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Surface Sampling for Mold

Surface Sampling (Tape, Swab, Bulk, or Wipe)


  • To determine whether or not the visible stain, discoloration, etc. is indicative of mold growth at the sample location.
  • To determine and identify molds actually growing on the surface sampled, as opposed to the mere presence of mold spores.
  • To determine whether the spore population on the surface represents a normal population or a skewed population of spore type. and also to note “marker” spore types that may indicate indoor mold growth.

Note: A direct microscopic examination that directly identifies fungal growth (and doesn’t just count the number of spores) is usually the best method of analysis for surface samples. While culturing a surface sample may help resolve a specific   identification problem, used alone such a culture may result in an inaccurate characterization of the surface sampled.

Advantages and Disadvantages

  • Advantages
    • Surface sampling is inexpensive and (for a direct examination) may be analyzed immediately.
    • A direct microscopic examination of a surface shows exactly what is there.
    • Surface sampling may reveal indoor reservoirs of spores that have not yet become airborne.
  • Disadvantages
    • The presence of biological materials on a particular surface is not a direct indication of what may be in the air.


  • Surface sampling for direct microscopic examinations usually requires no special equipment. Samples are typically tape lifts, swabs, or physical pieces of the suspect surfaces.

Sampling Protocols

  • Tape Sample
    • Use a piece of absolutely clear (not frosted) tape that is one or two inches in length and 3/4 inch (2 cm) wide. Handle it by the ends only.
    • Position the adhesive side of the tape over the suspect area and press firmly.
    • Remove the tape from the surface and place it onto a clean microscope slide, then place the microscope slides into a slide box or other protective container. If microscope slides aren’t available, tape the tape sample directly onto the inside of a reclosable plastic bag adhesive side down, folding over one end for easy removal by the analyst.
    • Do not fold the tape onto itself.
  • Bulk Sample
    • Remove a one or two square inch piece of the suspect material and place it inside a clean plastic reclosable bag.
  • Swab Sample
    • Swabs are a last choice for when the sampling area is difficult to reach, a bulk sample is not practical, or the surface is very wet and a tape sample will not adhere to the area of concern.
  • Wipe Sample
    • Wipes should only be used if sampling is not possible by any of the above methods mentioned. Wipes should not be the preferred method of sampling unless there is a proper justification to do so.


  • Tapes and dry bulk samples require placement into a reclosable plastic bag.
  • Swabs and wet bulk samples should be sent via overnight courier with a cold pack to retard growth during shipping. Refrigeration of wipe samples using a cold pack during transportation is also recommended to minimize changes.