How Do I Know What Items I Can Keep After a Mold Issue?

Dec 12, 2019

“I see mold in my house and I am worried all my belongings are contaminated. Do I need to throw everything out?” We receive questions like this a lot; this blog intends to help determine what situations call for what kind of actions. When people have mold and moisture issues they typically turn to the internet, which can be a dark place full of straight-up bad information. It can be very difficult for the general public to know what information is good advice and what is nonsense. Not to mention the stories about unscrupulous mold remediation companies that come in and tell families that all their belongings need to go and charge them a large disposal fee — only to clean the items up to resell or even keep. In this blog I will discuss the general background about what to do about the items in a mold-damaged home.

The Industry Standard
For mold professionals, the most widely referenced material in the industry is ANSI/IICRC S520 Standard and IICRC R520 Reference Guide for Professional Mold Remediation. These documents have procedures and action plans for almost any situation. S520 has procedures for both building materials as well as contents and splits materials into three main groups: porous, semiporous, and nonporous. Another important factor in what can be restored vs. what needs to be disposed of is the condition of the materials. S520 separates materials into three different categories: Condition 1, Condition 2, and Condition 3. Condition 1 is described as “normal fungal ecology”, meaning that the surface may have small amounts of settled fungal particles from the ambient air. Condition 2 are materials contaminated with settled fungal particles that are reflective of a Condition 3 surface, and may have small traces of fungal growth. Condition 3 materials are ones that have active fungal growth, either active or dormant.

What to do with Contents
The focus of this blog is about the contents in the home, not the building materials, but the same rules apply. Determining items’ condition and porosity is key in determining what needs to be done to restore them. Condition 1 materials do not need any cleaning and are able to be left in place. Most Condition 2 materials can be cleaned or washed, depending on the specific materials and the experience of the restoration workers. Condition 3 materials are where things get tricky. In general, porous and semiporous items that are Condition 3 should be disposed of. However, some items may hold significant value to the owner –whether it be monetary, sentimental, or cultural. For example, if your basement floods and mold starts to grow on your grandmother’s wedding dress, this would be a porous item that is Condition 3, which by the book would be disposed. Since this is a valuable family heirloom, experienced restoration companies can perform advanced restoration and preservation techniques to, hopefully, save the dress. The key here is experienced; not every remediation company has the experience and the equipment to perform these techniques.

Common Examples
What about a couch that has been stored in a moldy basement? First, it is important to determine if mold is actually growing on the couch. If so, then it would be considered porous and Condition 3, and therefore should be discarded. What if there are no visible signs of mold growth, but the couch has a strong musty odor? Here is a rough guide: if airing it outside for a day doesn’t remove the musty odor, there is a possibility that mold has grown inside the item and it should be discarded. But what if the couch neither has visible mold growth nor has a musty smell? By being in close proximity to mold growth, you should consider the couch as being Condition 2 and clean off the dust. Cleaning might be done with a HEPA vacuum indoors or with a normal vacuum (and/or hitting with a tennis racquet) outside.

Another common question we receive is what to do with clothes stored in an area that had mold growth. The same rules apply to the couch above, except cleaning of Condition 1 or 2 items can be done by putting it through a normal wash cycle.

Finding the Right Remediator
When searching for a mold remediation company, one of the first things would be to determine if they follow S520, and if not what reference documents they do use to train and guide their workers. There is an artform in knowing what materials can be restored, preserved or need to be disposed of, and hiring an experienced restoration company is key. Indoor Science can perform an inspection and test items to determine if they are Condition 1, Condition 2, or Condition 3.