How To Remove Mold From Paper Documents?

Helen Skeates
Helen Skeates
25 min read

Even our most priceless books and documents aren’t safe from mold. To assist you deal with the issue, here is a step-by-step guide on how to remove mold from paper documents.

Paper documents can develop mold and mildew over time, especially if they are kept in humid environments. If you see any of the warning indicators listed below, you must act immediately to prevent the loss of critical records.

Removing Mold From Books and Paper Items

Mold Growth in General

Let’s take a quick look at what causes mold to grow before we get into the hows of getting rid of it.

To flourish, mold necessitates the presence of both food and water. When it comes to moisture, things are quite cut and dried. Although a wide variety of foods can be used as a feeding source. If there’s a source of nutrients, mold can find them. All kinds of things from wallboard to carpets and clothes are vulnerable. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s also a big fan of eating paper.

Preparing for and Cleaning Mold on Paper Records – For the Record

Mold Removal from Books

Any hard, non-porous surface can be treated with warm water, baking soda, and vinegar if we are dealing with mold.

Although I was concerned that the combination would destroy the paper, since that is what we are discussing.

You must first ensure that the books and the pages within them are totally dry before you begin the process of eliminating mold. Close the book by inserting paper towels between the pages. Press the book tightly so that any remaining moisture can be absorbed by the paper towels.

To ensure that the pages are thoroughly dry, repeat this process several times. As a result, the pages will be creased

After that, soak a clean towel with a small amount of hydrogen peroxide to remove any remaining lint. Wipe off the mold using a damp cloth. A few times over may be necessary, but take your time and don’t rub too hard or risk damaging any of the pages.

Using another cloth dampened with diluted lemon juice might help remove any remaining stains.

Every step is straightforward, and the components are readily available in most households.

Even if you feel that the mold on your books is an indication of more serious issues in your home, we can help.

The Professionals

You may not be able to remove the mold on your own, but we are here to help. If you have any concerns or queries, our team of trained experts is here to help you come up with a strategy that fits your timetable. You don’t have to put a halt on your life if you discover mold in your home. Reach out to us as soon as possible so we can get you and your family back into a mold-free house.

Signs Of Mold And Mildew In Paper

Mold and mildew might grow in your paper papers if you pay attention to a few warning signals. There are a few examples here:

  • Some books and a collection of papers are stuck together by their edges.
  • Paper documents can become discolored as a result of exposure to mold and mildew. A yellowing and brown or black speckled appearance is the result of their presence.
  • Paper documents have a musty odor.
  • Mold and mildew can be clearly seen in the book’s spine or cover, especially on books with covers made of organic materials like leather.

Getting Rid Of Mold In Paper Documents

Mold removal from paper takes additional caution due to the material’s susceptibility to harm. If you follow these instructions, however, you will be able to succeed:

Step #1. Isolate the moldy pages of the document

Isolate and store the soiled pages of a stack of documents in a cool, dry location. Sort the papers to remove the moldy ones. Outside is the greatest place to accomplish this.

Step #2. Dry out the pages with mold

Make sure the pages are totally dry before you begin the mold eradication process. In order to keep the pages closed, you can lay a few paper towels in between them.

Make careful to press firmly on the book in order for the paper towels to absorb the extra moisture. Laying the documents out in the sun for at least an hour can also help.

Mold will become powder when it has dried fully, making it much easier to remove. To avoid wrinkling, repeat the drying process a few times.

Step #3. Brush off the mold

It is easy to remove the mold when the pages are dry and the mold becomes powdery. To avoid inhalation and contact with mold spores, put on safety glasses, rubber gloves, and a mask before beginning.

There’s no time to waste when it comes to protecting yourself from mold spores in the air. To learn more about how long mold spores stay in the air, see this article.

In order to keep the mold from spreading, you might place old newspapers in the area where you’ll be working. Start cleaning the documents of mold once you’ve finished preparing them.

A hydrogen peroxide-soaked towel is a good alternative when brushing isn’t enough to remove all of the lint. Gently remove any leftover mold with this cloth.

If there are any remaining stains, dab the cloth with diluted lemon juice and use it again. Helps remove stains.

Like paper papers, canvas is an important medium as well. When it comes to dealing with mold in canvas, check out this article.

Removing the musty smell from the mold-damaged paper

When you remove the mold from your paper papers, the musty odor can remain. There are a few things you can do to get rid of the odor.

Sprinkle talcum powder on the documents before laying them out on a level surface. Wipe the powder off the next day after letting it sit overnight.

Add one or two sheets of fabric softener to the zipped bag containing the paper documents. For a few days, switch out the sheets once every 24 hours.

The papers should be placed in a brown paper bag, with cloth-wrapped charcoal inside, and the bag should be sealed. It should be left there for at least a day before the stink is completely eliminated.

Close a bag or container with baking soda and put the documents inside. Baking soda is known for its ability to remove unpleasant odors.

Preventing mold growth in paper

Regardless of the surface, the most important ingredient in mold formation is water. Paper documents are susceptible to water damage since they are easily absorbed.

The greatest method to fight this is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

To prevent mold from growing on paper, store it in an area with low humidity and excellent airflow. They should not be kept in closets, basements, or any other location where water is present.

It’s also a good idea to clean and dust books and paper papers on a regular basis. In addition, it is recommended that you keep plants out of your library or at a minimum away from the shelves.

Responding To Active Mold

For minor to moderate outbreaks, these are the basic stabilizing measures that can be used in-house. When dealing with a significant number of moldy or moist objects, an experienced mold remediation vendor is frequently needed. See Using Mold Remediation Service Providers.

How much material can be dealt with in-house depends on the quantity of damage, staffing and space and equipment available for handling in-house depends on. If you have questions regarding the salvage process or if additional conservation treatment is required, contact a conservator or preservationist.

For your convenience, the following steps have been numbered. The order in which these actions take place may not always be the same, and some of them may take place at the same time.

See NEDCC pamphlet 3.6 Emergency Salvage of Wet Books and Records for information on salvaging wet materials.

1. Implement safety protocols for all individuals working with mold.

Health risks can be avoided by using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) ought to include:

  • Protective clothing, such as an apron, lab coat, or Tyvek® hazard suit, should always be worn when working in hazardous environments.
  • Nitrile gloves are chosen because they provide for a more tactile feel while using disposable gloves
  • respiratory protection approved for use with mold, i.e. a disposable N, R, or P-95 mask, half-face, or full-face respirator with particulate cartridges. Staff should be fit-tested to ensure proper protection[iv]. Ensure that masks have a good seal and are donned and removed properly.
  • A disposable N, R, or P-95 mask, half-face, or full-face respirator with particulate cartridges for mold exposure. In order to ensure sufficient protection, staff must be fit-tested. Ensure that masks have a good seal and are donned and removed properly.

2. Isolate the affected items, collection, or area.

  • An N, R or P-95 mask or half- or full-face respirator with particle cartridges authorized for usage with mold. To guarantee sufficient protection, staff should be fit-tested[iv]. Ensure that masks have a good seal and are donned and removed appropriately.
  • A disposable N, R, or P-95 mask, half-face, or full-face respirator with particulate cartridges certified for usage with mold, for example. There should be a fit-test to ensure that the staff provides adequate protection. Inspect the seal on your mask and make sure it’s correctly put on and taken off.
  • In the event of a large mold outbreak, the area should be sealed off from the remainder of the structure to the extent practicable. (including isolating air circulation from the affected area).

How to Remove Mold from Paper Artwork - Art New York

3. Determine the cause of the mold growth. You need to know what is causing the problem so that additional outbreaks can be avoided.

There are many places where you can look for an obvious source of moisture, like a leaky faucet. If you can’t find the source of the moisture, get a reading on the relative humidity of the afflicted area with a monitoring device. An issue with the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) may be to blame if the humidity level is too high, or the region may be experiencing increased humidity due to other factors, such as open outside wall, a lack of air circulation. The presence of dust and dirt can also serve as a food supply for mold.

Repair or fix the problem as soon as you can. if the situation cannot be remedied soon, save the collections and keep an eye out for additional mold growth in the area

4. Take steps to modify the environment so that it is no longer conducive to mold growth.

  • Mold thrives in moist conditions. Mold can’t grow unless the humidity level drops below 55%.
  • Remove any water by mopping it up or by using a wet/dry vacuum.
  • Dehumidifiers can be brought in as needed, but a system for draining them periodically should be in place to prevent them from overflowing. According to the size of the room, a dehumidifier will be required. Dehumidifiers should be kept in an isolated area, so that they don’t strive to lower the RH of an entire building. The EPA’s Dehumidifier Basics might assist you in your search for the ideal dehumidifier.
  • Open the windows and use fans to circulate the air (unless the humidity is higher outside).
  • Lower the temperature below 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the affected area.

Avoid relying solely on your own perception of the weather. Using a thermo-hygrometer (which can be obtained at any hardware shop) or your existing data loggers, record the temperature and relative humidity readings multiple times a day in a log.

5. Deactivate any active mold growth.

To avoid facilitating the spread of mold and/or causing discoloration, avoid cleaning objects with active mold.

Deactivation aims to put the mold into a dormant state, which is when it looks dry and powdered instead of fuzzy and wet. When mold is no longer active, it is easier to remove the apparent mold (and safely).

Refrigerator freezers, chest freezers and commercial freezers can all be used to store small quantities of products. If at all feasible, plan for commercial freezer storage in advance of a crisis, as it is probable that moldy things cannot be stored in a freezer that regularly houses food. A special freezer for damp, moldy, or pest-infested goods may be purchased by institutions.

Wrap goods with waxed paper or freezer paper to keep them from adhering together, or place them in a plastic bag. To make things easier to find, be sure to date and label everything.

For at least 24 hours, food should be kept in the freezer. Before cleaning, let the goods thaw. Prior to defrosting, remove all products from their plastic bags to avoid generating a microclimate conducive to additional mold growth.

Before cleaning, wet items must be dried. See the NEDCC’s Emergency Salvage of Wet Books and Records pamphlet 3.6 for more information.

6. Once mold has been deactivated, clean the affected items as described below under Cleaning Inactive Mold.

Restore the area to its pre-infestation condition by thoroughly cleaning and drying it.

Cleaning can be done in-house or by a cleaning and/or dehumidification business engaged on a contract basis. If you’re doing the work yourself, use a bleach or Lysol solution to clean the shelves. Before putting anything back, let the cleaned surfaces air dry fully. Moldy carpets and pads could be the source of a musty smell in the space. A new set is required. As long as it’s not coming from carpets or furniture, the odor should be gone in a short period. It’s possible that the problem that caused the mold will not be fixed if the odor persists. If the HVAC system components (heat exchange coils, ductwork, etc.) were the source of the problem, they should be cleaned and disinfected.

8. Return materials to the affected area.

Before materials may be returned to the damaged region, they must be cleaned and dried, and any mold must be killed. Only when the area has been fully cleaned, dried, and the source of the mold outbreak has been discovered and remedied, should materials be brought back into the house.

9. Monitor conditions in the affected area.

Check the temperature and relative humidity on a daily basis to provide a comfortable environment. Mold won’t return if the humidity and temperature are kept below 55 percent and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively.

To ensure that there is no new mold growth, inspect problem areas and collections on a regular basis. The gutters and interiors of the spines of books are notorious trouble spots, so be sure to check them out.

Cleaning Inactive Mold

Active mold on collection materials should not be cleaned. Prior to cleaning, if mold is present and actively developing, it must be killed. Responding to Mold That Is Already Active

You should avoid attempting to clean any media that is prone to deterioration, such as pastels or charcoal drawings. Help is available from a conservator.

Safety precautions must be taken because mold might cause allergy or respiratory problems in some persons.

Using Lysol or bleach wipes to clean an object is a quick and easy approach that might cause extra harm and is generally useless. Instead, take the following actions:

1. Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). PPE should include:

  • Clothing that is designed to keep you safe. A disposable Tyvek® hazard suit, lab coat, or apron, for example.
  • Nitrile disposable gloves are preferred because they provide a more tactile feel.
  • A disposable N, R, or P-95 mask, half-face, or full-face respirator with particulate cartridges authorized for use with mold. To guarantee that employees are properly protected, they should be put through a fitness test. Inspect the seal on your mask and make sure it’s correctly put on and taken off.
  • Non-vented goggles are the greatest option for eye protection.

2. Work in a well-ventilated area.

  • Use a hood with an exhaust fan that vents to the exterior if you have the option. A HEPA-filtered ductless fume hood can also be employed.
  • Working outside is recommended if a fume hood isn’t accessible (weather permitting).
  • Do not utilize a fume hood while working in an enclosed area, but instead work in front of an open window with an air-flow fan. Disconnect the room from the rest of the building by putting up a door (including blocking the air circulation vents). In a way, it’s like creating negative pressure in the air.

3. Remove visible mold with the aid of a HEPA vacuum. A normal vacuum will simply exhaust the spores out into the air. If a HEPA vacuum is not available, you must work outside to prevent recontamination of the space.

  • Make sure you get a vacuum with a speed control so that you can adjust the suction level to suit your needs. Any vacuum with a hose attachment can be fitted with a universal micro tool kit. Cleaning binded volumes is made easier with the micro attachments.
  • It’s best to avoid touching the item when vacuuming to avoid damaging it with the suction or abrasions from the vacuum attachments. Instead, hover your mouse cursor over the item.
  • This is especially important when dealing with bound volumes. Always work outwards from the spine or center, taking care not to snag the page’s edges.
  • Mold and grime can be removed as needed with a gentle brush. Vacuum the mold off of the item and into the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner. Make sure to use a delicate touch to avoid permanently encasing the paper or textile fibers in mold.
  • With a fiberglass window screen weighed down, even very fragile things like paper and fabrics can be cleaned out. Instead, a cheesecloth-covered brush attachment can be used to prevent the loss of detached parts.
  • Remove used bristles and vacuum attachments, then rinse with a 1:1 water/bleach solution. For mold cleanup, utilize only mold-specific brushes and attachments.
  • Recyclable plastic trash bags can be used to safely dispose of used PPE, screenings or vacuum bags that are no longer needed.

Working With Mold Remediation Vendors

Materials that can be handled in-house are limited only by staffing, physical space, and equipment resources.

Preparing for and Cleaning Mold on Paper Records – For the Record

Under certain circumstances, an institution will require outside support.

  • A significant amount of the collection may be harmed if the mold outbreak affects more than 100 items or ten boxes of documents.
  • There is a chance that the HVAC system and the building are also infested with mold.
  • the building and its furnishings will be in jeopardy.
  • Moldy objects can’t be handled by employees if they’re concerned about their health.
  • If you have a lot of damp items that you can’t dry in 48 hours, you should consider donating them.

Because of a mold infestation or diseased HVAC system, it’s critical that the building be safe to occupy by employees. Institutions in need of assistance with data recovery can turn to several companies with extensive experience working with cultural assets. NEDCC has a list of suppliers and other resources on its website for anyone in need of assistance during natural disasters.

Besides mold cleanup, a disaster recovery business can assist with freezing and drying wet books, cleaning and disinfecting buildings and furnishings, and sanitizing air conditioning systems. It may be important to conduct an indoor air quality test prior to allowing employees back into the building if there is a significant mold infestation or if the infestation poses a health risk to them.

The use of fumigants to cure mold-infested collections was common in the past. However, they are recognized carcinogens, and hence should not be utilized, as Ethylene oxide (ETO) and thymol will kill active mold and mold spores. No matter the chemical you use, you run the risk of harming both your collections and yourself. It may possibly exacerbate the vulnerability of certain collections. Only as a last resort can fumigants be applied directly on or in the vicinity of collections.

The needs of cultural institutions are well-understood by many large disaster response businesses, many of which have worked extensively with libraries and museums. Consult an expert in conservation or preservation if you need their help in selecting a service provider. When rescuing valuable artifacts, always seek the advice of a conservation expert.

Mold: What It Is And How It Reproduces

Understanding the fundamental lifecycle of mold and the procedures required to limit its growth is critical to preventing an outbreak and determining how to begin the recovery process.

In general, the names “mold” and “mildew” are used to describe a group of fungi, microorganisms that live off of other living things. Fungi are thought to number in the over a hundred thousand range. Because of the wide range of mold species, the mold’s development and activity patterns in a given scenario can be unpredictable. However, it is still possible to make certain generalizations about mold’s activity.

When the correct conditions are present, mold spreads by dispersing a huge number of spores into the air, where they can then germinate in new sites. When spores germinate, they generate hair-like hyphae (the “fuzzy” stage), which in turn produce spore sacs that ripen and rupture, releasing new spores, which continues the life cycle.

Mold releases digestive enzymes that change, weaken, and stain paper, cloth, or leather while it is growing and reproducing. Allergy and immune-system sufferers should be aware that mold can be hazardous to their health and even deadly in some situations.

Principles Of Prevention

Stagnant air and high relative humidity are necessary for spores to germinate (become active). They also need a food source. In the absence of ideal conditions, the spores remain latent and unable to inflict much harm. However, even in a dormant or inactive state, mold can and can reawaken if the conditions are right.

When it comes to mold, moisture is the most crucial issue. Most typically this is in the form of relative humidity (RH), but can also be found naturally within a moldy object. Mold grows more quickly when the relative humidity (RH) is higher. One month or more at 70°F, two weeks at 80 percent, or four days with 90 percent RH indicate the presence of mold (although some species of mold can grow at lower RH). Because of the greater RH and increased moisture in the materials, collections that have been affected by a water disaster are more vulnerable.

Mold growth can be exacerbated by factors such as high temperatures, stagnant air, and storage location. Mold spores can germinate and proliferate in as little as 24 hours if the temperature is high and the relative humidity is high enough. Airborne spores can settle on collections in stagnant air. These collections may already have a higher moisture content because of the absence of air movement. As a result, the spores have everything they need to germinate successfully. A mold epidemic is particularly likely to affect collections stored in basements or other unmanaged areas. With inadequate air circulation and the potential for chilly external walls to condensate or leak, basements are prone to dampness. Also, collections are often stored on the floor, where rising damp is less likely to be spotted, and can lead to major issues.

Active or dormant mold spores can be found just about anywhere. We can’t and shouldn’t try to get rid of them all. Everyone who enters the structure will encounter them, as will every room, every thing in a collection, and every person in it. The only effective methods of preventing disease are:

To keep the spores latent (below 70°F and below 55% RH), keep the humidity and temperature stable and monitor to ensure the place is safe.

Ensure that collection storage facilities are well ventilated, and keep an eye out for any areas that appear to be stagnant.

Avoid storing collections in areas that are known to be moist or susceptible to leaks or flooding.

In order to prevent water damage from occurring in the first place, it is important to do regular building maintenance and inspections.

When storing and using a collection, it is important to keep the place clean. Because both active and dormant spores can be found in dirt and dust, it is important to store specimens in dust-free environments whenever possible. Keep the windows closed to reduce the amount of dust and spores in the air.

6. Isolate incoming collections and inspect them for mold.

According to the manufacturer’s recommendation, or if mold has been an issue previously, switch to HEPA filters.


When it comes to paper documents, extra care must be taken with the most important ones, such as those that can never be replaced. Mold development is one of the many problems that can arise as a result of their vulnerability.

Helen Skeates

Helen Skeates

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