How to test for mold on clothes

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One of the most common indicators of possible mold growth on clothes and fabrics is its smell. If you have a mold problem on clothes, they may have strong musty, earthy odour. Visible mold growth on clothes may appear as irregular white, bluish, greenish or greyish to black spots or stains. Depending on the color of the mold and the color of the cloth or fabric, the mold may or may not be easily visible.

Can moldy clothes make you sick?

Little is known about the medical significance of mold on clothes and fabrics. However, prolonged exposure to mold may cause a variety of health effects to people who are sensitive to mold. For sensitive individuals, exposure to molds can lead to symptoms such as stuffy nose, wheezing, and red or itchy eyes, or skin. People with allergies to molds or with asthma, may have more intense reactions. If your home suffers from dampness, it’s important to find ways of improving ventilation and also to regularly inspect clothing and fabrics for stains and remove them when possible. Contaminated clothes should be isolated.

How do clothes become moldy?

Mold spores are almost everywhere in the environment including on the surfaces of the clothes that we’re wearing. Therefore if clothes are stored in a damp, warm environment, these spores will germinate and develop into mold.  Clothes or fabrics stored in zipped plastic bags are likely to develop mold due to condensation and high humidity in the bag. If you have to store clothes in plastic bags, the bags should be perforated to let air in and out and avoid condensation and humidity build up. Hanging clothes in a closet before they are fully dry also increases the chances of mold growth.

Should moldy clothes be thrown away?

Appearance of mold on clothes does not necessarily mean that the clothes should be thrown away. The clothes can be cleaned to get rid of mold so they’re safe to wear again. If the mold has just developed, washing the clothes and drying them completely is all you need to do to get rid of mold. 

It’s important to know that if mold has been growing on clothes for a long time, it can cause total damage. Such clothes may have to be discarded.

How to test clothes for mold

If you suspect your clothes have developed mold you can easily take samples using clear scotch tape and send them to a lab for testing. Follow the steps below:

Step 1: Look for visible mold growth on the clothes
Mold is a living organism that can attach to most surfaces including fabrics leaving stains and damage. Mold growth is easily visible as spots or stains of various colors and shades. The spots may appear almost “fuzzy” or “powdery”. Even if you can’t see any spots or growth, if an odour is present there is microbial growth and treatment is needed.

Step 2. Tear off a 2- to 3-inch piece of clear scotch tape
Hold the piece of tape at one end, place sticky side down onto the mold-like spots you find and press gently. Then remove tape and stick them in individually labelled ziplock bags (i.e., white shirt, brown trouser or dress, etc). Then enclose your samples in an envelope or bag and deliver or mail them to a lab.

If the clothes have musty smell and no visible mold, you can send the whole piece of cloth to the lab for analysis. Clear scotch tape can be used to take samples from any surface including mold on walls.

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Dr Jackson Kung'u
Dr. Jackson Kung’u is a Microbiologist who has specialized in the field of mycology (the study of moulds and yeasts). He is a member of the Mycological Society of America. He graduated from the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, with a Masters degree in Fungal Technology and a PhD in Microbiology. He has published several research papers in international scientific journals. Jackson has analyzed thousands of mould samples from across Canada. He also regularly teaches a course on how to recognize mould, perform effective sampling and interpret laboratory results. Jackson provides how-to advice on mould and bacteria issues. Get more information about indoor mould and bacteria at www.drjacksonkungu.com.
Dr Jackson Kung'u

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