Cleaning Mold from Old Corn Husk Doll

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    • #133275
      Robbie Young

      Hello All!
      I have a corn husk doll made in the 1930’s that is in great condition except for what appears to be black mold growing on it. The mold is mostly up inside the folds in the bottom of the doll. Any ideas on what to use and how to safely clean this up?

    • #133280

      It’s important to make sure you know what something is before you remove it from the object – it may well be mold, but it might also contain evidence about the manufacture or history of the corn husk doll. I would examine it well with a good light and some magnification before doing anything irreversible. Then I would write a clear description and take photographs.
      If it really is mold, then it would be sensible to put the object in a drier environment until the mold is inactive (it needs a certain amount of humidity in the air to grow). It will become powdery and shrunken as it loses moisture. The inside can then be gently cleaned with a soft dry brush (like an artist’s watercolor brush)and the loosened, powdery mold can be vacuumed away using the crevice tool of a vacuum cleaner which has a HEPA filter. Cover the nozzle of the crevice tool with a piece of fine net or pantyhose held on with a rubber band. This will stop any tiny pieces of the corn husk doll which may detach from being sucked into the vacuum cleaner and lost. Do not try to vacuum the doll, the suction will be much too strong. Use the brush to gently dislodge the dried mold and have the vacuum nozzle a little distance away to catch the mold particles. It helps to have a colleague control the vacuum nozzle.

      Clean the brush occasionally on the net over the vacuum nozzle and keep gently brushing the interior of the doll till the mold has been removed.

      Examine the inside carefully again, write down what you have done and take more photographs. See if you can determine why the mold grew there. Your actions and records are an important part of the history of the object.

      Dispose carefully of the old tissue paper the item was packed in and take care not to return the doll to the kind of damp conditions which enabled the mold to grow.
      Good luck.

    • #133279
      Robbie Young

      Thank you so much, Helena! I am nearly 100% certain, after doing more research, that what I do see is mold. I also found out that this doll is older than what I first though. It was made around 1908-1910 and is in very good condition.

      For drying, would it be wise to put the doll in a container with a dissicant packet for a short period of time?

    • #133278

      A mixture of 70% ethanol and 30% water is the most recommended way to kill mold. You can dab it on with a swab – but first do a tiny test to make sure it doesn’t affect colors. I don’t recommend a desiccant for something that is so RH-sensitive.

    • #133277

      Barbara is absolutely right about ethanol and water and the corn doll being RH sensitive, but if it has been in such a damp atmosphere that it has grown mold over such a large area, I think it may well benefit from drying before treatment is made, and I was also reluctant to suggest an alcohol based treatment without knowing what facilities are available. Most places can manage cleaning with a brush and vacuum in a clean, well-lit area, but may not have facilities for fume extraction. Additionally, I am also cautious about the health of people working with moldy artefacts.

      If you decide to dry it out, it would be sensible to proceed with caution, placing the artefact on some crumpled acid-free tissue as a support in a polythene container with a well-fitting lid with enough silica gel desiccant to dry out the interior of the container (not one of the tiny ones you get in a camera). You don’t want to desiccate the object, just dry the mold enough that it shrinks down and becomes powdery. Check it twice a day and treat it as soon as the mold seems dead.

      If you prefer the alcohol method, that is fine but do make sure you have a well ventilated area to work in, have lots of cotton wool swabs ready so you can keep cleaning till the mold is all removed, test a discreet area first, as Barbara suggests, and don’t allow the corn husk to become saturated with the solution. The swabs should be barely damp with the solution. Try to roll the tip of the swab to and fro gently using your finger tip and thumb, don’t rub it as it can cause damage or push the mold residue into the surface.
      Hope this helps

    • #133276
      Robbie Young

      Thanks to you both for the great advice!

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