The Dreaded Black Mold: Is It Affecting Your Household?

updated Jul 11, 2022
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No one wants to have to deal with dangers like black mold, asbestos or radon in their home, regardless of whether they rent or own their home. But it is something that can happen from time to time, and it doesn’t discriminate: black mold can occur in new homes and old homes alike, so it’s important to know how to deal with it. In this article, we’ll equip you with the knowledge you need if you discover you have black mold in your home: how to spot it, how to get rid of it, and what to do if you fear you’ve been exposed to it. 

Black Mold: What is It?

Stachybotrys chartarum, commonly known as “black mold,” is a mold that’s often black in color (but it can be green-ish or gray as well) and can grow in homes in humid or damp areas. Black mold can grow indoors, on damp surfaces like wallpaper, carpet, or insulation, says Marc Devisse, President of Tri-Town Construction, LLC.

As the mold proliferates, it can release toxic substances that cause health problems. The CDC explains it this way: “The term ‘toxic mold’ is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous.”

However, though the release of mycotoxins does not always occur, the possibility that it can is reason enough to take care of any mold problem (black or not) right away.

Identifying Black Mold

It’d be one thing if black mold only grew in places you could see. But sadly, that isn’t the case. “Mold problems can often occur under carpets, behind walls and even in insulation,” says Devisse. “These difficult-to-spot places often give themselves away by the way they smell. You might notice a musty, earthy smell,” Devisse says. 

When it comes to black mold that you can see, look for visible signs of mold growth, Devisse says. “Look for any dark or fuzzy patches on walls, ceilings, or floors. If you see mold, you can try to scrape it off with a spoon or butter knife. If the mold comes off easily, it is likely that it is not black mold. However, if the mold is difficult to remove or leaves a dark stain, it is likely that you have black mold.” The spots may be small or large, and are often clustered together in one spot, which indicates where moisture has likely gathered over time.  

Testing for Black Mold

You can have your mold tested to find out exactly what kind it is. Cost varies, but you can expect to pay hundreds of dollars to determine the type of mold. Below are a few effective methods for how to test for black mold. 

  • Use a moisture meter. Moisture meters are available at most hardware stores and can be used to test the level of moisture in your home. High levels of moisture can indicate the presence of black mold. 
  • Buy a black mold test kit. There are also black mold testing kits, available at the hardware store or on Amazon, that you can purchase for around $35-50. With this DIY route, you take samples from a suspected affected surface, then send off to be tested in a lab.
  • Use a black light. Black lights emit ultraviolet light, which will make black mold fluoresce. If you see any areas that fluoresce under a black light, you may have black mold, says Devisse.
  • Call a professional. A professional mold remediation specialist will be able to tell you for sure whether you have black mold in your home, along with where it exists and how extensive the issue is. 

Black Mold Exposure Symptoms

Symptoms of exposure to black mold are similar to symptoms that can occur with exposure to many types of mold. Below, Devisse shares with Apartment Therapy some of the most common symptoms of black mold exposure. 

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy eyes
  • Irritated throat and nasal passages. Exposure to black mold has also been reported to cause chronic fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Those with allergies to mold are of course more likely to be affected by mold exposure.

Although it’s not usually harmful to healthy adults, black mold can be dangerous for infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems, says Devisse. “Some people may also be allergic to black mold. In severe cases, black mold exposure can lead to memory loss, organ damage, and even death.” Black mold exposure may cause asthma in children who live in an infested environment, and can cause pneumonia in older, susceptible individuals. Fungal infections can also occur upon exposure to mold.

Cleaning Black Mold

Black mold, as well as any other mold that you find growing in your home, should be cleaned immediately to cut down on exposure as much as possible. Here are the steps you’ll follow to get rid of black mold in your home, according to Devisse.

  1. “First, you’ll need to use a biocide that’s specifically designed to kill mold,” he says. There are a number of products you could use, and bleach (1 cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water per CDC guidelines) works well also. 
  2. Second, you’ll need to wear personal protective equipment, such as a mask and gloves, to avoid exposure to mold spores. Open windows for extra ventilation.
  3. Finally, you’ll need to be very thorough in your cleaning in order to make sure all the mold is gone. 

Black Mold Removal

Any porous material that has become moldy should be thrown away. This includes ceiling tiles, drywall, and carpet. In cases of extensive mold damage, professional mold remediation specialists should be called in to do the job. Even dead mold can cause health problems, so the affected area needs to be thoroughly cleaned and dried.

To ensure that the mold doesn’t re-grow, the source of the dampness or moisture must be addressed. This means locating and fixing any leaks or broken pipes that are causing the situation, before replacing other material and furnishings.

The bottom line is that though “toxic black mold” is a buzz phrase we’ve all heard and fear, black mold is not necessarily more dangerous than other molds. Any mold growth in the home can be potentially dangerous and should be addressed swiftly and thoroughly.

Additional reporting by Christin Perry.