By Corey Barber
Throughout my time as the Collections Fellow at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, I have been able to take part in cleaning mold off a wide variety of objects. Caution must be taken when cleaning mold to limit risk to staff. Mold spores can be inhaled, especially when disturbing them for the cleaning process causing more spores to become airborne. When working with mold, it is vital to protect oneself with personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning proper techniques.
Having taken Preventive Conservation the semester prior to starting my fellowship, I had been taught the basics of safely cleaning mold off a variety of material types. This helped me know the first steps to take to prepare to clean mold off an old camera to our InFocus exhibit. I started off putting on an N95 mask and nitrile gloves for my PPE. For this camera, we used a mix of Absorene and cotton q-tips to dry clean the exterior, which was a mix of leather, paper, and metal. By dabbing a ball of Absorene or a q-tip onto the camera, we were able to remove the mold from the surface. I have also used this same technique for removing mold from books.
For other items such as some leather gloves, a leather helmet, and a trophy with a fabric base, I used a brush and a vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove the mold. With the vacuum running, I would hold it close to the object while lightly brushing the surface and flicking the brush upward to pull any surface mold into the air to be sucked up by the vacuum. For this process, I made sure I still wore my PPE as this technique pushed more mold spores into the air than the dabbing technique used on the camera.
While dealing with mold can be a bit daunting because of the health implications from mold exposure, it is so satisfying to see an object come back to life after removing a dusty, white layer of mold. Tasks such as this are what initially drew me to collections work. These hands-on tasks are a welcome break to working at a computer and desk all day. Seeing how my work makes an impact on the objects and their future preservation makes the tedious work so worth it.