Archiving Documents with Mold

Dear Donia,
How do I archive documents with mold on them?

moldy documents

Q. Dear Donia,

I am in the midst of archiving my parish's historical documents and have come across a number of important papers that have various types of mold on them. I don't have the technical expertise to identify and remove the molds, and my parish hasn't the money to engage a professional (thus the reason I am archiving for them). I hesitate to archive the moldy papers in the same box as other documents in case the mold spread. Is there any way to preserve these papers without spreading the mold? Do I place them in their own archive box and/or store them separately? Would placing them in plastic bags prevent mold spread or would that just further damage the papers? Basically, I need to know how to inexpensively preserve them without damaging other documents. Thank you for any advice you can offer. Kind regards, Dana

A. Dear Dana,

Mold is a big problem in archives. The best thing to do to start with is to assess whether the mold you have is active or inactive. If the mold is active it will be fluffy and smear if you rub it with a finger while wearing nitrile gloves and a mask (an N95 would be ideal but your COVID-19 mask would work well, just wash it every day). If the mold is dry and dusty, it is inactive. 

If the mold is active, place all items with active mold in plastic zipper bags and freeze them for at least 72 hours. This will kill any active mold. When you know you are going to have a day with low humidity and no wind, take the documents out of the freezer and remove documents from the plastic right away. Plastic will trap moisture and encourage more mold growth. Then wearing a mask and nitrile gloves, take the documents outside and use a natural bristle paintbrush to brush the surface mold off. If there is a light breeze, make sure the wind is at your back so the mold does not blow back at you. Once the documents are cleaned, they can be integrated into the collection. If you want an added layer of protection, you can interleave the moldy documents with acid-free, lignin-free, buffered paper to act as a barrier. Be sure to monitor the collection for mold after cleaning as if the conditions are right (humidity over 65% is the big one) so that you can stop future outbreaks.

If the mold is inactive, you can follow the directions from above from the point that you go outside.

Mold is dangerous to your health do whenever dealing with it, be sure to wear your mask and nitrile gloves. You will become allergic to it over time and if you do nothing, it could result in serious respiratory issues. If ever at any time you do not feel well, stop and go outside and get new gloves and a mask.

Take care of yourself, and if you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask.