  How can you cut through to get real answers?

The assessment or consultation:

First of all, there are different opinions on who should inspect and test, and who should do the remediation work.  Often they are the same company, but the better inspectors have chosen to focus on inspection and testing, with recommended companies to do the remediation work.  It’s like a doctor who assesses and diagnoses a problem, but then refers you to a physical therapist or nutritionist for the corrective work.  For example, Brian Karr and his company We Inspect are highly recommended and fly all over the US doing inspections.  On his website, he states “We do not perform any remediation work ourselves because it’s a conflict of interest for the same company to handle both inspection and remediation.”  This is a unique position because many inspectors will also do remediation work, but it’s a very safe position to accept from the homeowner’s perspective. 

Tests are just one of the diagnostics that home inspectors use to confirm whether mold is a problem in your home. If a company wants to jump straight into air, dust, or body fluid testing (which can be a substantial revenue source for them) without some time to talk about the history of your home and your symptoms, then you may want to look elsewhere.  That’s like paying (and waiting, usually!) to see a doctor and getting to talk for less than 5 minutes before he ushers you out the door with orders for a test or a prescription. 

It’s best if you can do an in-person assessment where the consultant can come to your home, but unfortunately, many people live hours from qualified consultants so remote “visits” will be the case.  Prior to that visit, it’s always helpful to get your thoughts together and write down specific events and questions that led you to this point, such as:

  • If you are feeling ill, when did that start?

  • Have you noticed specific events that may have caused it, such as renovation work, damage by a severe weather event like flooding or roof damage, etc.?

  • Have you had other problems with the home?

  • What other life events are going on (job changes, pregnancies, new pets, etc.)

Other things to ask: 

  • Do you believe that mold can cause health issues and even cancer?  Amazingly, several reputable online sources deny that mold can cause cancer, including healthline.com, despite studies since the 1960s that have proven this link. This inspection and remediation company seemingly copied the Healthline article and adopted their stance.  Who wants to hire a skeptic of science?  

  • How do you test for mold, and do you test before and after remediation?  According to the late Dr. Jack Thrasher, a toxicology and mold pioneer, he  “always, always recommended multiple testing mechanisms for the same space. He liked dust sample testing from at least 4-5 places and ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index) testing to find out the species of mold present—he was BIG on knowing what you are dealing with, so that you could fight the battle properly. Dr. Thrasher was also a proponent of culturing surfaces, even hidden surfaces, like refrigerator coils for bacteria. For example, if everyone is getting sick in the kitchen, but the mold counts in the undisturbed air read ok, and there doesn’t seem to be moisture intrusion, start looking behind things. In this case, when he pulled out the refrigerator and tested the damp coils, he found rare and dangerous bacterial cultures. So, when the fridge was opened or closed or disturbed in anyway, a poof of bacteria and particulates was flying around, making folks sick. There’s your answer. Always dig deeper was his motto.” (moldfreeliving.com)  In addition, the mold testing facility needs to be an independent lab, so that testing can be performed properly and results are not skewed.  Having an inspection company who is independent of the mold remediation company perform the tests before, and after remediation but before reconstruction is the gold standard–because why rebuild if the mold is removed to a satisfactory level?  This second set of tests is called “clearance” testing, so that if successful, the remediators are cleared to rebuild.  This is the best way to check that the remediation was performed properly.   

  • What products do you use to “clean” mold?  Even if mold has not caused a reaction in your body, you don’t want to bring in chemicals that are unhealthy!  “ Aim for botanically-based products, like the EC3 line of products that are proven to eliminate mold but cause no harm when inhaled or ingested. Hydrogen peroxide cleaners and Borax are also effective products that will not cause additional harm to your health.” If the remediator uses things like bleach, it’s a sign that they don’t understand the health implications of these harsh chemicals and should be avoided. (moldfreeliving.com)

  • Do you have recommendations and resources to treat myself, my family and my pets as well as the home?  Because recovery from mold in your home is more than treating the building, most good mold remediation companies have recommendations on doctors who understand and can treat sicknesses caused by mold like CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome) and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). 

  • How do you remove or inactivate any moldy materials?  You definitely want to know the company’s procedures for isolating and removing mold so it’s not spread throughout any areas of your home that have not been contaminated.

  • What are your certifications?  It’s important to check on local and national certifications, because it means that the company and employees have been trained in the best practices for their craft.  The National Association of Mold Professionals and Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification are two highly respected certification organizations.  

  • Are you insured?  If the company is not insured, it is best not to hire them, as improper remediation will cost even more than doing it the right way.(moldfreeliving.com)

  • How do you decide which materials may be cleaned, which materials need to be removed, and how far away from visible mold needs to be removed?  Mold grows “tentacles” called hyphae, but these hyphae can grow up to 6-12” outside a visibly moldy area.  Therefore according to previous industry standards (ANSI IICRC S520 Standard) materials should be removed 24” around a visibly moldy area.   For example, drywall that has been wet for more than 24 hours also needs to be removed, but structural members like studs and floor plates can be cleaned if they are not water- or insect-damaged.

  • What kind of containment equipment do you use?  In order to prevent the spread of mold beyond an area, negative air machines (NAM) with HEPA filters are often used so that air laden with mold spores does not contaminate other parts of the home.  At a minimum, barriers with 6mil plastic should be created between the area being cleaned and the rest of the home, including the area where workers are carrying out debris. 

  • Do you have any personal experiences with mold?  Sometimes the business owners with personal experiences on how devastating mold can be to their health, family and home are the best in understanding every step of the discovery, remediation, rebuilding and treatment process.  For an example of how a good, experienced air quality inspector conducts his interviews and assessments, check out this interview

Finally, many companies are good at selling and less good at performance.  I once hired a plumbing contractor who was a good salesman and smooth talker, but when it came down to performance, found out that he was improperly designing and installing drain piping runs.  I fired him and because I and another contractor called him out on the mistakes, he did not charge me for the work.  Even if he had, I would only be lacking money…Your health is more costly, so don’t be afraid to “go with your gut” and if necessary, terminate a mold contractor that is using sub-standard practices to protect you and even their own employees.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and get second opinions, because you will not be able to “heal” from mold if your home stays infected with it!