Evaluating what to save from a mold-contaminated structure: What to save and what not to save is the question we must agonize over after we find out all of our worldly possessions have been sitting inside a mold-contaminated structure filled with mycotoxins. Sometimes these buildings are homes we personally own but other times they are rental units that will ultimately be someone else’s responsibility to clean up. Either way, we still face the same dilemma—can our personal belongings be salvaged?
People often weed through their belongings, cleaning anything they think is remotely salvageable and tossing the worse. Each item must be individually evaluated. The following is a list of questions to help determine which items may be more salvageable and which ones may be best to just discard:
1. How old are the personal belongings? Mold will take hold in older material more quickly. Threads in fabrics become barer with age making fabrics in clothes and furniture more susceptible to mold growth. Varnishes become worn, thin, and cracked with age making even the surface of wood furniture a viable substrate for mold.
2. What material is the furniture made of, for example, fabric, wood, metal, glass, or leather? Some materials are more salvageable than others. Some materials are more problematic for mold growth than others. Fabric and wood items run the highest risk of mold and mycotoxin contamination. Metal and glass can often be cleaned and salvaged. The surface of leather furniture will likely be cleanable, but whether mold is growing inside the item is more difficult to tell. Keep in mind that in an extremely toxic environment, even glass can become contaminated by absorbing toxins. If you would like an example of the absorbability of glass, just try to clean the smell out of a pickle jar. It doesn’t work.
3. How long has the furniture been in the mold-contaminated structure? Obviously, the shorter the duration of exposure, the higher the likelihood the furniture may be salvageable.
4. What levels of airborne mold spores were present in the structure? As the levels of airborne mold spores rise, so does the likelihood of mold infestation and mycotoxin contamination of personal belongings. When mold spores become buoyant with air currents, they travel throughout the structure and get dispersed via the HVAC system. The toxigenic mold spores and fragments will contain mycotoxins, which can also contaminate personal belongings.
5. Was the entire structure contaminated or just one portion of the building? If the water damage and structural mold was contained to only one area of the structure, then the personal belongings in other areas of the home may not have become as contaminated as the personal belongings located in the same room as the active mold growth.
6. Trying to save paper items is a losing battle. It is best to throw away what is not needed, scan what must be retained for records sake or sentimental reasons.
We must weigh the answers to all of these questions and make the best decision we can for each piece of personal property. For example, if you have a room of new furniture made of leather, glass and metal located on the opposite side of the house where light to medium mold infestation occurred but was remediated relatively quickly, we might reasonably expect to be able to clean and salvage some or most of the furniture. However, if older furniture was in the room where the water leak originated and there were high levels of visible and airborne mold present that didn’t get detected for several years, the likelihood of salvaging personal belongings starts to go down.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that there are cleaning products popping up on the market with claims that would lead us to believe we can save our personal property from mold, but will they get out the mycotoxins too? In time, perhaps there will be some independent testing performed on some of these products to confirm their effectiveness, but until then, there is no published, peer-reviewed documentation for us to review.
If you use one of these products to try to salvage your personal belongings and the mold comes back, it’s definitely time to toss the item in the dumpster. If visible mold does not come back, the question remains whether or not the mycotoxins were removed. Residual residue from the cleaning agent is also a possible concern.
The largest concern with trying to salvage personal property is when you can’t see inside the item, such as couches, beds, shoes and stuffed animals. If these items spawn mold growth inside where it is not visible, we run the risk of unknowingly creating a toxic environment emitting mold spores and mycotoxins, which could be harmful to health. Not only is there potential risk to health if salvaged items unknowingly regrow mold, but there is also potential risk of contaminating our new living space and any newly purchased personal belongings.
The only way to have 100% assurance is to dump everything and start new with items that have not been contaminated by mold and mycotoxins. In exchange for the money we have to spend to replace items of necessity, we gain piece of mind. Unfortunately, whether that piece of mind is attainable often comes down to the availability of funds.’