How to Test your Home for Mold: 2021 Update

Think your Portland home might have mold? Well, you’d be correct – but don’t panic! Airborne mold exists just about everywhere. And since mold loves moisture, it also loves Portland. The trick is that mold spores float through the air looking for a wet place to land and grow. If you keep those wet spots out of your home, the mold won’t grow there.

But we all know that can be a hard thing to do! Most of the time, a little mold in the bathroom is a quick cleaning job. Sometimes, though, a more pervasive moldy area becomes what we call a mold growth problem. We’re not talking toxic black mold, which thankfully doesn’t grow here. But you could be looking at major damage to your home.

What Is a Mold Growth Problem?

Simply put, a mold growth problem occurs when mold has been allowed to grow unchecked in a damp part of the home. No home is fully moisture-proof – we need some humidity after all! But when moisture actively begins to collect on a surface, mold spores will follow suit.

Common reasons why mold grows in your home include leaky plumbing, a failing roof, clogged gutters, and hot water usage in unventilated areas. When left unchecked for too long, you could be looking at property damage ranging from ceiling tiles to wallpaper to even furniture.

Mold also causes health problems for some. Many people have an allergic reaction to breathing in mold, often exhibiting symptoms similar to hay fever. If you suspect someone in your household is having an allergic reaction to mold, contact their doctor right away.

How to Determine If Your Home Has a Mold Problem

Do we have you thinking you need to go out and buy a mold test pronto? Hold your horses for now. Both the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the EPA advise that most of the time it’s not actually helpful to have your home tested for mold.

Why? Because usually you can see it. If you find visible mold, such as black spots, growing in an area of your home, you know you have mold. According to the EPA, “no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores,” which means most testing tells you what you already know – that there’s mold there.

Bottom line, if you see mold, you know you have a mold growth problem. You may also smell a musty odor that can give you a hint to take a good look under your sink, for example.

When It Makes Sense to Test for Mold

There are times, though, when it’s appropriate to get a professional involved. If you know you’ve had a big leak – through your roof or do to plumbing, for example – you might have “hidden mold.” Hidden mold simply means mold growth that happens in hard to see places, such as in your insulation or behind wallpaper. If you suspect hidden mold, you may want to conduct:

  • A mold inspection. A professional contractor can check your hard to reach spaces for hidden mold, and advise you on what to do about it if the problem is extensive. You’ll want to choose a contractor that specializes in mold remediation and repair.
  • Moisture testing. If you aren’t sure where moisture in getting from or where it’s settling, moisture testing can help you out. While it doesn’t find mold, it will identify pockets where moisture accumulates.

Tests to Avoid:

Plenty of products exist out there we’d steer you away from. As we mentioned above, the authorities on the subject generally discourage mold testing. You’ll want to avoid:

  • Mold Analysis or Sampling. The purpose of this kind of test is to tell you specifically what strains of mold the tests detect. Generally, not very useful! And since the EPA has no set guidelines for the acceptable amount of mold in a home, and all homes have some mold, these tests don’t help you target a mold problem.
  • Air Testing Kits. Some stores sell kits to test for mold spores in the air. As we’ve already noted, literally every home will test positive for mold spores! The airborne spores aren’t the problem; the moisture is.

Got Mold? Here’s How to Clean It

Cleaning up mold isn’t as complicated as you might think. According to the EPA, you can likely clean up any area under 10 square feet on your own. For areas larger than that, it’s a good idea to get a professional involved.

This might surprise you, but the EPA recommends using regular old soap and water to clean up mold. Simple as that! If you’ve got a large area of mold, they also advise that you use protective gear. Wear gloves, goggles, and a mask such as the N-95. They don’t recommend using bleach, but if you choose to do so, make sure not to mix it with ammonia based products.

Cloth materials like shower curtains you can machine wash. Less mobile porous materials, though, like carpet, may need to simply be thrown out, as will materials like insulation.

Now That You’ve Got Mold Cleaned Up – How to Keep It Away

Again, the problem is the moisture. You’ll want to fix chronic problems that allow too much moisture to get in your home. Steps to stop mold from coming back include:

  • Reduce Humidity
    • Make sure your bathrooms are well-ventilated, and always run the fan while using the shower.
    • Use a dehumidifier in problem areas
  • Address Structural Moisture Control Issues
    • Keep gutters clean and unclogged.
    • Check plumbing and the roof for damage.
    • The ground should slope away from the foundation to keep water from pooling around it.
    • If you know you’ve had a major leak, act immediately! Don’t wait for the mold problem to worsen.
  • Clean and Inspect Problem Areas Regularly
    • If you know you’ve had mold in a certain part of the house, don’t clean it and ignore it! Check it regularly.
    • Keep bathrooms and other wet areas clean.

If you have a mold growth problem, you’ll want to address it before listing your home. With buyers becoming more and more educated about hazards like mold, radon, and asbestos, don’t be caught off guard! When in doubt, can always consult a great real estate agent for advice on how to navigate the issue!

July 16, 2021

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. A Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington, he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales. Call his team in Oregon at 503-714-1111 or in Washington at 360-345-3833.

4% max to sell a home in Portland and SW Washington.
4.25% max to sell a home in Salem and Bend.
Over 2,000 homes sold.