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Removing odor from photograph album

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    • #134933
      Martha Grenzeback

      This is somewhat similar to the last discussion topic. One of our library patrons called to ask how to deodorize a fragile photo album dating from about 1928. She says it smells strongly of cedar and basement mildew and she’s tried leaving it to air out for a few days but that doesn’t seem to have helped. It’s quite delicate and she doesn’t want to damage it.

      Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

    • #134934
      Kim R. Du Boise

      Hi Martha,
      Albums from that period have photos that may be held in place by paper photo corners or a glue. There are different types of these albums, some actually used a ribbon or cord to hold the pages & covers together. Some were bound. All are delicate & do need to be examined by a conservator or trained specialist for these objects. There are two key comments here that are of concern.

      The odor of cedar is the VOCs off-gassed from the wood where the album was probably stored, such as the ubiquitous “cedar chest” “hope chest”. These have been absorbed by the pages & covers, as these materials are usually organic (paper, cellulose, leather) & porous. This may also be absorbed by the photographs themselves, so this is not a DIY type of project, other than simply keeping the album open in a dry, cool area away from direct strong light. This will take a while to dissipate, but to what extent is unknown.

      The most concern is the “basement mildew” smell. Mildew is a form of mold, usually found in damp areas & on plants outdoors. It is a flat growing fungi that are “powdery” or “downy” & distinguished by the color. In advanced stages, they both end up brown to black, & look similar to black mold. Mildews usually cause allergic reactions. However, mildew can be a health hazard: some sources state it can grow in the lungs. Only a specialist such as a microbiologist or mycologist can identify the species.
      Because the album has a mildew smell that is strong enough to bother your patron, I would recommend seeking professional advice for this item.
      Hope this helps.

    • #134936
      Maggie Wessling

      Hi Martha,
      Air circulation is going to be key is getting the smells in your patron’s album to dissipate. Given the fragile nature of the album she may consider lying the book open flat on a table out of the light and turning the page once a day. She may also try to find a way to hold some of the pages up in a safe way to get more air circulation. For example, folding paper into wedges and inserting it between the pages. I would echo Kim’s advice that consulting a professional would be best if there is any damage to the album or its contents.
      Good luck,

    • #134940
      Charlotte Parent

      Hi Martha,

      As Maggie said, airing it out was a good idea. I contacted Gawain Weaver, a photography expert, and he suggested making sure that it’s dry and continuing to air it out. As he said, “days is not enough. It will take weeks or longer”.

      He also suggested using a hepa vacuum to remove the mold spores, using a screen to vacuum through, “but given the fragility of the album it might be best to just wait and see if airing it out for longer will do the trick.” So I guess for now the best thing to do if you can’t consult a professional is to ensure good air circulation and wait for some improvement.

      I hope this helps!


    • #134955
      Martha Grenzeback

      Thanks for the responses! This is exactly what I needed!

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