It is the recommendation of all written guidelines to discard clothing that shows a sign of visible mold growth. If clothing does not appear to have mold growth, both the EPA guidelines and the New York Guidelines state that “porous material (e.g. fabrics, clothing, etc) can be cleaned and be reused…All materials to be reused should be dry and visibly free from mold.”
The rationale behind cleaning vs. discarding clothing and soft goods deals directly with mold “amplification.” Mold amplification on surfaces is measured by visible growth and is often confirmed by surface testing. Amplification in the air is determined by a measured comparison of the interior air to that of the normally occurring exterior background. In significantly mold contaminated areas (bioaerosol) the mold fallout of spores can settle onto horizontal surfaces and into textile items. The cleaning processes are used to remove the happenstance spores that settled out of the air. This is an area of great confusion, it seems, with some people that feel if they become in contact with the spores or possibly inhale some, that their health will be compromised. The reality is that they are being exposed to thousands upon thousands of spores every day where they work and live. What is typically misunderstood about mold, is that molds are naturally occurring and everywhere and on everything (ubiquitous). They are being brought into and out of homes (at sometimes-high levels) everyday. Media attention has caused somewhat of a hysteria regarding mold, which has created even more confusion.
It is vitally important to point out that mold is not a virus (i.e. Anthrax) or a bacteria (i.e. Legionella). The concern is not simply the presence of mold but rather mold that is amplified. Amplification indicates a mold reservoir or source. Mold requires moisture to grow and reproduce. Being that the clothing or soft goods are not the reservoir or source of the mold growth, the removal of the deposited spores on the clothing surface that can not be seen with the naked eye is satisfactory in removing the mold threat.
Soft Goods Testing Misunderstood
The mechanical processes (HEPA vacuuming and washing), and the chemicals used during laundering and dry cleaning eliminate the happenstance mold spores that could have been deposited on the surfaces due to their vicinity to the actual mold reservoir.
Companies have attempted to provide some level of comfort to the recipients of the cleaned soft goods, by testing them before and/or after the cleaning process. This concept is typically misused and erroneous for a number of reasons: 1) There is an absence of a control; how much mold and what genera are normally found on a specific item of a specific material in that area? How much is from background vs. a mold condition? Where is the comparison? For example, a garment or sofa coming from the Philippines should have different mold content than that coming from say New York. Another example would be the activities of the user of the soft goods; the mold content of the soft goods of a Gardener would be different than that of an office worker. The natural background bioaerosol of a city is different than that of an urban or wooded setting. 2) There is no way to know where to test, what to test vs. not test and how many areas of each item will need to be tested to gain some level of confidence? In the microscopic world an inch is a hundred miles. For example, it may be estimated that 400,000 Penicillium spores can fit on the head of a pin. What if the tester samples an area on the soft goods that brushed against an area containing natural mold contained in soil, plants or grass? This would artificially skew the sample to appear elevated. The only way to be sure would be to test hundreds (or thousands) of areas and then likewise test newly store bought items that are the same or similar. 3) There is mold in the areas where the items are being cleaned, in what they are being transported in and what they are being wrapped or sealed with. There is mold everywhere (except perhaps the most carefully constructed “clean room”). Once the soft goods are transported and opened to the environment, worn or used, mold spores will settle back onto the items. Again, it is not the presence of mold, but “amplified” mold. For the purposes of this document, I will stop here.
It should be understood that in some cases, discarding soft goods and hard items is reasonable and prudent. However, this should be the exception rather than the rule. Understandably, with the media hype and the hysteria around the mold issue, some people will not accept reasonable scientific evidence; however, the facts surrounding such issues should always be presented.
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