I've got mold in my files


I have a file of old school papers that I kept in my basement and I discovered that they are moldy. Is there anything I can do about it at this point?


staudermans's picture

First, dry the materials by bringing them out of the basement, and allowing them to air dry in a room with a fan, or outside, laying on a clean surface (like a sheet). Put a weight (a rock) on the papers to keep them from blowing away. Once the moldy material seems dry to the touch and not smeary or highly smelly, it is probably dormant. But still consider wearing an NIOSH rated N-95 particulate mask (also known as a filtering facepiece respirator (available at hardware stores and sometimes drugstores) when you handle it. Also, some people advise wearing nitrile or latex gloves. If your work surface is not cleanable at the end of the day with a bleach solution (10% in water), you can lay out the materials on a disposable surface such as clean unprinted newsprint (available at art supply and shipping/moving stores) or sheet. Gently wipe the documents with cotton balls on both sides and then discard the wiping materials & newsprint on the same day. Be careful of any rips in the paper that may catch on the cotton, and do not use this approach if the writing or drawing is in soft pencil, charcoal, pastel or other media that may smear! Another technique is to use a HEPA vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment. This is tricky: you need to vacuum at low suction through a screen like a fabric window screen. Please exercise caution! You don't want to suck papers into your vacuum cleaner! Some have said that embedding mildewed items into silica balls (certain cat litter brands), helps to remove the odor, but I have never tried this. If you plan on duplicating your documents on a scanner, have several static-attracting dust wipes to wipe the surfaces at the ready. These can be washed in a bleach solution and reused in the future. Avoid the use of ammonia and bleaches near photographs and documents as the fumes can affect the silver and dyes!

Lastly, be sure to keep the documents in a clean, airy, stable environment. Mold is most often dormant, not dead, and can bloom again in elevated relative humidity over 50%.

We have a couple of blog posts on this topic http://siarchives.si.edu/blog/you-asked-we-answered-taking-care-your-own... Go to the blog and type "mold" and you'll see several other ideas and suggestions.

tyreek's picture

You might also be interested in checking out this very informative webinar on mold, with great resources on how to handle a mold outbreak, produced by Heritage Preservation, the American Association for State and Local History, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services:

(Just click on the green "Access Session Recording" at the bottom of the page to listen to the webinar).

Hope that helps!

LockshinN's picture

This question gave us a great topic for our October is American Archives Month blog post on mold. While written in a slightly tongue-in-cheek style for Halloween, we present images that identify mold there, including a recent short documentary produced by the National Archives and Records Administration that in just a few minutes shows many of the processes and safety considerations taken in handling and preserving mold-affected collections. Do look to the list of Related Resources for a link to that video and virtual exhibit.

chernobieff's picture

There are cleaning companies that have controlled environrment rooms for removing mold. Could be a poosible resource.I have done this many times with pianos.

LockshinN's picture

Indeed, yes. There are companies that do specialize in contracts for cleaning collections as well as household goods affected by mold and other emergencies. There is an excellent guide to sourcing recovery companies under the Response & Recovery section on our Select Resources for Disaster Prevention, Preparedness, and Response for Archives, Museums, and Libraries page. The Mid-Atlantic Resource Guide for Disaster Preparedness, linked from that page, also lists some vendors who operate nationwide. Thanks for your contribution, reminding us to link back to our Disaster resources page!

Johana86's picture

I encountered a similar situation. Luckily I found this topic

Daniel_Wilson's picture

Mold is a familiar problem on a small scale—a moldy book here and there—and unimaginable on a large scale—a collection wide outbreak of active mold. Many institutions have never experienced an active mold outbreak on a collection-wide level. Dealing with such an outbreak can be overwhelming at first—but there are basic and tested methods to help an institution recover.

To best prevent an outbreak and to know how to begin recovery, it is important to understand the basic life-cycle of mold, the steps needed to stop mold growth, the equipment needed to protect staff, and the steps to salvage collections.


Daniel Wilson

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