Beating the Mold Monster: Salvaging Your A's

First, get organized.

Prioritize salvaging your A’s –art, assets, archives.

  • What’s vital to resuming work? of sentimental or high monetary value?

  • What salvage work will your insurance cover? What you can fund through donation or loan?

  • Will you do the work, or hire a professional? (When in doubt, consult an art conservator or restoration specialist.)

Assemble useful salvage supplies.

Do the “salvage two step”:

  1. Kill (inactivate) the mold spores, by:

    Air drying

    Time- and space-intensive, this method is best for a small number of items. Air drying moldy artwork and other materials should be done in an isolated area (indoors or outdoors). If indoors, seal the return vent and open windows to vent the air outdoors.  If outdoors, keep watercolors, dyed textiles, and other light-sensitive materials out of direct sunlight.  Follow standard air-drying procedures.


    Recommended for quantities of moldy books, paper, textiles, leather, and/or small wooden objects, and if you have access to freezer space (large commercial freezer is best, but a home freezer is also okay). Moldy items can be frozen, then thawed and dried when you have time and space.  Follow standard freezing procedures.

  2. Remove dried mold (best done outdoors), by:


    Recommended, except for fragile objects. Use a HEPA hand vac or nozzle attachment (covered with a piece of cheesecloth or plastic screen to avoid lifting off flakes or loose parts).  A soft, clean natural bristle brush is useful to gently move the mold toward the nozzle — but only do this outdoors.


    Only for smooth, hard surfaces—never on paper or textiles! Use a soft cloth or cotton swab.


CERF+'s Salvage Mold-Damaged Artwork VIDEO

Watch this 10-minute video on DIY salvage techniques for studio artists.


Quick Fact

Mold can damage organic materials, both structurally as well as on the surface (discoloration or stain).

See this companion piece on mold in the Clean-up section for more information on mold and health risks.

To learn more:

Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI).
“Mould Outbreak--An Immediate Response.”
Covers both basics and more technical aspects of dealing with post-disaster response.

New England Document Conservation Center.
Beth Patkus, “Emergency Salvage of Moldy Books and Paper.”
One of NEDCC’s technical leaflets on emergency management — written for cultural institutions, but useful for artists.

Conservation Online (CoOL)
All-purpose bibliography and webliography, includes section of information for general public.