Dear BiblioBull – mold on books

Dear Bibliobull –

My wife and I inherited a wonderful collection of classic leather bound books from her father. They were stored in cardboard boxes in my mother in laws basement for many years. Unfortunately, at one point in time the basement flooded and although the books did not suffer direct water damage, the increased levels of humidity allowed mold to begin growing on the surface of the leather bindings. The books themselves, aside from small amount of mold, are in most excellent condition. I would like to kill all the mold, if possible, but I am a bit wary of using and cleaners harsh enough to fully destroy the mold for fear of further damaging either the leather or the gold gilding.

Moldy Oldies


Dear Unmolded –

Despite what they have told us all our lives, Alcohol makes all things better. i have been recommending Isopropyl Alcohol to people for ages, but never really knew why. So, I tossed your question on to the Book Arts Mailing List to see what I got and I got this delightful reponse from Scott Coutts an honest to goddness microbiologist.

“As a microbiologist, I can tell you that there’s no one (commonly available) thing that will kill *all* fungi, other than harsh chemicals that will damage the book. I’d say your best bet is an alcohol based substance used at no less than 70%v/v alcohol content in water. You can use isopropanol (2-propanol) like others have suggested, and a pharmacist should be able to sell 100% 2-propanol to you.

Otherwise, those pre-packaged medical wipes/swabs that are used for disinfection of wounds and injection sites are soaked in isopropanol as well, but they may not be ‘wet’ enough to be useful to you. They should not be scented. It doesn’t have to be isopropanol either – you could equally well use ethanol which you can obtain in the from pharmacists and also in the form of ‘polish spirit’.

Vodka or any other spirits are all ethanol based as well, but I would not use them because they contain other ingredients (that give flavour) as well as a proportion of sugar etc. They’ll often leave stains on light coloured materials. Also, ‘methylated spirits’ or ‘metho’ (as it’s sold in Australia) is alcohol based, but it often contains poisonous components, so you should be careful with it.”

So there. Go now and kill things.

Biblio Bull-

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