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Does my front load washing machine have mold?

Case Study: Does my front load washing machine have mold?

Front load washer, mold and health impact on your family.

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Front loading washing machines all have an inherent design defects in that the door gasket on all such machines, affords mold and bacteria growth.
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Here is a recent photo from the inside of a door gasket of a front loading washing machine.
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Another photo of the door gasket from a front load washer. Note that this exists in all front load washing machines; at least to some degree.
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My name is Chuck Colby and I own and manage SOS Environmental LLC.  I have been solving indoor environmental issues for almost 20 years; specializing in mold and water damage. This article will center two questions: 1) Does my front load washing machine have mold? 2) Is my front load washing machine causing health problems for my family.

The short answers are YES and maybe.

Chronic sinusitis has been linked by the Mayo clinic to mold (fungi) exposure. In fact, this study found that in 96% of examined patients diagnosed with allergic fungal sinusitis (“AFS”), mold (fungi) was present in their mucus tissue.  Linking mold exposure to Chronic sinusitis .  (Here is a link to that article).

In this article recently I visited a small home in the San Fernando Valley of a family whose children had been diagnosed with respiratory and chronic severe sinusitis.  The mother of the home had taken her kids to 8 doctors and had tried several different medications for a prolonged period of time and nothing worked.  Finally one doctor asked if the issues could be “environmental” potentially in her home.  She called me and after a brief chat I went over to look at her home.  Living in the home were herself and husband as well as two boys ages about 5 and 8.  Both kids were typical boys of this age and very active and otherwise healthy aside from severe allergies and respiratory issues.

The symptoms of the boys presented were; chronic coughing, chronic sinusitis, allergic fungal sinusitis and rashes on their bodies.  The diagnosis was confirmed by several different physicians who had administered several different courses of treatment all were of no avail.  The family was literally chasing from doctor to doctor, medication to medication with no improvement.

The mother of the children was not only a very nice woman, but one of the most fastidious housekeepers I have ever seen in doing this for now almost 20 years.  Her home was imacculate in every detail!  No dust anywhere, no mess everything organized. Especially considering that she had two small boys and they seemed to have at least 5 friends there at the time! (She explained to me that this is a regular occurrence..)  I was very impressed on how this full time mom was able to manage to keep her house so incredibly clean!  Having raised two kids myself I was impressed to say the least.  Yet, the kids were really sick.

The Mold inspection:

The inspection:  I looked around her home for signs of water intrusion, both past and current.  Evaluated the surfaces for moisture, water damage and mold.  As in most homes, there is always some mold.  In this case we found; 5 different locations with water damage and some degree of mold.  There was some old water damage, a past leaking hot water heater, a small toilet overflow in the bathroom that was repaired.  As well as other minor issues that I could identify.  Each one of these may have to some degree have contributed to mold exposure, but nothing significant enough in my opinion and experience to be causing enough of an exposure concern such that her kids would logically have been presenting with the severe reactions that they were.  This was not a medical opinion on my part but more of an observation based on my experience in these matters and having participated in well over 40,000 mold inspections in my career.

Does my front load washing machine have mold?

There was definitely something wrong.  The kids are legitimately sick and not getting better.  Several different medications and treatments from high powered steroids to heavy courses of antibiotics; yet nothing worked and the kids were getting worse.  One thing I always ask is if when away from the house for a period of time, typically a week or more, do the kids feel better?  The answer was not really.  So with this information in mind, I could only conclude that while there were issues in the home, there maybe something else entirely.  It just didn’t make sense to me that two normal seeming kids would both be having the reactions they were having with no improvement in their condition.   So I looked in the washing machine.

This is what the gasket ring of the front load washer looked like!

Does my front load washing machine have mold?  Does my front load washing machine have mold?

This is what we found inside the washing machine!!!

While there were clearly multiple spots in the home that had visible mold growth to some minor degree, this in my opinion was far more profound.  The washer was removed and the children’s clothes rewashed and they started improving right away.  Now several weeks later the kids are doing great..  Symptoms have improved, they are off ALL medications and running around terrorizing their mom and dad as only young boys should.  The rashes are gone; life has become more normal for these kids again.  No more countless medications and doctors visits.

Despite what the manufacturers will tell you, all front load washers have this problem and it cannot be corrected.  Once mold growth takes place in the rubber/plastic door gasket it cannot sufficiently be removed.  Now several weeks later the kids are doing great..  Symptoms have improved and life is being restored to normal.  Does my front load washing machine have mold? The answer is YES!

What can I do to keep my front load washing machine clean?

First off I recommend that you get rid of your front load washing machine.  Period.  If you still don’t want to do that, then here are some tips that can help.  If your machine already is showing signs of growth, change the wash ring door gasket.  This will cost you about 3-500 dollars depending on where you live and what parts and labor cost.  If you do not have growth already (which you probably do but just cant see it) you can try the following steps:

  • You can after each washing remove all lint and debris from the inside of the gasket using a “clorox” type wipe disposable cloth.  completely wipe the entire inside of the ring including the lower interior portions of the ring.  Be sure to peel back the ring as shown above and wipe on the INSIDE of that ring.
  • in between washing clothes leave your door ajar
  • after you have cleaned the inside of the ring, then wipe this down again with a dry cloth and try to get all of the moisture out of the ring.

There is a product called Concrobium which “claims” to prevent mold growth, but I personally don’t believe it. Further, as it is inside of the washer it would logically wash away over time.

I tried replacing the door gasket on my own front load $1,200 dollar washing machine.  Didn’t solve the problem.  It cost me $350 parts and labor and after a month or so, the growth was back.   I even took the above precautions but it did not work. Although my gasket looked clean, it tested positive for mold and bacterial growth.  So I tossed it out.  Sorry front load washer fans.

Ongoing litigation-

There are current class action suits being brought against ever major manufacturer of these types of washing machines, but early signs are that the class certifications have been denied.  I would not count on these suits going anywhere.  That said, this is a real issue and it could be causing health concerns for your family the way it did for this one.

 

Hope this article helps you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Real estate transactions Uncategorized

Case study on inaccurate air samples

 Case study on inaccurate air samples

Location- Santa Barbara California 

Problem:  Our case study of inaccurate air samples is centered on a home in escrow for $3.9 million dollars that was re built from the ground construction budget was $2.5 million dollars.  In connection with the escrow and proposed purchase, a mold inspection was performed by industrial hygiene company.  In their inspection they identified no problems in the home with respect to mold.  Their principal focus was NOT the investigation but to collect exhaustive air samples from inside of the home; although an inspection was performed and they could NOT identify any issues visibly.  Several air samples were collected and the results of those samples revealed severe anomalies and elevated mold spore counts in the home directly causing the prospective purchaser to cancel the transaction.   The couple who owned the home were told by the Mold inspection company that since they found such high levels of mold spores, but could not find any issues, that the only solution to solve this was to literally remove every interior wall from the framing and strip the house.  Their bid was in excess of $150,000 dollars for this work and it was estimated that replacing the removed finishes would cost between $250-350,000 dollars depending upon what materials would be used.  This is why we wrote this case study on inaccurate air samples.

Location: Single family residence, Santa Barbara California near the ocean.

Construction: Complete ground up, new construction.  Raised foundation single family two story home.  Ample crawl space that was observed to be damp and have strong musty odors.

Crawlspace description/openings: The crawl space under the home contained several openings from understructure into home (“thermal bypasses”) enabling for routing air exchange between the foundation and the interior air space of the home.

Observations in the initial report:  While the inspection appeared somewhat comprehensive with respect to sample data, there were several deficiencies in the investigation itself.  Further, the single largest issue is that the inspection company identified the substructure of the premises as being on “slab foundation” and not a suspended foundation with a crawl space.  Clearly the company (name withheld) was incorrect.

Conclusions of their report which caused the transaction to fail:

Our case study on inaccurate air samples shows that after not identifying any issues the hygienist elected to collect “precautionary air samples” in order to assess if there were issues in the home with respect to mold problems.   The results of the air samples collected showed several anomalies (problems) in the indoor air quality and caused the attending hygienist to conclude:

  1. “Highly elevated levels of fungi spores (mold spores) were found…”   Further, some of the spores identified were listed as;
  2. “Considered to be toxic and may cause serious health risks.”   Further in the report, the hygienist goes on to say that;
  3. “A trained professional should identify any associated water source that led to the problem”   Although the report itself did NOT identify any issues in the home nor any areas that appeared to be impacted by elevated moisture content in the building materials.
  4. “No areas of elevated moisture levels were detected at the time of the inspection.”

Although the hygienist doing the inspection could not identify any issues, he concluded that the home was:

UNSAFE AND CONTAMINATED!   HIGHLY ELEVATED LEVELS OF MOLD SPORES; SOME OF WHICH WERE CONSIDERED TOXIC.

this was wrong and our case study on inaccurate air samples shows you why!

Our analysis:

We briefly examined the home in light of the air sample data collected and the conclusions of the report.  In examining the laboratory data collected in the previous inspection we observed that the air in the lower area of the home appeared to be significantly worse than elsewhere in the home; although all areas inside of the home appeared to be compromised.  Immediately we were able to determine that the previous hygienist incorrectly categorized the construction type of the premises as being built on slab when in fact there is a crawlspace below the lower level that spans the entire portion of the lower area of the home.  Upon examination of the crawlspace itself the area was damp, musty and in need of drying.  Further, when we examined the underside of the rooms on the lower level we identified several openings from the crawlspace up into the lower area of the home.  The openings observed were both for routing conduits as well as simple random open spaces and unsealed areas.  When openings from the crawlspace to the lower floor are present, this provides an easy path for air exchange between the crawlspace and the interior living space of the home.  Simple physics (temperature differences) causes air molecules to be attracted upwards into the interior living space of the home.

This is an example of a typical opening observed in the understructure of the home.  There were other openings and areas in the crawlspace that enabled air exchange between the foundation and the interior of the home.

case study on inaccurate air samples

Our Action Plan:

After a brief examination of the premises we concluded that indeed the reason for the elevated levels observed in the initial study was on account of the air exchange between the crawlspace and the interior of the premises.  Our mitigation plan included, but was without limitation to, the following steps:

1)      The entire premises was professionally HEPA vacuumed using commercial grade HEPA rated HEPA vacuums.  This included all of the lower and upper areas of the home, bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, cabinet interiors and exteriors, light fixtures, detail finish work.

2)      All horizontal surfaces and walls in the entire home were wiped with a mild surfactant to remove any dust that may have had mold spores attached.

3)      Commercial grade 500 CFM HEPA filters were placed inside the home during the above cleaning to trap any spores released during the cleaning process.

4)      The carpets inside the home were professionally cleaned and then again after the cleaning professionally HEPA vacuumed.

5)      Negative pressure was established under the home in the crawlspace using 500 CFM commercial grade HEPA filters and taping off access points of the crawlspace.

6)      Any damp moist soil turned over and/or removed from the area.  Any organic materials or soil that appeared to have organic materials in it was removed and disposed of.

7)      The understructure was wiped down in any areas that appeared to have any physical organic material on them.  All mold present in the understructure on substrates (other than the dirt itself) was sanded, cleaned and disinfected.

8)      All openings from the understructure up into the home were sealed off with self-expanding foam and or silicone caulk.  Larger areas where openings existed building materials that were pretreated with mold resistant sealer were applied to the openings and sealed using silicone caulk.

9)      Understructure fans were installed inside of the crawlspace with the intent to assist in keeping the crawlspace dry and free from moisture and create negative pressure under the crawlspace which would remain constant.  This would assist in preventing any air exchange from the crawlspace into the home.

An example of a typical patch placed on the underside of the crawlspace sealing off the opening up into the home.

case study on inaccurate air samples

Image of fan installation and wide view of crawlspace in the home.  Note that 3 fans were installed and air flow was directed out of the crawlspace vents on 3 sides of the foundation.

 case study on inaccurate air samples

Our Laboratory Results:

The air samples we collected after sealing off the openings to the crawlspace showed a dramatic improvement in the indoor air quality of the home and no abnormalities with respect to elevated mold spore counts were identified.

case study on inaccurate air samples

The table represents the total spores per cubic meter of air as compared to the outdoor sample collected at the time of each air quality study.  In the initial air quality study the total spore counts inside were between 107% and 318% of what was identified as present in the general atmosphere at the time of the study.  The downstairs guest room being the worst should more than 3 times the number of spores present inside the room as compared to outside.  Right behind that was the master bedroom which showed 285% of the spores found outside.  After the understructure was sealed and the openings from home into the crawlspace closed off our air study showed a dramatic increase in indoor air quality and reduction of mold spores.  In our study we found only 25% number of spores in the downstairs guest room as compared to the general atmosphere at the time.  This represents a 1260% increase in indoor air quality.  Similar dramatic increases were observed in the other rooms of the home.

In analyzing indoor air quality, samples are collected in various rooms and an outdoor control sample is collected.  The spore counts per cubic meter of the individual samples are compared to the spore counts per cubic meter of the outdoor control sample.  As the general composition of mold/pollen spores changes day to day with atmospheric conditions you cannot simply evaluate spore counts by themselves inside of a home but rather in context with the general outdoor conditions present at the time of the sample collection.  In making a true “apples to apples” type comparison, the table above represents the analysis in context with the original control sample collected.  Both sets of air samples were processed by the same laboratory.

Conclusions:

The initial study did not take into account that design and construction issues that existed; namely that openings to the understructure were present allowing air exchange between the crawlspace of the home and the interior air space.  Initial air sample analysis confirm this.  After the understructure openings were sealed off and the resultant spores which had entered the home removed via thorough cleaning and the indoor air quality of the home showed to be in good condition.  A dramatic improvement of up to 1260% was seen when the openings from the crawlspace into the home were sealed off.

The collection of air samples confirmed that the air exchange between the crawlspace and the interior of the home was the root cause for the observed elevated spore counts.