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Using sprays, sealants, sanitizers indoors: this article discusses the use of sprays to address bacterial and mold hazards in buildings. We illustrate when the use of disinfectant or biocidal sprays, fungicides, bleach, paints, and encapsulant coatings are useful, and when they are a mistake. This article emphasizes that cleaning or removing problem mold and correcting the reasons why it grew are key steps, adding that consumers should beware of use of sprays of any kind if they substitute for those steps.
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When Is it Good Practice to Use Biocides or Fungal sprays in a Building to Address Bacteria or Mold?
Guide to Using Biocides, Fungal Sprays, Mold Sprays, Sanitizers, Sealants for Indoor Mold, Particle, or Odor Contaminants
What are the Proper Steps for Removing Indoor Mold Contamination?
At a follow-up investigation requested by homeowners (client Z., 2007) we learned that a local mold remediator had applied a spray product into wall cavities and on interior wall surfaces.The clients reported that a "biocidal spray" was used in their basement and in upper floor wall cavities. (See Biocide Sanitizer Confusion below).
Because the problem mold reservoir had not been properly located, moldy odors and mold complaints persisted in the home.
The client is shown (photo at left) indicating one of the basement spray application locations. Based on client-perceived odor sources, the remediator used an thermography - an infra-red camera to identify cool areas around a window, areas that he then identified to the client as the problem mold reservoir. A mold spray product was applied through small openings into wall cavities around the window and on exposed surfaces in other building locations. (Photo, left). THERMOGRAPHY IR Infra Red & Thermal Scanners - discusses use of infrared and thermography images and temperature scanning equipment.
The source of odors in a building can be tricky to pinpoint, as we discuss at ODORS & SMELLS DIAGNOSIS & CURE.
When the client continued to complain of mold odors in the home, a subsequent inspection including test cuts by the author were made into the previously-sprayed wall cavity where we found evidence that no water or air leaks (an expected cause of mold in a building cavity) nor mold had previously been present where the spray was applied.
That inspection and subsequent laboratory testing indicated that the spray procedure had been ineffective, almost certainly because it was applied based on poor mold-locating methodology, and because it had not been applied where mold was in fact present in a problem mold reservoir that we located (by inspection) elsewhere in the building.
The client's leftover product's package label described the coating as intended for ceilings, roofs, decks, walls, mold, odor, and exterior surface cleaning, and USDA authorized for use in federally inspected meat and poultry plants. The "left over material" was labeled as CalBrite™.
The company's attorneys have indicated that:
At its core however, the ultimate success of this mold odor removal case turned not on choice of mold spray chemical, but on accurately finding the problem mold reservoir. It illustrates the importance of determining that a problem mold reservoir is present in a building, using valid investigation and testing methods, and accurately locating the problem(s) in the building before any costly cleaning, sprays or other steps are applied.
It appears that many consumers and perhaps some mold remediators are unclear about the distinction among definitions of biocide, disinfectant, sanitizer, and sterilizer. [Given just below.] While the producers of various cleaning products are careful to distinguish among these terms when describing their individual products, a search for official definitions shows why confusion might be expected among the general public. Even U.S. EPA mixes and merges these terms and often discusses them together.
Basic Definitions of Biocide, Disinfect, Sterilize, Sanitize, Sanitizer
An example of a biocide product is Bio-Cide International's Pro-Oxine. More on biocides and an expert's recommendation against their use in mold remediation projects is provided at Recommendation Against Biocides.
Industry and product definitions of sanitizers emphasize what the producers state are less-toxic or even non-toxic (to humans and other animals) chemicals used in those products.
Our research found that a main distinction between a sanitizer and a disinfectant is that at the "specified use" dilution, the disinfectant will have a higher kill rate of bacterial pathogens than a sanitizer. As Burge points out below, some microorganisms are quite resistant to disinfectants / biocides.
Similarly, a narrow distinction between sterilize and disinfect is to distinguish between removing all living microorganisms and removing virtually all microorganisms.See ASTM E197105 and see CSPA Public School Cleaning Product Guidelines. Also see "Basic Elements of Equipment Cleaning and Sanitizing in Food Processing and Handling Operations", University of Florida IFAS Extension.
In addition to the use of biocides or sanitizers directly in or on buildings, some building coatings may contain a biocide or a sanitizer product as well.
Some experts also warn that at least some biocides may be irritating or harmful to building occupants, may leave harmful particles, are only temporarily and only partly effective, and may add moisture that adds problems to the building to the question “When should I use biocides during fungal remediation in buildings?” , the short answer is that use of biocides should be avoided if you can. We agree with the following opinion expressed by Dr. Harriet Burge, our favorite teacher and a respected expert in the field of public health:
When is it Good Practice to use Mold Paints, Fungicidal Sealants and Encapsulant Sprays in a Crawl Space or in Other Building Areas?
Once the building has been cleaned of debris and moldy materials, and building leaks, moisture traps, or crawl space water has removed, and after we've eliminated the sources of building water entry, we are ready to take the next steps to keep the building clean and dry.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about mold sprays, mold killers, biocides, sanitizers & other spray-treatments for mold contamination
Questions & answers or comments about mold sprays, sealants, sanitizers.
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Technical Reviewers & References
Related Topics, found near the top of this page suggest articles closely related to this one.
Directory of Producers of Mold Remediation Products, Fungicidal Sprays, Sealants, Biocides, Washes
See MOLD SPRAY SOURCES & TYPES for our complete product list;
We have no financial interest in any of these products. This data was discovered by internet search. We have no independent scientific data as yet regarding the effectiveness, toxicity, chemical composition, nor durability of these products. Producers of mold remediation products are welcome to Contact Us by email (please, not by telephone) to suggest product listings, website technical content, or technical corrections.
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