Mold is unsightly in appearance, unpleasant to smell, and sometimes unhealthy to humans.
“While some types of home mold just look and smell bad, other types, such as black mold, can be very serious,” says Tanya O'Coyne, president of TSC Restoration in San Diego.
Next to termite damage and roof damage, mold is one of the major red flags that can cause home buyers to reconsider their purchase. But what happens if you find mold in your own home? Can you safely remove it yourself, or should you call a professional?
Causes of mold
You may be grossed out to know that certain levels and species of mold are naturally present in your home, according to Steve Worsley, owner of CNC Contractor Services and a certified mold inspector and mold mitigation contractor.
“However, mold needs three main components to reproduce: the mold spores (which will always be present), humidity above 60%, and cellulose materials, which is its food," Worsley says.
He says various factors contribute to mold growth, but without one of those three primary components, mold can’t reproduce.
According to O’Coyne, serious mold infestations are almost always caused by moisture. “This can include standing water in crawl spaces, leaking pipes, or high humidity," she says.
Poor airflow and low lighting are also contributing factors.
How to remove mold yourself
In some scenarios, mold removal can be a DIY project. But there are standards that determine when mold is safe to be handled by a renter or homeowner.
“According to current standards, a homeowner can mitigate a mold infestation as long as it's smaller than 10 square feet,” Worsley says.
But even if it’s a DIY project, Worsley recommends at least hiring a professional mold consultant to walk you through the mitigation process.
“If a homeowner decides to mitigate on their own, they should use the proper personal protective equipment (Tyvek suit, full-face respirator, and gloves), and a proper containment should be installed to prevent cross-contamination,” he explains.
So how do you identify mold? Often, you can see or smell it.
“It is most often green or black and has a musty or earthy smell, like the forest floor in the woods,” says Julie Dibbell, owner of AdvantaClean of Gastonia and Lake Norman, NC. “In that case, you can use an antimicrobial mixture of household items such as hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, or baking soda.”
Simply spray the mixture onto the mold area, and remove it with a scrub brush or disposable rag.
When to hire a mold remediation professional
Upon discovering a mold infestation, you may decide that it's too much to handle on your own and you need the help of a certified professional.
“The first step when you find mold is to have it tested by an independent professional," says Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and founder of RTK Environmental Group, a mold testing company. He says an independent company will pinpoint the mold and give you a blueprint for remediation.
But Weitz advises against using the same company for testing and remediation, because it’s a clear conflict of interest.
“If you hire a company that does both, oftentimes companies will offer mold testing on the cheap or even for free—with the intent to fudge the results and make money on the remediation,” Weitz says.
In some states, such as New York, it’s actually illegal for the same company to test and remediate the same mold problem.
“Once you have had the mold remediated, have your home tested again to ensure the job was done right," says Weitz.
You should receive a detailed report documenting that the mold has been properly remediated and your home is safe.
"This documentation will be critical when you sell your home and for insurance claims," he says. "Without proof that your home was deemed mold-free after repairs were made, the insurance company might take the position that a new claim is not justified or that you have met your policy limit.”