Detail Management - November 2010

Mold — Five Myths
By Sharie Sipowicz

Who can be Harmed by Mold?

Not all people are affected by mold in the same way. Symptoms may vary: runny nose, sore throat, headache, nausea, etc. Those more likely to have problems are individuals with compromised immune systems, infants, the elderly, those who have had recent surgery, pregnant women, and AIDS sufferers, to name a few. Some molds have been shown to intensify symptoms in people with asthma or allergies, while some may have adverse effects in a certain environment, but not in others.

The type of visible mold does not usually matter because scientists do not currently have available testing to determine if ill health effects are from a specific type of mold.

Surprisingly, mold does serve a beneficial purpose. It breaks down organic matter. If there were not mold, dead trees from thousands of years ago would still be lying on the forest ground.

Travelling in my car recently, I experienced watery eyes and sneezing. The source of the irritation, I determined, was the air conditioner. I later learned that mold spores in the interior of the car were the cause of my discomfort. This experience prompted me to do some investigating about mold, and this article is the result.

Reading the paper or watching TV, we are confronted with many health warnings: polluted tap water, contaminated air, carcinogens in processed foods, toxic black mold, etc. The question is: Are these warnings correct? How do you know if these claims are accurate?

A good rule of thumb is to look at the source of the claim and the research. For example: Would you believe a claim by a company that specializes in mold elimination that says: “If you hire our company the toxic mold in your car will not kill you”? Or, would you believe claims about the quality of your tap water from a company that sells bottled water?

If the source of the research is an agency that has no financial interest in providing the research and education, then you probably have a good and reputable source of information.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and a few other organizations can be considered unbiased and reliable sources. The EPA provides free brochures to anyone who asks. The National Institute of Safety & Health (NIOSH) is also an excellent source of unbiased information.


Now that you have several credible sources of information about mold, it’s time to debunk some of the misinformation that has gained currency:

1. Black Mold is the Worst
It is not necessarily the color that determines whether mold is a health hazard or not. For example, a type of mold named Stachybotrys Chartarum can either be dark greenish black or tan, depending on its environment.

2. Mold is Deadly
There are no reported or documented cases specifically linking mold to human mortality. Mold is toxic in the sense that it is harmful or poisonous. The correct term for mold-caused ill effects would be toxigenic.

3. Mildew Equals Mold
At one time, the terms “mold” and “mildew” were synonymous. They are both fungi, but mildew grows primarily on outdoor plants, so it would not be a common problem inside a car.

4. Bleach is the Cure
Many hold that wiping or spraying mold with bleach is an acceptable procedure for its removal. There are several problems with this. First, dead mold spores can still cause adverse health effects. If you are using bleach (or any other antimicrobial, disinfectant, sanitizer, or biocide) and charging a fee, your state department of agriculture may require that you have a license for this. If you do not follow the label instructions on the container, you are in violation of federal law. Furthermore, many of these chemicals cause worse health effects from inhalation or dermal exposure than exposure to elevated levels of mold spores.

5. All Visible Molds Cause Adverse Health Effects
This is simply not true. However, don’t test this statement by licking mold off the bottom corner of the drywall in the closet behind the black shoes with white spots on them. It must be noted that “adverse health effects” differ from individual to individual.


Detailers need to realize that physical removal is the optimal method for dealing with visible and hidden mold. There is a Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Mold Remediation, published by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification (IICRC). It contains valuable information.

Since you’re dealing with health-related issues, it is in your best interests to bear in mind that we are living in a litigious society. Document, document, and document the progress on your jobs.

I also highly recommend talking with an industrial hygienist to have a complete understanding of mold remediation in a motor vehicle. How much mold is too much in the interior of a vehicle can be debated for years. There are still no federal guidelines regarding the removal of excessive mold in cars or buildings.

Sharie Sipowicz is aftermarket sales manager with Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems Inc. She has been involved in the detail industry for over 20 years, both as a vendor of products and equipment and as a hands-on operator in a retail detail environment. You can contact Sharie at

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