There are no simple answers to questions that arise regarding saving personal belongings and furniture after an indoor environment is contaminated with mold. Generally, from an insurance perspective, only items that are directly impacted by water from a covered water loss are covered for cleaning or replacement. However, contents that are impacted by spores, mold fragments, mold toxins, and volatile organic compounds that are liberated from areas of actual mold growth must be addressed to prevent cross-contamination when moved to a new environment or returned after a structure is remediated. Decisions on restorable must be made on a case by case basis, and are dependent on numerous factors, including:
- The severity of the airborne contamination
- The effectiveness of capture and containment methods if contents are present during structural remediation
- The length of time in which the contents were exposed
- The origin of the water loss, clean water versus sewage or other contaminated water source
- Humidity control
- The sensitivity or susceptibility of occupants
The primary objective of remediation, whether for structure or contents, should be protection of health. Financial practicality might be considered for low level contamination, but should not be a major criterion for immune-compromised or other sensitized individuals. Compared to the devastating emotional and health consequences that many people experience with repeated exposure to contaminated contents, financial concerns are inconsequential.
Some people are unable to salvage any items from a contaminated home, while some individuals experience no adverse health symptoms if all items are saved. For the majority of the population, a combination of cleaning and discarding proves to be effective.
The following guidelines are designed to address content restoration for healthy individuals in homes with low to moderate contamination.
CONTENT DECISION MAKING
A. Separate contents according to porosity.
- Hard surfaced items, such as metal, plastic, sealed wood, and glass.
- Semi-porous items, such as unsealed wood, stone, leather.
- Porous items, such as cardboard, paper, fabric, and canvas.
- Items to Discard
- Items that display visible growth
- Porous padded items, such as pillows, upholstered furniture that are exposed to a highly contaminated environment or exposed for extended time
- Mattresses that are exposed to a highly contaminated environment or exposed for extended time
- Books, paper, and stuffed animals that are exposed to a highly contaminated environment or exposed for extended time
B. Porous, padded items with short exposure to low concentrations of mold
- Agitate books, papers, photos, etc. over the inlet of a HEPA-filtered air scrubber. HEPA-vacuum.
- Porous padded items, HEPA-vacuum, agitate/compress, HEPA-vacuum again.
C. Hard Surfaced Items
- Clean by HEPA-vacuuming and damp-wiping
- Use compressed air to clean cracks and crevices
- Submerse glass, dishes, pots, pans, or clean in dishwasher
- Launder washable item with detergent, dry in dryer
- Select several representative items (fluffy sweater, wool coat, silk blouse) for dry-cleaning. Select a dry cleaner that uses special procedures for mold-contaminated items. The procedures should include filtering of the fluid to remove mold spores. Once cleaned, items are to be tested using both direct exam and culturable dust sample method. Test results should demonstrate that target fungi, such as Penicillium, Chaetomium, Aspergillus, and Stachybotrys, are not present.
- Items with insulation are not likely salvageable if exposed to high concentrations of mold or if exposed for a long period. If exposure was short and concentrations were low, the items should be professional cleaned by disassembly, using a combination of compressed air, HEPA-vacuuming and damp-wiping.
- Items without insulation should be disassembled and cleaned using compressed air, HEPA-vacuuming and damp-wiping.
F. Art Work
- Remove craft paper backing and discard
- Clean by positioning the painting of the inlet of a HEPA-filtered air scrubber. Starting at the top of the painting, use an art brush to systematically brush toward the bottom. Repeat with a clean brush. HEPA-vacuum and damp-wipe the frame.
Making decisions to discard items with high intrinsic or monetary value, such as antiques, memorabilia, and photographs, can be especially troubling when someone is already dealing with the health, emotional, or financial consequences from a mold infestation. When possible, questionable items should be stored in sealable containers so that decisions can be made at a time when health and stress levels have improved.