When the average homeowner wants to test their home for mold, they essentially have two options:
- Hire a professional mold inspector to test the house using state-of-the-art equipment—like RealTime Laboratory’s own Environmental Mold & Mycotoxin Assessment (EMMA).
- Go to a local home improvement or big-box store, purchase a generic environmental mold test, and do the job on their own.
We understand that the latter option can be tempting. The kits are certainly convenient, and they’re usually priced at under $50. Some of them even offer “professional laboratory analysis” of the test results (for an added fee, of course). Really, what’s not to love?
Well, despite these tests’ lofty claims, generic kits come with some pretty substantial drawbacks. Here are three reasons that you should leave mold inspection to the pros:
Generic tests don’t paint the whole picture
Want to earn some quick cash? Bet someone $100 that their house contains mold. In the vast majority of cases, you’d be right. The fact of the matter is that there are over 100,000 species of mold on Earth. So, even if you live in an urban environment and/or clean your home meticulously, errant spores can (and often do) still get in. Whether they waft in through open windows and doors, hitch a ride on clothing, or even cling to your personal belongings, these little microorganisms are nothing if not tenacious. Fortunately, most species of mold are harmless to humans, especially when they’re present only in small amounts.
So, a DIY mold testing kit may very well produce a colorful petri dish full of grime after spending a few hours in a residential bathroom. Bathrooms, after all, are notorious for harboring mold colonies due to the fact that their relative humidity is pretty high. However, just because there are mold spores in your bathroom doesn’t necessarily mean that you should declare the room a “biohazard” and start ripping out your shower tiles.
Furthermore, while these tests can show you that there is, in fact, mold in your house, they can’t provide reliable information about how much mold is present in a given area. Again, it’s the concentration of mold in a given area (or a person’s body) that typically makes the difference between “harmless” and “harmful.”
Generic tests aren’t always reliable
Though DIY kits are designed to be user-friendly, they’re definitely not “goof proof.” It’s surprisingly easy to get a false positive or a false negative from your kit due to user error (e.g., not following the directions for proper sample collection or incubation), damaged/contaminated hardware, or simply poor-quality manufacturing.
False positives can be a real pain to deal with, as they sometimes drive homeowners to attempt to eradicate a mold problem that doesn’t really exist. Imagine pulling up the carpet in your basement and deep-cleaning the subfloor to try to get rid of mold, only to have your child admit that they “might” have touched the collection dish after playing outside or eating string cheese! Worse, though, is the possibility of a false negative.
Mycotoxins produced by certain strains of mold can cause a veritable laundry list of sicknesses in humans, including (but not limited to) gastrointestinal distress, joint pain, chronic allergy symptoms, and cognitive dysfunction. Homeowners who think that they’ve “ruled out” mold as the cause of their (and their family’s) ill health likely won’t receive proper treatment until they’ve suffered needlessly for an extended period. And because mold issues nearly always get worse with time, not seeing the problem quickly can allow a minor mold patch turn into a full-blown infestation.
Generic tests can’t give you expert advice
When you learn that you have dangerous mold in your house, it’s normal to ask, “Now what?” If you went with a generic test, though, you’ll probably be completely on your own when it comes to answering that question. A generic test may tell you that you have mold, and if you pay extra for lab analysis, it may even be able to tell you what kind of mold or mycotoxins you’ve been exposed to. But that’s it.
An environmental inspector or remediator won’t just confirm the presence of mycotoxins in a domicile and then go on to their next job. A specialist will want to find the source of the problem, whether it’s a dripping shower pan or a leaky roof. They’ll work with a professional testing lab to identify the specific type of mold that you’re dealing with and notify you of potential health risks as par-the-course, as opposed to considering it an additional service. And they’ll be able to remove the mold—either in-house or with a professional third-party service—to help ensure that it never comes back. In short, professionals see the job through from start to finish!
We’re not saying that generic mold tests are “dangerous.” We are, however, saying that they’re not of the same quality as the specialized test preferred by mold professionals. The EMMA test, for example, can identify 15 different types of dangerous mycotoxins and 10 different toxigenic molds—substantially more than the average DIY kit! That $20 setup from the hardware store might seem like a good deal, but as the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” And while that generic kit might save you money in the short-term, you may be setting yourself—and your family—up for more costly problems down the road.