What Lies Beneath

By Robert Kravitz

With carpet installed in park administrators’ offices, as well as in recreational and instructional areas, there is always the possibility of mold developing. This is more of a problem in areas of the country that experience a lot of rain during the summer and fall months or that are prone to flooding.

Moisture—typically excessive moisture—causes mold to grow. In addition to high humidity or flooding, mold can develop if water leaks or spills are present. Mold can even occur after carpet is cleaned using the extraction method. While extraction is considered the most effective way to clean carpets, mold can result if the process leaves too much water behind.

Mold is a concern because it can and often does produce toxins. While mold is just about everywhere, especially outdoors, mold spores that develop excessively indoors can pose a health risk. This is especially true in park and rec centers where many young children or older people who use the facility tend to have weaker immune systems.

Some health problems are associated with mold:

  • Allergic reactions. About one person in 10 is allergic to mold.
  • Irritation. Sore throat, itchy eyes, and runny nose are common symptoms.
  • Asthmatic reactions. Especially if someone already has respiratory allergies, mold spores can cause fairly serious problems, even asthma attacks.

The first step in dealing with mold is identifying it, although once mold is noticeable, it may already be posing a health risk. Because of this, park and rec administrators should act quickly to take appropriate steps to eliminate the problem.

Usually, mold is detected in the following ways:

  • Visually. Mold typically looks gray, brown, or even black. If mold colonies have actually developed on the surface of the carpet, they typically appear cottony, velvety, or granular.
  • By Odor. When walking into a room which has been closed off for a time and a musty smell is present, mold has most likely developed. Because mold is a simple and living organism, with enough water it will continue to grow and will actually “eat” the material it grows on. This is what causes the color changes mentioned above, and with the growth the stench will become stronger.

Eliminating Mold
When mold is discovered in carpeting, upholstery, or other fabrics used indoors, the first consideration is whether the impacted areas must be removed or if the issue can be rectified by less-invasive measures. If the mold is the result of a broken pipe, a flood, or similar incident, most likely an insurance inspector will be called in. The inspector will typically make the call as to whether the carpet can be salvaged. If the area has been excessively saturated—and for a prolonged period of time—the call will usually be to dispose of the carpet or impacted area.

Time is often the critical factor. If the carpet has been left wet for 48 hours or longer, mold has likely already developed. However, that does not always mean the carpet must be replaced. Remediation methods can often correct the problem.

After 48 hours, there is a good chance the moisture has seeped its way into the padding and potentially even the floorboards below the carpet. When this happens, the carpet and pad should be picked up—most likely discarded—the surface below cleaned, and the entire area allowed to air dry. If the mold has been identified early, there will usually be less disruption and minimal cost.

The Remediation Process
Of course, a carpet cleaning professional, specifically one who has the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification (IICRC), should be called in to handle mold remediation. According to IICRC, the technician is trained to do the following:

  • Identify moisture sources
  • Evaluate mold growth (visible or suspected)
  • Contain damage to the smallest area possible
  • Physically remove contamination
  • Dry materials to ensure that mold will not return
  • Perform or recommend procedures for returning property to a pre-loss condition.

In most cases, the technician will suggest the following:

Low-moisture carpet extractors. These are designed to use less water than conventional extractors. The equipment also has more advanced and powerful vacuum motors to thoroughly remove moisture from the carpet.

More effective carpet wands. Often overlooked, wands used with the extractor can be crucial in removing moisture. Newer and more advanced wands have been scientifically designed to have smoother airflow that helps boost moisture-recovery performance.

Machines that heat the cleaning solution. While many excellent carpet extractors do not have a heating element for water/cleaning solution, heat can prove beneficial for several reasons. First, it can improve the effectiveness of the cleaning chemicals. Second, heat can help carpets dry faster, which helps prevent mold from developing in the first place.

With all of this concern, some administrators may think the best way to address mold possibly developing in carpets is simply not to install carpet at all. However, carpet does absorb airborne dust and other contaminants, keeping them from being inhaled. In essence, carpeting protects indoor air quality. So while mold can pose a health risk, clean and well-maintained carpets can help keep park and rec users healthy.

Robert Kravitz is a former cleaning contractor and now a frequent writer for the professional cleaning, building, and restoration industries.