Posted by on May 9, 2014 in Books, Photographs, Tips and Hints

Mould, a five letter word that causes a lot of four letter words from historians around the world. It can destroy your documents and it can make you sick. What do you do when you discover that granddad’s WW1 letters or the family Bible has mould on it? Here are some tips to help you when you discover mould.

First, protect yourself:

You can’t tell who will be affected by exposure to mould. Common reactions to mold exposure include runny nose, eye irritation, cough, headache, fatigue, and aggravation of asthma. Anyone with asthma, serious allergies, respiratory problems, diabetes, compromised immune systems, or taking steroid therapy should avoid moldy materials and the area where they are.

Take steps to protect yourself. Mould spores can enter your body through your breathing and also through small breaks in your skin. Here are some ways to help prevent mold exposure:

  • Use a N95 disposable respirator, available online and in some home improvement stores
  • Use disposable gloves when handling the materials
  • Wear goggles or protective eyewear
  • Do not touch your eyes or mouth after touching a mouldy item
  • Wash your hands as soon as possible after you’ve left the area where the moldy item is
  • Shower with hot water as soon as possible
  • Wash your clothes in hot water; use bleach. (And don’t wear good clothes. Mould can stain and it does not come out.)

Get the item safe and dry

Mould thrives on moisture. If the item is wet, you’ll need to dry it before you can attempt to remove the mould. Store it somewhere away from people, perhaps a garage or a dry shed. If you have something with multiple pages, like a book or magazine, you may need to put paper towels or blank copy paper between the pages. Here’s how I recently dried out a book that landed in my bathtub.

Removing the mould

After the item is dry, use a clean paint brush to lightly dust off the mold. If there are stubborn spots, you can try gently wiping with a slightly damp cloth or sponge. A better solution is to use a non-chemical natural dry sponge. These are often advertised as “soot sponges.” (Absorene is one brand name.) They are available in many home improvement stores. What’s nice about them is that they are designed to be used dry, so you’re not introducing any moisture to the item.

When you’re using a sponge, remember to be gentle. This isn’t like rubbing out a stain from your shirt. Rub too hard and you might end up tearing the paper or erasing the print!

If in doubt

If you’re not comfortable working with a mouldy item or if the job is too big for you to handle, contact a professional conservator. Many historical societies and archives maintain lists of conservators and preservationists in your area.

About the author

Nancy E. Kraft is a preservation librarian and the Head of the Preservation and Conservation Department, University of Iowa Libraries. She is part of the American Institute for Conservation-Collections Emergency Responders Team (AIC-CERT). Nancy received the Midwest Archives Conference 2009 Presidents’ Award for her extraordinary work following the historic levels of flooding that struck Iowa in the summer of 2008. She is a lecturer and preservation consultant for the OceanTeachers Academy, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, UNESCO, in Ostend, Belgium. She is active in the American Library Association having served as Chair of the Preservation and Reformatting Section of the Library Collections & Technical Services Division and currently serving as the ALA Voting Representative to the National Information Standards Organization (NISO). She is a regular contributor to the Preservation Beat blog at the University of Iowa – click here for more.