Clean and Preserve Old Handwritten Documents

Dear Donia,
How can I clean and preserve old documents handwritten in pencil?

old, moldy documents

Q. Dear Donia,

I have some letters, documents, and two little notebooks from my great grandfather (1850 - 1900) that are moldy and smell and have white spots for humidity. Also, the writing is in pencil, and I am afraid to lose the text. Please tell me how to clean and conserve them.

A. Dear Rosana,

The first step you need to take to to put all of these materials in a Ziploc® bag and put it in your freezer to kill the mold. I would leave it there until spring weather returns. Once spring has arrived, find a sunny day without wind and set up a workspace outside. Be sure to get some N100 dust masks, some nitrile gloves, and an inexpensive soft-bristled paintbrush or two. Wearing the protective gear you purchased (DO NOT do this without it) and with any sort of breeze at your back, brush the now dry mold off the documents. Be very careful when you do this as mold can be hazardous to your health and only do this outside so you do not scatter the mold throughout your home. The cleaned materials should be safe to handle if you brush off every page. What you want to think about for the future is storing them in an environment where the humidity does not get above 60%, so no basements.

Store the documents in paper from this point forward so that you don't create an excessively humid microenvironment that would reactivate the mold.

If the mold returns, repeat this procedure. Good luck!