Mold Remediation – Why Mold Professionals Should Avoid Using Bleach – Part Three

Why Restoration Professionals Should Avoid Using Bleach

There are many situations in which restoration professionals may think that use of bleach as a cleaner/sanitizer is effective. Indeed, there are certain restoration projects, such as sewage backflows, floods, and even mold remediation, where individuals have been taught to use bleach as part of their restoration protocol. This history is supported by continuing references in publications put out by numerous organizations including the EPA, American Red Cross, Salvation Army and others. The use of bleach as a “disinfectant” seemed to reach new heights over the past few months as semi-truckloads of the chemical were donated for disaster relief efforts in the Gulf states following hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Despite this surge in bleach use for restoration of water-damaged and mold-impacted environments, I have one thing to say about the situation: Professional restoration contractors should not be using bleach for cleaning, sanitizing, or disinfecting surfaces! Of course this opinion comes with a few caveats: I do not have any financial or management interest in a chemical company that manufactures bleach or alternative chemical products. I have never been seriously injured by bleach in a personal or industrial accident. I use bleach for my laundry and a bleach derivative for sanitizing my swimming pool water.

So the question that is obvious is, Why is this environmental engineer so adamant about contractors not using bleach? The answer is related to both practical and legal implications for restoration professionals.

Practical Considerations
Let’s start with the practical considerations. Bleach is favored by many because of its long history of use by homeowners for cleaning and stain removal. Its relatively low cost has made it so widely available that its odor is now commonly associated with cleanliness by the general public. But in contrast to this widespread use are its dangers. Bleach is a corrosive that can irritate and eventually cause considerable damage to the skin. Bleach releases chlorine gas as it is sprayed or evaporates. The effect of bleach vapors on the eyes and respiratory system are immediately evident to anyone who is in an area where the product is being used liberally. Because of these potential effects on the body, appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves, goggles, and respirators should be employed when bleach is utilized for situations beyond laundry. However, such essential precautions are often ignored because of the product’s acceptance in the mainstream of our society.

There are many practical impacts of bleach use beyond health concerns. Restoration professionals must appreciate the highly reactive nature of this chemical compound. The fact that bleach is used for stain removal and whitening means that it can also discolor and damage many fabrics. Less obvious is how bleach reacts with other materials. It is corrosive to many metals and stone products. It should never be used on stainless steel, aluminum, copper, brass, marble, or granite. In fact, bleach is so strong that it will etch glass if it is not neutralized after application to surfaces such as mirrors and windows. In New Orleans I observed how bleach solution had significantly corroded electrical components and anchoring bolts for load-bearing walls after less than 24 hours in a house where the drywall had been stripped due to flooding. In that particular case, the builder had been given bleach to use as a sanitizer and had sprayed it undiluted on all of the exposed studs and other building components.

A Bad Reaction
The reactive nature of bleach is even more troublesome when it is mixed. Bleach should never be mixed with acids, as dangerous fumes are usually the result. Even a mixture of two innocuous cleaning compounds such as bleach and ammonia can produce deadly gasses that can kill with just a few breaths. Depending on the ratio of bleach to ammonia, chlorine gas, nitrogen trichloride and/or hydrazine will be produced when these two are mixed. In addition to being toxic the last two listed by-products from this bleach mixture are also explosive. Other reactive by-products that can come from bleach mixtures are toxic chloramines and dioxins. With all of these potential “side effects” a restoration professional is taking a significant chance when bleach or a bleach solution is applied to varied materials in an uncontrolled environment – exactly the situation that occurs when bleach is sprayed following a sewage loss or fire.

Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of bleach when proposed as a cleaner or sanitizing agent is that its effectiveness is greatly reduced in the presence of organic material. To be a successful sanitizer, bleach must be used on clean materials and surfaces. This is why bleach products are used in the laundry after the wash cycle or in a commercial kitchen as a component in the third sink after the dishes have been washed and rinsed. The efficacy of bleach as a sanitizer is also compromised by heat and light. Despite the fact that the chlorine odor may linger for some time after use, bleach loses strength so quickly that it is not considered to have a residual effect that would prevent future bacterial or fungal growth.

The last, but by no means the least, issue related to the practicality of bleach for restoration projects is that many alternatives are readily available for contractors that need to incorporate a level of sanitization into their cleaning or restoration activities. These products are specifically developed for restoration projects such as sewage clean-up or mold remediation. They have been tested for the sorts of conditions and contaminants that the contractor faces rather than testing as a laundry additive. In areas where potable water is a concern, there are many formulations that are ready to use, avoiding the dilemma of having to use the product full strength or mixing it with contaminated water. In addition to their cost effectiveness and ease of use, many sanitizing products developed for the restoration industry have a true residual effect which prevents bacterial or fungal regrowth.

The Trap of Label Directions
If the practical reasons are not enough to change a contractor’s habits away from bleach, the legal ramifications should be. Most bleach products are not registered with the EPA as an antimicrobial. In addition, the label directions for bleach often only mention a sanitizing capability for hard non-porous surfaces. As such, using a bleach solution to minimize antimicrobial activity on carpets, drywall, wooden studs, or other common building components means that the restoration contractor is engaged in an “off label” utilization of the product. Under such conditions the manufacturer will not warrant or assist the contractor if a problem or dispute arises.

So there you have it. Bleach is cheap, convenient, and recommended to a lot of homeowners for various restoration activities, but it is not the best choice for a contractor. As a restoration professional you have an obligation to understand what the standard of care in your industry demands and provide a quality service to your client. This means using the right tools and products. So leave the bleach at home for the load of white laundry where it belongs.

About the Author
Michael A. Pinto currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Wonder Makers Environmental, Inc. He has more than 30 years of safety and environmental experience from jobs in the private sector, the non-profit arena, and regulatory agencies. Michael is the author of five books, including Fungal Contamination: A Comprehensive Guide for Remediation, over 150 published articles, and 18 commercial training programs. He can be reached at map@wondermakers.com.

This article was published in the January 2006 issue of Cleaning and Restoration magazine.

Click here to download the article.

Look for more in this six part series on mold remediation from Michale Pinto at Wonder Maker’s Environmental. If you are looking for a remediation specialist who is local to the San Francisco Bay Area, Gordon Medical suggests you contact Indoor Air Science. The people at Indoor Air Science  do not do remediation themselves, they do excellent air quality testing, but they have contacts with reliable remediation companies in the area. The people at Indoor Air Science are very knowledgeable, and are constantly researching to stay up to date on the current state of the science for indoor air safety.If you have concerns about your home or business, they are a good place to start.

If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Shoemaker’s work on mold illness, we have copies available of the DVD recordings from the October Biotoxin Illness conference held in Santa Rosa in October 2011. This 5 DVD set includes over 9 hours of talks with Dr. Shoemaker and the Gordon Medical physicians, as well as Power Point presentations and supporting evidence for the treatments presented. For more information, links to clips,  or to order, look at Biotoxin Illness on the DVDs and Books page.

Mold Remediation Part Two – Mold Indoors

Mold Indoors

Killing It Is Not Enough

Indoor air quality is a broad field that continues to bedevil building service professionals. But the shift in focus over the last five years from general concerns such as adequate ventilation and sick building syndrome to mold contamination has caught many service contractors by surprise, particularly when they are asked for advice in dealing with mold growth or blamed for its appearance.

Unfortunately, many contractors are struggling to identify the current best practices in regards to mold – a reasonable way to evaluate potential contamination and implement control measures. With limited time, service managers try to make sense of media reports, liability concerns, and scientific research. As they dig deeper, many have found that media reports are often condensed sound bites, legal cases tend to emphasize the extremes of liability in an effort to win or fend off a claim, and scientific reports are filled with technical jargon or narrow limitations that restrict their application to the real world.

Without good information, positions related to mold situations are inclined to polarize. The extreme positions can be categorized as fungiphobics, those who are frightened by a single mold spore, and those who refuse to accept any possibility of health-related problems due to mold exposure, the mold minimizers.

The first step in developing a reasonable approach to mold is to understand that there is a reasonable approach. Many service professionals have the mistaken impression that liability concerns, based on high-profile lawsuits, are the driving force in the industry. In the absence of federal or uniform state regulations related to mold control, attorneys are clarifying the industry standard of care, not creating their own. By carefully examining generally available industry reference documents relating to mold, attorneys have been able to identify points of commonality which they correctly interpret as a de facto industry standard of care. Unfortunately, many service providers are asked to talk intelligently about the mold situation in general and/or make decisions about mold contamination conditions in their contract facilities without even understanding what the industry reference materials are, let alone the points of intersection between them.

While there is some variation in which references really form the core of the mold control industry, the following ten documents are cited frequently.

Despite the fact that guidance for mold situations is coming from a variety of sources, there is a surprising consistency in the overall tone and approach. Some key consensus points that should frame any mold discussion include:

  • The understanding that mold is a biological agent. Since it has the ability to grow under the right conditions, isolation and deferred action to remove the source of the problem may not be possible as it is with asbestos materials. In such situations, the delay may allow mold contamination inside a building to grow to a point where it poses a hazard greater than when initially discovered.
  • Mold growth means that there is or has been moisture intrusion in the building. Removing surface mold contamination and not identifying and correcting the underlying moisture problem would be tantamount to a doctor treating symptoms rather than the disease itself.
  • Exposure to mold spores and other byproducts (microbial volatile organic compounds, mycotoxins, connecting filaments, etc) does cause real health symptoms. These symptoms can range from mildly annoying allergic reactions to serious, and even life-threatening, ailments.
  • Individuals respond to mold exposure in a variety of ways. There is a large variation in individual susceptibility to the same exposure levels and the possibility of a person becoming sensitized to specific specie of mold growing in a certain location. When added together this means that the range of potential responses to fungal exposure is greater than what is seen for many industrial chemicals.
  • Killing mold, but leaving the residue in place, is not acceptable. Since many health impacts can be triggered by exposure to both live and dead mold spores, the source and secondary contamination must be removed.
  • Mold removal is called remediation because special precautions, equipment and work procedures should be used to prevent the spread of material to other parts of the building.

Unfortunately, what this means is that there is no “quick fix” for mold contamination situations. The advertisements for various “magic potions” which “kills mold dead” are often not the best choice for contamination in commercial buildings since leaving mold residue behind puts the contractor outside the industry standard of care. A common sense assessment and remediation by trained individuals is the best way to protect the occupants, the building owner, and the service contractor.

As always, communication is the key. Even if a reasonable plan is developed and carried out, the proper communication of the remediation process may ultimately turn out to be just as important as competent performance of the work. To communicate clearly and convincingly, a service contractor should emphasize that the subject of mold exposure and control is complex, with many diverse opinions. Despite this diversity of opinion, an industry standard of care is in place which avoids the two extremes of mold minimizers and fungiphobics.

Staying within the standard of care, emphasizing the protection of occupants, workers, and building structures, and promoting the goal of a safe environment rather than pristine or spore- free indoor air, will help the smart building service provider navigate the tricky terrain of mold discussions.

About the Author
Michael A. Pinto currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Wonder Makers Environmental, Inc. He has more than 30 years of safety and environmental experience from jobs in the private sector, the non-profit arena, and regulatory agencies. Michael is the author of five books, including Fungal Contamination: A Comprehensive Guide for Remediation, over 150 published articles, and 18 commercial training programs. He can be reached at map@wondermakers.com.

This article was published in the January 2005 issue of Services magazine.

Click here to download the article.

Look for more in this six part series on mold remediation from Michale Pinto at Wonder Maker’s Environmental. If you are looking for a remediation specialist who is local to the San Francisco Bay Area, Gordon Medical suggests you contact Indoor Air Science. The people at Indoor Air Science do not do remediation themselves, they do excellent air quality testing, but they have contacts with reliable remediation companies in the area. The people at Indoor Air Science are very knowledgeable, and are constantly researching to stay up to date on the current state of the science for indoor air safety. If you have concerns about your home or business, they are a good place to start.

If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Shoemaker’s work on mold illness, we have copies available of the DVD recordings from the October Biotoxin Illness conference held in Santa Rosa in October 2011. This 5 DVD set includes over 9 hours of talks with Dr. Shoemaker and the Gordon Medical physicians, as well as Power Point presentations and supporting evidence for the treatments presented. For more information, links to clips,  or to order, look at Biotoxin Illness on the DVDs and Books page.

Mold Remediation Part One

Michael Pinto, CSP, CMP, of Wonder Makers Environmental has compiled extensive information on mold remediation based on years of work and research. He wrote a series of articles that were published in Surviving Mold newsletters, and has given us permission to reproduce them here as a series. This is the first in that six part series.

Remediation Resources

REMEDIATION OF BUILDING MATERIALS
Excerpt from Fungal Contamination: A Comprehensive Guide for Remediation

This excerpt is taken from Chapter 10 of Fungal Contamination: A Comprehensive Guide for Remediation, Second Edition, a textbook used for mold remediation training that makes important and understandable connections between mold work and other restoration activities. This informative book of over 450 pages is available for purchase from Wonder Makers Environmental (www.wondermakers.com).


Remediating fungal contamination that is impacting building materials involves a number of steps that are widely accepted in the industry, and experience has determined that these steps should be performed in a particular order. This method offers the best possibility for removing visible mold growth and associated debris without cross contaminating surrounding areas. Remediation professionals should use the following steps as a starting point for developing a specific work plan for each project.

1. Set up initial engineering controls, including isolation barriers, negative pressure system, and drop cloths necessary to protect the structure during initial response activities.

2. Remove standing water.

3. Assess condition of contents, set up appropriate decontamination structure, and remove contents from the mold remediation work area.

4. Finalize engineering controls for removal of building materials harboring fungal growth. Make sure the setup can accommodate any unexpected hidden growth.

5. Work with the air flow. Generally this means that the project should be set up so that mold impacted materials closest to the decontamination unit are removed first. Work then progresses from the decon unit toward the negative air machine.

6. Remove porous materials with visible growth. Use work practices that minimize the generation of dust. This may include the use of hand tools or power tools to which a HEPA vacuum can be attached.

7. Enforce work procedures that emphasize a clean-as-you-go approach. Whenever possible, as they are removed from walls and ceilings, cut building materials in sections small enough to fit directly into waste bags. Bag all waste immediately rather than allowing it to pile up on the floor. Change negative air machine and vacuum filters often enough to keep them operating at optimum levels.

8. Seal waste bags using the gooseneck technique. Move waste bags into the decontamination unit where the exteriors of the bags are cleaned or they are double bagged prior to movement through unprotected areas of the building.

9. Determine the remediation approach for semi-porous materials that have visible fungal growth. Depending on the condition of the material some items, such as rotted wood studs, may have to be removed for later replacement. Other semi-porous materials that have not suffered structural damage can be cleaned by scraping, sanding, scrubbing, or blasting. Whenever possible, use tools in conjunction with a HEPA vacuum. Specialty tools, such as the Scravac, are specifically designed for scraping contamination directly into a vacuum nozzle. Make sure that the cleaning technique does not exceed the capacity of the engineering controls. Blasting, for example, may require a substantial increase in the amount of negative pressure and airflow as compared to a standard mold remediation work area.

10. Clean all non-porous materials that have visible fungal growth. This usually involves damp wiping or HEPA vacuuming.

11. Using the HEPA sandwich technique, clean the entire isolated work area, including ceilings and non-impacted walls. If there are any bacterial concerns because of gray or black water, incorporate appropriate antimicrobial chemicals into the damp wiping step.

12. If necessary, dry the remaining material in the work area through dehumidification. Be careful that airflow from fans and dehumidifiers does not impact the integrity of the isolation barriers.

13. Conduct a thorough visual inspection of the isolated work area. Use the white glove test to ensure that the area is free of dust. Re-clean as necessary.

14. Conduct post-remediation evaluation sampling. Compare the results to the company’s standards for mold remediation (see box for suggested post-remediation sample criteria). Re-clean and re-sample if necessary.

15. Coordinate post-remediation verification sampling by a pre-selected third party. Evaluate the results in comparison to the criteria that were agreed upon at the beginning of the project (see box for suggested post-remediation sample criteria). Re-clean and re-sample if necessary. If the building owner chooses to forgo verification sampling, move to the next step.

16. If included as part of the remediation project, apply antimicrobial coating to exposed structural members to prevent future mold contamination. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application. Allow all surfaces to dry thoroughly.

17. Have the HVAC system cleaned following NADCA guidelines.

18. If included as part of the project, replace and refinish building materials that were removed during remediation.

19. Remove isolation barriers and remediation equipment. Unless specifically exempted in the remediation contract, repair any damage to finish materials caused by the isolation barriers.


Look for more in this six part series on mold remediation from Michale Pinto at Wonder Maker’s Environmental. If you are looking for a remediation specialist who is local to the San Francisco Bay Area, Gordon Medical suggests you contact Indoor Air Science. The people at Indoor Air Science  do not do remediation themselves, they do excellent air quality testing, but they have contacts with reliable remediation companies in the area. The people at Indoor Air Science are very knowledgeable, and are constantly researching to stay up to date on the current state of the science for indoor air safety.If you have concerns about your home or business, they are a good place to start.

If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Shoemaker’s work on mold illness, we have copies available of the DVD recordings from the October Biotoxin Illness conference held in Santa Rosa in October 2011. This 5 DVD set includes over 9 hours of talks with Dr. Shoemaker and the Gordon Medical physicians, as well as Power Point presentations and supporting evidence for the treatments presented. For more information, links to clips,  or to order, look at Biotoxin Illness on the DVDs and Books page.