How to Easily Test for Black Mold in Your Home

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated August 15, 2022
stylish bathroom with modern sink
Photo: New Africa / Adobe Stock

No matter the color, let mold know it isn't welcome in your home

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

Ah, the joys of homeownership. If you think you might have black mold in your home, it’s smart to perform a visual inspection. If confirmed, it’s a clear sign that you need mold remediation as your next step. Learn how to easily check for black mold in your home (and what to do if you find it), so you and your family can breathe easier.

What Is Black Mold?

Black mold doesn’t refer to one specific type of mold—lots of molds are black. And different types of mold can grow in a home. Stachybotrys chartarum, also known as black mold or toxic black mold, can range in color from black and gray to dark green, and it’s usually slimy or shiny. 

This type of mold exposure can lead to mild to serious respiratory issues, including chronic coughing, eye and throat irritation, headaches, and rashes. Black mold can be problematic not only for your physical health but for the health of your home. Mold infestations can cause respiratory problems for some people and can lead to structural problems in your home due to rot. Mold in your air ducts can cause allergic reactions as well. 

How to Safely Prep for Black Mold Testing

Black mold is toxic, so you’ll need to take extra precautions before poking around and looking for it around your home. Follow these safety precautions to inspect with care.

Wear Protective Gear

Before testing your home for black mold, put on the proper safety equipment to protect your health. Wear protective gloves if you need to touch the infected area and goggles to prevent mold spores from entering your eyes. Also, wear a respirator mask to avoid breathing in dangerous mold spores.

Cover Up Exposed Skin

Black mold may cause an allergic reaction if it comes into contact with your skin, so consider covering up with a long-sleeve shirt, pants, and closed-toe shoes in addition to the protective goggles, gloves, and mask.

Minimize Disturbance of the Mold

Even though the protective gear will prevent the mold from contacting you directly, you should avoid disturbing black mold. The more you interact with the affected area, the more dust and mold spores may release and travel within your home. Keep this in mind when using a black mold test kit.

How to Test for Black Mold in Your Home

With your protective gear on from head to toe, you’re ready to tap into your senses and start inspecting for the presence of black mold.

Start With a Visual Inspection

Your first step is to perform a visual inspection. You’ll want to start with places that are likely to be exposed to moisture. Check for any discoloration or evidence of water damage that needs repair. Mold thrives in damp locations that don’t get too hot or too cold.

Check the following spaces for signs of mold:

  • Attic spaces

  • Basements

  • Crawl spaces

  • Under kitchen and bathroom sinks

  • Near plumbing pipes

  • Near windows, especially windows that leak on rainy days

  • Around ductwork

  • Behind appliances, including refrigerators, washing machines, or dishwashers

  • Areas recently exposed to water from leaks or other water damage

What Does Black Mold Look Like?

When you start your inspection, you may wonder if you’ve stumbled across toxic black mold, mildew, or dirt. Black mold is typically dark in color, either black, dark green, dark brown, or dark orange. It may also have small white spots. Black mold is usually more substantial than other types of mold, with a fuzzy appearance.

Use Your Nose

You might smell black mold before you see it. If you walk into a room or open a cabinet and smell a musty, earthy smell, you may have black mold in the area. It can have a mildew smell or smell like rotting vegetables. If you smell mold but don’t see it, it could lurk in hidden places, like in the drywall, and may be the result of an unknown leak.

Buy a Testing Kit to Confirm the Presence of Mold

Once you’ve done a visual inspection, it’s time to test any discolored spots with a mold testing kit. These kits are available at home improvement stores and cost between $10 and $50. Some test kits are usable on surfaces, while others test indoor air.

However, these tests will tell you if you have mold but not what type. To determine the species to see if you have black mold, you’ll have to send your sample out for lab testing, following the instructions provided by the kit. Be sure to wear gloves and a mask when testing for mold to avoid skin exposure and inhalation of spores.

DIY Mold Tests

If you need to determine whether or not you have black mold in your home, another option is to perform a DIY test before hiring a mold removal specialist for a more in-depth inspection. To test whether the spot you see is mold or dirt:

  • Combine 1 part bleach with 16 parts water.

  • Dip a cotton swab into the diluted bleach.

  • Swipe the affected area with the swab.

  • If it’s mold, the area will start to lighten right away. 

Mold also returns after cleaning it, so if you’ve cleaned what you thought was dirt and the spot returns, it is likely mold.

How to Prevent Black Mold

No one wants to deal with a surprise case of black mold, so prevent the risk of it growing undetected by controlling water and humidity levels around the house.

Repair Leaks Quickly

Leaks are a common cause of black mold. Even if you find black mold and clean the area thoroughly, mold will return without fixing the root of the problem. A seemingly small leak can create a comfortable environment for black mold to grow, which is why it’s essential to manage water damage quickly.

After a leak, make sure to clean up all water and remove water-damaged materials, like carpets, furnishings, or drywall, as soon as possible. Mold can begin growing in damp areas in as little as 24 hours.

Improve Ventilation Around the House

Ventilation helps keep areas with high moisture, like bathrooms and kitchens, dry and prevents mold growth. Turn on ceiling fans or wall fans around the house or open windows on dry, sunny days. When taking a steamy shower, turn on the bathroom fan, and use the exhaust fan in the kitchen while boiling water or steaming veggies.

Set Up Dehumidifiers

Put dehumidifiers throughout the house to lower humidity levels to around 30% to 50%. Once the dehumidifiers are set up, invest in a humidity meter to check and maintain the humidity levels in your home.

DIY vs. Hiring a Mold Removal Specialist

While you can perform an inspection yourself for about $10 to $50 with a store-bought testing kit, it’s best to hire a professional mold removal specialist to inspect and test your home for black mold. What may look like a small area of mold to the untrained eye could be a much bigger issue lurking in your walls, floors, or ceilings.

Mold removal puts your health and safety at risk, so the Environmental Protection Agency advises against DIY mold remediation for areas larger than 10 square feet. For smaller areas, you can remove black mold for about $50 to $300

Otherwise, you should leave mold removal to the pros. Professional mold remediation costs an average of $2,225.

Additional Questions

Check out these answers to common black mold testing questions.

Is there a detector for black mold?

Many test kits can detect mold, but they won’t automatically tell you what type of mold you have or how it happened. You’ll need the test samples to go to a lab to test which type of mold you have, and you may need a professional inspection to check for leaks or other causes.

Can you test for mold by yourself?

You can use an at-home test kit or DIY testing methods to check for black mold, but you may need a lab test or a professional inspection to confirm the type of mold. Plus, black mold is a health risk, so while it’s possible to test spores at home, it’s safer to call in a professional.

Does homeowners insurance cover black mold?

Most mold, including black mold, will be covered by your homeowners insurance if the mold’s cause is covered by your policy. Make sure to review your policy closely to check for any exclusions or exceptions for mold.

What are symptoms of black mold toxicity?

If you or your family have been exposed to black mold, you may show symptoms including a sniffly nose, a chronic cough, sneezing, eye, nose, or throat irritation, or ongoing headaches.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.