Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mold & Mildew on Wood Vehicles – Part 2

Last week, we started a discussion related to the challenges of mold and mildew growing on antique wooden vehicles.  This week, we’ll take a closer look at what is not only an important vehicle preservation issue but also a caution for potential health concerns. 

With that brief introduction, how do we both avoid and correct issues related to mildew and mold.  First, keep an eye on the humidity where your vehicle is stored.  Experts often say that a 35-50% level is a good target.  However, those lower volumes can sometimes be difficult to achieve.  The reality is that any storage atmosphere with humidity amounts consistently over 65-70% is an invitation for trouble.  So, at a minimum, it’s important to work at keeping the indoor humidity below that range.  Using dehumidifiers can be very helpful in these efforts.  You can typically find them in a number of stores like Wal-Mart, Lowes, Orscheln, Murdoch’s,, and others.  Some dehumidifiers are also paired with portable AC units.  It’s a good combination for the battle since warmer temperatures can also ratchet up the reproductive tendencies of mold and mildew.  While cooler temperatures don’t necessarily stop mold growth, cool air tends to hold less moisture than warm air.  As a result, cooler temps can help minimize the moisture content necessary for mold to grow.  Keeping indoor temps stable, without broad fluctuations, is also important. 

When it comes to the overall air quality, a general lack of airflow can actually encourage the growth of fungi.  By using indoor fans (not fans pulling in outdoor air) to help keep good air circulation in a building, the environment can be kept drier while mold spores have less of a chance to settle and form colonies.  It’s also advisable for air conditioning units to be of the proper size as oversized systems may help deliver excess moisture.  Likewise, it’s important to be mindful of surplus water from other sources.  In other words, if a building has a leak, a bucket may provide an immediate answer but, for many reasons, it’s a situation that needs to be promptly corrected.

Should you find mold and/or mildew on a vehicle, there are several points to consider.  First, let’s talk about a few of the ‘do–nots.’  Do not take a rag and merely wipe the spores from the affected areas.  It may look like the problem is gone but, essentially, all you’re doing is loosening and spreading the spores.  Not only will this help transfer the problem to even more areas on the vehicle but it’s going to send countless microscopic critters into the air and, possibly, directly into the respiratory system of you and others.  Similarly, do not attempt to clean any vehicle without the proper protective clothing, eye wear, gloves, and respiratory gear.  Do not engage in any cleaning process without ensuring that you’re containing and not spreading the spores.  Do not clean mold from a piece only to continually subject it to the same environment – or nutrients like linseed oil within that environment.  Those elements are only perpetuating the mold growth you’re fighting.  If you're intent on managing the circumstances yourself, make sure you do sufficient research and preparation on proper procedures prior to taking on the task.    

When it comes to removing mold and mildew as seen in the photos from last week’s blog, I’ve had good success using common household cleaners like a mixture of dish washing soap and water or vinegar and water – or both.  Allowing the piece to dry in the sun afterward can also help neutralize any possible leftover spores.  If you’re doing this outside in a yard, it’s worth mentioning that the vinegar will likely kill any grass it comes in contact with.  Consider yourself duly warned in case your spouse asks what caused that big dead spot!

Ultimately, this is a subject with more depth than can be focused on in a brief blog and, it’s worth your time to become more aware of the issue.  From excess humidity levels and insufficient air flow to warmer temps and available nutrient sources, there are a number of things that can quietly promote harmful mold growth.  So, before you take off in search of the next vehicle to join all of your other treasures, take a closer look inside your warehouse, shed, shop, barn, or garage.  Mold spores can be hiding where you least expect them and they’re definitely not on the list of what you want to be collecting.

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