How do I preserve photographs that smell like mold?
Q. Dear Donia,
After my mom's death, her home was flooded due to Hurricane Harvey. I had to gut her house because of the terrible mold. I removed most belongings, and brought a trunk of photos home with me. When I opened the trunk, the smell almost knock me down. I don't see heavy mold on the photos but can smell and taste it. How can I save these photos? I moved the trunk outside, but there is 80 years of family history in that trunk, and I don't know what to do to save them. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Mary
A. Dear Mary,
I am so sorry to hear about all the problems that Harvey left you with. I cannot even imagine how hard it must have been for you.
There are some different approaches you can take with your photographs.
The first step that I would take for all the options that follow is to wrap all the albums in waxed paper and put loose photos in Ziplock bags and put all of them in a freezer. This will help stop any active mold from continuing to damage the photos and buy you time to work through all of them. A standard home chest freezer works great for this.
Once frozen, you can begin working with one album or one batch of photos at a time. Take out one or more albums, unwrap, and let come to room temperature. Inspect the album or photos for any mold (be sure do this outside and to wear nitrile gloves and an N95 dust mask to protect yourself).
From here, you can put the album or photos into a small bin and place it in a larger bin with a locking lid. Inside the larger bin you can place baking soda, activated charcoal (from pet stores for fish tanks), or odor absorbers such as those you can find on Amazon. Just don't use the ones that contain fragrances, they will not do the job you want in this instance. Put the lid on and let it sit for a month and check on the progress. If the odor is still there, repeat for another month. Another way that you can reduce the odor is to use MicroChamber interleaving paper. Place a sheet of this every two or three pages in the album or between photographs and place in a small box or bin. Let sit a month and change out the paper in different locations. Check again in a month for progress and repeat as long as needed to reduce the odor.
Another option is to scan all of the photos and albums (including any information on the back or album page), saving all the digital files on multiple media and in multiple locations (sharing with family members is a great way to do this). This way if the odor persists, or if you have active mold growing on the photos and albums, you can still salvage the content of the photographs.
I hope this information helps and that you can save your family memories!