How do I get mildew smell/mildew out of paper?
August 13, 2013 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Our firesafe and everything in it smells like mildew. I'm not exactly sure why, I'm not seeing visible signs of mold. But I know a few older documents went in there smelling musty. It's gross, and many of the documents are important stuff that would be difficult/expensive and in some cases impossible to replace. So what can I do?

The papers feel ever so slightly damp. Right now I've hung the papers outside hoping they will air out/dry out. (Of course once I did that, it's looking like scary rain clouds are hovering. I swear it was bright sun when I started.) I'm going to toss the folders, and bleach the inside surface of the fire safe. What else is there? I was reading Lysol does a good job of killing mildew and mold, and was thinking of spraying the individual sheets but I don't know if that's just a terrible idea.

Also, any suggestions for multiple page documents; ones that can't be easily separated? I've placed pieces of normal paper between them for right now. I read you can do this with books that are musty.

I've also tried putting a dryer sheet in there before I tried drying everything out. I had it in there a couple months, but all it did was make the firesafe smell musty AND perfumey.

Going forward, what is the best way to keep everything dry? Desiccation silica packs? Something else? (And where does one find desiccation packs at locals stores? Or is it an internet order thing?)

There wasn't any event that caused everything to get damp, but I think a combination of putting some musty papers in there originally, combined with being in the basement and occasional opening must have meant trapped moisture.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Silica gel packs can be found here. Locally, I'd hit up the hobby and craft shops.
posted by jquinby at 12:38 PM on August 13, 2013

I was going to suggest Lysol. I lived in Florida and that stuff will take care of it. If you do it, stand away from the paper and mist it. Don't saturate with liquid!

If you can, try using a Damp Rid in the safe, see what that does for a person.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:39 PM on August 13, 2013

Can you use a hair-dryer on them? I would do that until they feel really dry; the normal books as well. You could also take some cotton cloth, place it on top of the documents and dry iron over them with an iron-- with the cloth acting as a barrier between document and iron. The cloth should absorb the moisture. Direct contact with the iron may darken the papers though, so be careful with the heat.

For the storage area, I'd put in a lot of silica packs -- they apparently sell silica gel kitty litter; (search for home-made desiccant and you'll get some options) you could use that.

I'd also add some bicarb packs for the existing smell in there too. You could also try sprinkling bicarb on the documents and leaving them for a while, instead of the lysol, but it may damage them. If you're afraid of that, once the papers are really dry, you could store them somewhere with the silica and the open bicarb container and hope the bicarb absorbs the smell in time. Charcoal is supposed to be an odour absorber too-- it might be worth trying a combo of those two.

Good luck.
posted by Dimes at 1:07 PM on August 13, 2013

And for those of you not in the UK, Bicarb is Baking Soda.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:33 PM on August 13, 2013

Kitty litter -- the plain clay stuff, not clumping or deodorizing or anything -- layered over and between sheets does a good job of demoisturizing and destinking, too, we've used it for mildewy and smelly books. Plus, it's dirt cheap, you can get 10-20 pounds for a couple bucks.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:40 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

tripling silica packs for moisture. you might try a block of cedar wood, the type you'd place in a sweater drawer, for smell and mold dissuasion.

if you place the documents an a sunny window with plenty of air circulation that should do the trick for any mold/mildew on the pages themselves. a blow dryer might help beforehand as well.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 1:57 PM on August 13, 2013

Silca gel is available pretty cheap in bulk at places that sell flower arranging supplies as it's used to dry flowers. If you store your papers in a tub of the stuff for a couple days it'll wick the moisture right out of the paper. You can then line the bottom of your safe with it and it'll continue to keep the contents dry. It can be a bit messy but a plastic Tupperware style container with a bunch of holes punched in the lid or a finely woven sock can stop it from getting everywhere. It may need to be reactivated (low oven for a few hours) occasionally if humidity is the root of your problem.
posted by Mitheral at 2:11 PM on August 13, 2013

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