Homeowners who are concerned about potential mold problems in their home have a number of options as to how they can respond. One of the most popular things to do today when you have a problem is to immediately go online, learn what you can, and see if there is a product you can easily buy from your favorite online commerce site to help. This pattern holds true with mold problems just as well as with anything else. The demand for DIY home mold test kits has been soaring, and interest in the subject continues to increase.
As a result of these trends, you can find a number of popular DIY home mold test kits available in a range of different prices, with different features, and so on. Some of these are naturally going to be better than others. While no DIY kit can replace a professional mold inspection, they can be a useful first step in identifying a potential problem. Of course, you need to make sure you’re buying a reputable, reliable test kit – or you are really just throwing your money away!
To that end, we thought it would be useful to put together a buying guide and some recommendations on the top 3 DIY home mold test kits available today. Before we get into the products themselves, it’s helpful to go over a brief refresher in the basics of mold – how it forms, why it’s a problem, and some of the things homeowners can do to reduce or prevent mold from becoming a problem in the first place. We’ll also touch on professional mold inspections and remediation, and the limitations of a home mold test kit, before discussing what to look for when buying a test kit, and then getting into a couple of helpful reviews of top models available today. So let’s get started!
How Mold Forms in the Home
As we’ve covered elsewhere in greater depth on this site, mold requires a few key ingredients to take up residence in your home. Mold spores are in the air all around us, inside and outside, but that doesn’t mean they will settle down and create colonies. Only when they are in an area of minimal airflow (so they aren’t disturbed), land on potential food sources (wood and other cellulose-based materials), in the presence of high humidity (>50%) in the air or liquid water, with temperatures in the 70 to 80 degree range, will they put down roots and start to spread.
The most common situations where this occurs is when there is water damage to home furnishings or structural materials, such as floors, drywall, ceilings, walls, carpeting, underpadding, and similar. Alternatively, areas that have a higher humidity, remain mostly undisturbed, with limited air flow may be the site of mold outbreaks in the home. These can include basements, crawlspaces, attics, cabinets, behind walls, drawers, and similar locations.
Once mold starts to grow, it produces more spores, which in turn create more mold, in a never-ending cycle. This means that mold growing in a home, even if starts out as a small problem, can rapidly become a very big problem. But what exactly is the problem with mold, anyway?
The Problems with Mold
There are several problems that mold can present for those living in a home or working in an office that is infested with mold growth. Some of the less concerning include foul odors and aesthetic damage to surfaces, walls, and so on. Most of the problems, however, are far more severe.
First, though tiny, mold growing on surfaces is actually feeding on the underlying substrate material. Like any organism, they need food and nutrients to grow, and they get it from the building materials they colonize – pretty much anything that is cellulose (plant material) or cellulose-based, as well as some synthetics. Over time, this can damage the materials, and even compromise their structural integrity.
Far more pressing, however, are the health effects of mold. There are a wide range of different mold species, and while some are relatively innocuous, others can cause significant health effects. Allergic reactions, increased breathing or sinus problems, hives or skin reactions, and similar are most common. Some types of molds give off what are known as mycotoxins – toxic byproducts of their feeding process. These can cause still further health effects, and have been implicated in a number of deaths (most often from respiratory symptoms) over the years.
The health consequences of mold are one of the primary reasons why any mold growth in a home should be detected, identified, and remediated appropriately as soon as possible.
Steps You Can Take to Reduce or Prevent Mold
One of the best ways to deal with mold is to reduce the likelihood of it taking hold in your home – effectively mitigating or preventing mold from forming colonies, reproducing, and spreading. That can be accomplished in a number of ways, many of which are simply slight changes to habits, routines, or precautions that cost very little. Some examples of the steps you can take include:
- Ensuring the air in your home is maintained at an appropriate humidity level of 30-40%. Levels above 50% will promote mold growth. A portable dehumidifier, and/or one built into your HVAC system, can help manage the overall humidity level in the home. There are also numerous devices available (including many multi-function thermometers) that measure humidity at the point where they are placed, which can serve to help you monitor humidity in various areas of your home.
- Don’t allow standing water to develop. Drips and drops from leaky pipes, malfunctioning appliances, carelessness in the bathtub or shower, and so on can be a huge factor in mold growth. Clean up spills, deal with leaks or malfunctions, and so on in a timely manner, as soon as they are spotted. This will help to prevent liquid water from seeping into hidden areas that may become a haven for mold, and also help prevent excess humidity from getting into the air inside your home.
- Open windows and use fans periodically. Good ventilation and fresh air can help balance the humidity in a home, as well as disrupt mold spores from taking hold. They prefer areas of minimal air circulation. If you have areas of your home that are prone to being more humid or stagnant, such as a basement or attic, periodically use a portable fan or open the windows to air things out.
- Be vigilant and keep an eye out for any discoloration of mold growth on walls, floors, ceilings, and home furnishings. While much mold can grow in areas that you can’t see during your day-to-day life, the mold you do see should be dealt with right away – it only spreads over time and won’t get better on its own.
- If you suffer significant water damage from a natural disaster, storm, plumbing problem, or similar, then you should be sure to properly dry out and remediate your home – otherwise, you are practically begging mold to set up shop.
- Make sure your home heating and air conditioning system is in good working order, and have it maintained regularly. This is the primary form of air filtration and circulation in most homes, and having it working properly is key to managing the particulates in the air, and moving sufficient air around the home, to minimize the chances for mold to find an ideal location to establish itself.
- Clean surfaces in the home with appropriate cleaners or disinfectants periodically. While you can’t wash or clean everything, reducing or eliminating any mold that may have taken hold, on a microscopic and not yet visible level, can help prevent bigger colonies from forming. Tile or wood floors, home fixtures and appliances, flooring trim, and so on should be cleaned regularly.
Even if you take these steps, however, it is no guarantee that all mold problems will be prevented. Mold growth situations can occur in even the most clean, well-managed, ventilated homes through any combination of factors and events. If you do develop a mold situation in your home, you may choose to seek out professional inspection and remediation service right away, or take an interim step of using a DIY mold test. As the latter forms the balance of our article, let’s first take a look at what professional inspection services and remediation companies offer.
Professional Inspections and Remediation
Professional inspection services use advanced technology and expertise to determine the extent of a mold growth problem in your home. They will look at causative factors and offer solutions to prevent additional growth. Most will typically take readings of humidity, temperature, and other metrics within different areas of the home. They will also take swabs of visible mold and perform laboratory testing to determine the type of mold present. This can be important for determining the urgency and scope of remediation efforts.
Remediation firms will go in and develop a remediation plan with the homeowner. Depending on the type of mold and extent of the problem, this can be anything from a professional cleaning to removing drywall or flooring and replacing it. As with most home problems, the extent of remediation efforts tends to be higher (with a correspondingly higher cost) the longer a mold growth problem goes unchecked.
DIY Mold Test Buying Guide
Many homeowners may not want to jump right to a professional inspection at the first sign of mold. While professional inspections provide the most detailed information and advice, and are generally not that expensive, they are still more costly than off-the-shelf DIY mold tests (as is the case with any service call). Therefore, many consumers may choose to buy a DIY home mold test kit first to identify what kind of mold is present, or determine if it even is mold.
Depending on the type of kit purchased, and the details associated with it, it can take as little as 48 hours, or as long as several weeks to get the results. Therefore, depending on the suspected extent of your problem, it might be worthwhile to skip this stage and move immediately to a professional mold inspection in some cases. If you do choose to go the DIY home mold test kit route, then there are a few factors you’ll want to consider in picking a brand and type of test kit.
- Reviews and Rating Score
- How have other customers rated the product? What is the product’s reputation and the level of success that customers have had using the product?
- Brand Reputation
- Is the product from an established, reputable brand? What can you find out online about the brand and its reputation?
- Test Types
- There are several different types of mold test kits out there. Some are designed for indoor air quality, outdoor air quality, or other air-based testing. For the purposes of most home mold problems, you’ll want to find kits that allow material and surface testing, rather than air testing. Other test types can include HVAC-oriented kits (for vents) or more specific types of tests for certain material types.
- True DIY vs. Lab Testing
- One of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make surrounding DIY home mold test kits is whether or not you want a kit that you can use entirely on your own, or one which requires you to send off samples for lab testing. The former is obviously faster, though provides far less meaningful information. The latter can take longer, due to transit and testing times, but also provides much more useful information to guide remediation or cleanup efforts. It also typically comes with a significantly higher cost. Some kits include this in their price, whereas others offer it as a separate, add-on service not reflected in the purchase price of the kit.
- Quantity of Tests
- Of course, the number of tests inside a test kit will have a big impact on the price and usability of the test. Some only include a single test swab system, whereas others have multiple types of tests, or multiple units of each test included.
- Your Goals
- One of the biggest factors to consider is your goals for the test. Are you trying to determine what kind of mold might be present, or just confirm the presence of mold? Do you need results right away, or are you comfortable waiting for a few weeks for lab results? The purpose for your testing, and what you hope to achieve with the test results, should guide your decisions as to the type of test, quantity, and other factors to consider, and thus what test kit to buy.
- Like any purchase, the price is going to come into play in your purchasing decision as well. DIY home mold test kits can be as cheap as a few dollars, or as expensive as $100 or more. It all depends on what they offer, whether or not lab testing is involved, and the other factors discussed above. Just remember, as they get more expensive, you’re getting that much closer to spending as much as a professional mold inspection would likely cost. If you are fairly sure you have mold, and are considering spending this much on a test kit, it might be more economically viable (and potentially much faster) to get a professional mold inspection and skip the DIY mold test kit stage of things.
With all of those factors in mind, we’ve put together a list of the top 3 DIY home mold test kits currently available on Amazon today. Below, we highlight these three tests, each of which we’ve crowned as a winner within a certain category of products (e.g. most affordable).
You can click on any of the product names to get taken to the Amazon page for that product, and find out more about it. However, we’ve also provided our review, highlighting where it excels, where it may be deficient, and our thoughts on the product. Hopefully, this will serve as a good jumping-off point for you to choose your own path when it comes to DIY home mold test kits.
Lowest Priced/Most Affordable
- Rating: 3.6/5 Stars on Amazon
- Ideal For: Confirming Mold is Present Quickly and Cheaply
- Test Types: 3 (Air, HVAC, Surface)
- Test Units: 1
- Lab Testing: Optional
- Lab AIHA Certified: No
- Testing Cost: Additional $40
- Shipping Cost: Not Included
- Lab Results: Within 3 Weeks, 10-14 Days for Most Customers
- Contents: 1 Petri Dish, 1 Sterile Swab, 1 Bottle of Mold Growth Medium (Potato Dextrose)
- MSRP: $12.99
The Mold Armor FG500 DIY Mold Test Kit is a barebones, entry-level offering, with the lowest price of the 3 kits on our list. This kit offers a single test, though is suitable for three types of tests – airborne, HVAC, and surface mold. It can be used to detect the presence of mold in these three situations, without the need for lab testing. Essentially, it is a petri dish, swab, and growth medium. Instructions for use are included on the package. In 48 to 96 hours, if mold colonies are growing on the dish after you’ve swabbed per the instructions, then you have mold present and should consider the next steps. For $40 more, you can get a lab analysis of the mold, which takes about 10-14 days in most cases.
While this kit is useful for detecting the presence of mold, and very affordable for that purpose, that’s about it. You need to pay for additional lab testing in order to learn more, and frankly there are other kits that are better suited for that purpose. You can also contaminate the petri dish fairly easily and may end up growing more than just mold from a surface in the home. Effectively, this is the most error prone and least informative, but can serve a useful purpose as a “yes/no” test for the presence of mold when used properly. The limitations of the kit are reflected in its substantially lower pricing than other kits.
Mid-Range Test Kit
- Rating: 4.5/5 Stars on Amazon
- Ideal For: Affordable Lab Testing of Surface Mold Samples
- Test Types: 1 (Surface)
- Test Units: 3
- Lab Testing: Required, Free Consultation with Results
- Lab AIHA Certified: No
- Testing Cost: Included in Price Except in Texas (Add $24 Fee)
- Shipping Cost: Not Included
- Lab Results: Time Not Stated, Most Customers Within 14 Days
- Contents: 3 Tape-Lift Surface Testing Units, Instructions, Mold Inspection Booklet
- MSRP: $49.99
This test kit is a good middle-of-the-road choice. It’s only focused on surface mold testing (rather than airborne mold testing), which is really the main practical concern for most people so this is not really a limitation. The kit includes 3 test units, that use a tape-lifting method of sampling (as opposed to swabbing). This is a fairly common approach and can be reliable in providing sufficient sampling for laboratory identification of surface molds.
The lab testing is included in the price of this kit for all 3 units, except in the state of Texas (for a regulatory reason). Residents of Texas must add $24 to the cost to obtain testing. Lab results include a written report and free consultation with an expert over the phone. The product tests for all types of mold, whereas many others may only look for a few key types or genuses of mold. Effectively, this is a good option if you’re not ready for a professional inspection, but want to know more than simply whether or not that black or green stuff on the wall is mold.
Most Detailed, All-Inclusive Kit
- Rating: 4.3/5 Stars on Amazon
- Ideal For: All-Inclusive (No Extra Fee) Lab Testing of Surface Mold Samples
- Test Types: 2 (Surface and Bulk Material)
- Test Units: 3-6 (3 Pre-Paid for Lab Testing)
- Lab Testing: Required
- Lab AIHA Certified: Yes
- Testing Cost: Included in Price
- Shipping Cost: Included in Price
- Lab Results: 5-7 Business Days After Receipt, 10-14 Days Total for Most Customers
- Contents: 6 Plastic Collection Trays, 4 Plastic Bags, 1 Tape Pad, Instructions, Testing Guide, Shipping Instructions, Pre-Paid Shipping Label and Return Mailer
- MSRP: $79.99
The most detailed, all-inclusive kit currently available, the Health Metric DIY Mold Test Kit for Home allows for both surface testing via a tape-lift method, as well as bulk material sampling (which can look at more than just the surface). It is also the only test we’ve featured here that uses an AIHA-accredited lab, the highest standard for mold testing, which provides a higher degree of certainty in the results. There are no added or hidden fees, either – everything is included in the purchase price, including shipping and lab testing.
You can choose to take surface samples, or include bulk samples of material (such as a small piece of drywall) for testing, which provides far more range than other tape-lift only or swab-based test kits. Lab results include a helpful report that lists the types of mold, and the severity from the sample – none detected, minor, moderate, or heavy. Technically, you can even take 6 samples with this kit given all the materials included – 3 surface and 3 bulk – though lab testing costs are only included for 3 tests. Still, in terms of overall cost, quality, and what’s included, the Health Metric test is definitely worth the price.