Using Mold Plates (The Right Way) to Monitor Indoor Fungal Load and Protect Your Health
On my blog Mold Free Living, I often share how I use inexpensive mold plates to test the air and different pieces of furniture and belongings in our home for mold. I use these plates to keep a constant eye on mold levels and to make sure our exposure is not increasing. I always like to rule environmental mold out as the cause for any inflammatory symptoms or autoimmune flares (I acquired ulcerative colitis during my battle with mold toxicity) that I may experience. There is always a strong correlation for me with my health status and the fungal load in our home now that my body has become sensitized to mold. My threshold for all environmental toxins is much lower and even a little mold exposure can be a LOT for my body if you know what I mean.
What is Fungal Load and Why Should You Care?
“Fungal load” is a term that I got from Dr. Dennis and is used when he is discussing fungal infestation in a patient and his/her environment. Allowed to go unchecked in the body or environment, fungi can and usually do replicate–make copies of themselves–which causes the overall amount of fungi or fungal load to increase. That is why keeping the fungal load low in your home can help you to maintain your health. Counting the mold colonies that form on a mold plate after testing the air or after testing clothing or belongings does just that–measures, in a rudimentary but straightforward way, the immediate fungal load at that point in time.
After treating thousands of patients with allergic fungal sinusitis, Dr. Dennis began testing their clothing and nasal cavities for fungus in his office. He found that the high levels of mold spores on their clothing were directly related to the species of mold also found to be inflaming and causing infection (chronic infection for many) in their sinus cavities. Further, when he sent those same patients home with mold test plates to also test the air in their homes, they found high indoor mold counts or a high fungal load in the rooms in their homes where they spent the most time. It was a correlation (high environmental mold equals increased instance of chronic sinusitis) confirmed by more in-depth environmental and mycotoxin testing, but an undeniable correlation nonetheless, and one that he was able to chart and track overtime clinically to come up with some pretty solid guidelines for his patients as far as mold plate testing is concerned. It is Dr. Dennis’s guidelines from which I base my own baselines when I monitor my home today. (Keeping the mold counts in the air and on belongings at 0-4 colonies is ideal for continued health and recovery.)
Why Test at All With Mold Plates?
Let’s not beat around the bush–mold plate testing is definitely not the beat-all-end-all diagnostic for an indoor mold problem; gravity test plates should not be “the tool of choice” or used as the only gauge for whether a home has a mold problem or is “safe” or not. They are just an easily accessible, inexpensive option for someone wanting–
1.) To see IF their home and/or belongings have elevated levels of mold,
2.) To see WHERE or in what areas or rooms those elevated levels of mold might be, or
3.) To obtain a fungal load baseline so that a mold-sensitive person can monitor their environment.
I use mold plates for #3, and they work well for that purpose at a price that doesn’t break the bank. Then, if I suspect a larger problem, or see trends of an elevated fungal load in the air or on our belongings that do not decrease with normal cleaning and mold maintenance, I can do mycotoxin testing or can call an indoor environmental professional to help me diagnose and solve the problem before it gets out of control and/or wrecks my health.
How to Properly Use Mold Plates
In order to help you understand the most effective ways to use the mold plates for screening your air and belongings, I thought I would share a very simple “how-to” on how I use them in my home. I will walk you through using the mold plates to test your air and to TAP test your things. I will also share links to further testing methods like mycotoxin and ERMI test kits and professional inspection resources that can be used to find out your potential exposure risk in your current environment to the more toxic and water-damage indicating molds.
Using Mold Plates for Air and TAP Testing
I have found that in order to stay well, I need to keep mold plate counts at 0-4 colonies per plate with a 1-hour plate exposure for air testing and 0-4 colonies per plate for any TAP test performed on my belongings/clothing/furnishings. This is key for me and my body. Unless my indoor environments are kept at this level, nothing else works long term for me. I must breathe clean air in order to get well and to stay well. Period. You could definitely be different, but, if you are mold sensitive, you are likely going to need to keep things at a similar level.
(Note: To obtain the most accurate information possible, you will also need to record the humidity in each area tested. If the humidity is higher than 50%, any ambient mold spores that are inside your home have the level of moisture needed to land and proliferate. This is also why cleaning with mold-specific products, keeping dust to a minimum, and HEPA vacuuming are so important to maintaining your home and your health.)
Performing a 1-Hour Air Test:
Preparation: I like to refrigerate my mold plates upon receipt and use them as soon as possible. Pay special attention to the expiration dates and do not use expired plates to test. Do not open the mold plates until you are ready to use them. Keep windows closed for six hours prior to testing.
Do what you normally do. For example, do not turn on the air conditioning unless that is part of your normal activity. However, DO place the central fan on the heating and air conditioning system in the “on” position. Do not sweep or vacuum just before the test since this activity can increase the number of mold spores that are in the air. Children and pets can continue to be in the areas being tested, but do NOT allow them to touch the materials. The main thing is to ACT NORMALLY. Select an area to place the mold plate that is at least 3 feet from a wall. Use a humidity gauge to test the humidity in each area. If humidity is really high (60% or above), you will need to disturb the air in the room a bit to get mold spores to become airborne. High humidity will cause them to stay on top of surfaces.
Suggested Areas for Sampling: Locate the area or areas that you wish to test. If specific areas cause sneezing and coughing, or noticeable symptoms, they should be included. At a minimum, please be sure that at least one mold plate is placed in each of the following areas:
■ Attic ■ Basement ■ Master Bedroom ■ Den/Great Room ■ Car ■ Kitchen ■ Child’s Bedroom ■ Office (home & work) ■ Other active rooms – In large homes, place 2 plates in the basement & attic
It is not necessary to place mold plates in rooms that are not used. It is necessary to place plates in rooms that have odors–musty especially, if symptoms occur in that room, or if there is a history of water damage in that room. Do not place any mold plate in direct sunlight.
Directions for Air Testing:
1. Carefully unwrap the materials. Do not touch the inside of the test plates.
2. Place the plate on a tissue or paper towel in the room you wish to test. The top should be up and is the larger side of the test plate.
3. Lift the top straight up. Place the top on the tissue with the inside surface down. Do not turn the top upside down.
4. Allow the plate to sit open for one hour.
5. Put the top back on the plate. Tape the top closed.
6. Write the name of the room, the humidity level, and the date on the bottom of the plate with a permanent marker that writes on plastic. Use descriptions like attic front, attic back, master bedroom, downstairs playroom, crawl space, etc., so the results can be easily tied back to the correct areas of your house.
7. Wrap everything in aluminum foil. Several plates can be wrapped together.
8. Place wrapped plates in a warm, dark spot, such as a kitchen drawer for 4 days. (Note: My 4-day incubation period guideline may be shorter than what is advised with some test plates. I find 4 days to be the ideal time for allowing the mold colonies to grow.)
9. On the 4th day, unwrap but do NOT open the plates. Count the circular colonies present on each plate. Each circle represents a mold colony. You ideally want to have fewer than 4 on each plate. Here are some examples of mold tests I have done recently in our home with acceptable results:
Here is an example of a TAP test plate with unacceptable results due to some contaminated carpet in a bedroom that needed to be removed:
But, this is also the reason why you test the air AND TAP test–which I will explain in a minute. Because if just the air in this room had been tested, the mold counts would have likely been higher, but by ALSO TAP testing the carpet, the homeowner knew WHY and then could know WHAT to remove or fix to make the home healthier.
Directions for TAP Testing:
You will tap certain items, by opening the test plate and tapping the item with the media surface pointed down towards the item you are tapping.
The following items should be tapped for the clearest picture of fungal load:
■ Mattresses and Pillows ■ Carpet or Rugs that have frequent traffic ■ Clothes in your closet that you wear and wash frequently ■ Furniture that you sit in the most in your home ■ Pets ■ Desk or work table or area ■
Once complete you will follow the instructions above #’s 5 through 9. Make sure to label each plate accurately for the item tested. Again, the goal for mold-sensitive folks is to achieve test plates that only grow 4 colonies of mold per item in four days incubation time.
If you perform this type of testing and find that your indoor fungal load is elevated and feel that you have not pinpointed a reason, unlike the carpet example I shared above, I always suggest doing some deep cleaning, humidity control, and increased air filtration/purification. If a home does not have water damage or intrusion, this can sometimes be enough. If levels continue to increase despite cleaning and mold maintenance interventions, you will need to contact a qualified indoor environmental inspector (good resources are the American Industrial Hygiene Association, the ACAC, and the IICRC websites) or a certified Building Biologist to help you get to the root of the issue. You can also choose to go deeper with diagnostic testing like the ERMI, EMMA, or Mycotoxin testing. I do recommend contacting a professional first, though, to assist you in devising a testing strategy so that you not only come up with test results but also with a strategic game plan of how to fix the underlying issues causing the elevated mold growth and indoor fungal load and a clear, effective remediation strategy for your indoor air and belongings once those fixes are complete.
This is great information. I wanted to purchase some items as a first time buyer, is there a promo/coupon code for jan 2021?
For January, our promotion is the EC3 Environmental Kit. There is no coupon code required. It includes the test plates, a candle 3 pack, Mold Spray, and the Laundry Additive. The kit is priced at $99 and includes free shipping for any US order. Purchased separately, those items would total $115.
This is great and very helpful! I have heard of using small “moisture meters” around the home…I’m assuming under sinks, and such, but would this be similar to a humidity measuring device? What do you suggest for measuring humidity?
Thanks again for the great article!
You will need to buy a hygrometer. They are relatively inexpensive and can be found on Amazon or Lowe’s or Home Depot.
Thank you for the article.
I have been using the mold plates for 2 years and have developed other sampling techniques, used by mold some remediation specialists.
I would call call this the “stress test”. Basically run a household fan in the room being tested, point it in all directions for just a few seconds to stir things up. Wait a minute, then set the plates out as you described. This will give you a clear indication of presence/absence of mold species in the environment. I have found many molds to be too heavy to show up on the mold plates without a little help. Using the same method everywhere, you soon develop your own “standard” and can easily identify areas in the home with “more” mold spores/species.
I love this!!! We are a team of mold scientists. Thank you so much for sharing. It is wonderful to learn the ins and outs of your environment so that you can hone testing and cleaning to make things better. Take care!
Well explained. I will. Start doing this on a regular basis. I got mold poisoning while in Florida and had been quite sick. I was a snow bird. We live in northern Michigan, but it seems like something you still bothering me only home. Again thanks for the awesome information.
Definitely test–even using the plates for that can shed light on if something is present. Make sure to test both the air and rug or carpets in any rooms where you spend time. Additonally–if you are using your heat right now, leave it on for the testing. You want to see what is blowing into the home from the mechanical systems. Chances are, if you notice you are being bothered by something indoors, you are. :-)
i live in a condo and have mold problems. you can see the mold an the ceiling where the condo had a roof drain leak and they refuse to repair the mold stains that show on the ceiling. my sinuses run 24 hrs. daily and i can’t get any help from the city, county and the state. any ideas i’m suffering
Do you own or rent the condo? If it is owned by you, you may have to handle the repair personally. If you see mold, that is definitely a problem. The area needs to be contained, the ceiling needs to be repaired and remediated, and anything in the room with the mold also needs to be properly cleaned and treated. I would also test rooms in the rest of the condo to see if the spores have migrated to see how in depth cleaning needs to be. In the meantime, are you able to close the room with the mold off from the rest of your condo? I would try not to be in the space and try as much as possible to separate it from your living space.