Removing Musty Smells from Works on Paper
October 31, 2016 at 2:37 pm #135104Mell ScalziParticipant
Sorry if this is a topic that has already been covered.
I have a bunch of Photo and print folios in my collection and almost all of them smell musty from being stored in a closet for years and years. I have read that one way to reduce the smell is to put the prints or photos in new boxes, but since the folios are original, I don’t want to get rid of them. The folios show signs of mildew spores and since they are made of book cloth I do not know how to clean them.
I have also found some potential mildew spotting on one of the photos. From what I read on the internet, the spots do not smear, so i believe they are inactive. I would love to know the best way to clean this as well.
Any suggestions helpful! I have a very limited/non existant budget for conservation so the cheaper the solution the better!
October 31, 2016 at 3:13 pm #135105Amber SkantzParticipant
I can’t really speak to the mildew issue, but I’ve had success removing odors using what we call a “stinky book box” in our library/archive. Here’s the link that inspired me to create one for our tech services department:
Here’s a photo of ours. I sit whatever needs to be deodorized on the rack and close the lid and check it in about a week. Under the rack are the boxes of cat litter (unscented) and baking soda (for extra measure, since I opted against charcoal).
October 31, 2016 at 3:15 pm #135106
October 31, 2016 at 5:55 pm #135108April SmithParticipant
Amber’s suggestion about building a “stinky book box” is what I, too, would recommend for trying to reduce the odor of prints. This method may be very slow to work, so try using a thin layer of baking soda in the container and then change it frequently. You may want to check it every couple of days. It could take weeks or months, depending on how bad the odor is. Support the print on a piece of acid-free Hollytex (spun polyester) as it will allow for air to circulate while protecting the print from the screen. If you do not have Hollytex, use a good quality (acid-free) paper.
One way to clean inactive mold or mildew spores from book cloth is with a smoke sponge made of vulcanized natural rubber. Do not rub the sponge, but dab it on the book cloth to try and lift out the spores. Then you can cut off the portion of the sponge used and discard it. If your or colleagues are sensitive to mold, you will want to work on these items in a protected area, perhaps using a face mask. If you have access to a conservation lab, working under a fume hood would be ideal.
Sometimes it is next to impossible to remove inactive mold or mildew and what you are seeing may be discoloration caused from mold or mildew that cannot be reduced. So, once you have finished trying to clean the items, keep them where air circulation is good, temperature and humidity are relatively constant and watch them for signs of re-growth.
I will forward your question about inactive mold on photographs to a photograph conservator.
Please let me know if you have further questions.
October 31, 2016 at 7:13 pm #135109Gawain WeaverParticipant
All good suggestions. I would emphasize the relative humidity of the storage environment after you clean these materials– if the RH is above 60% you will likely have mold. If you keep it below say 50% RH then you’ll definitely be OK. Some variation is fine– the key is to not have high humidity.
The activated charcoal or Fresh Step kitty litter box is often cited in these situations, and apparently works well for many people. I prefer just use air flow. I have the luxury of a fume hood, but a fan gently blowing over the material should work fine. Just fan the material out as much as possible so as many moldy surfaces as possible are exposed to the air. And then just give it a few weeks or even months for the smell to dissipate.
But first clean. The Wishab cleaning sponge like April mentioned is good. I would start with a vacuum cleaner with a micro vacuum attachment kit (Amazon.com $6.50). Ideally a HEPA vacuum so you trap the mold spores rather than blow them all over the room. You can use the brush attachment in the kit to gently go over the book cloth. It should pull up a lot of the mold spores from the surface and make the deodorizing go much more quickly.
October 31, 2016 at 7:16 pm #135110Gawain WeaverParticipant
sorry! Not Wishab sponges. April (and I) were both referring to Absorene dry cleaning sponges– they’re beige colored. Home Depot and lots of other suppliers carry them.
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