Moving & mildew - A primer & frequently asked questions FAQ

Moving and mildew

By Ronald V. Claussen - Storage Specialist, MTMC - Mr. Ronald V. Claussen, a storage specialist at MTMC (Military Traffic Management Command), wrote an article about MILDEW, that was first published in Translog Magazine. Translog is a monthly publication by the Military Traffic Management Command. The article is being presented here for your use. Statistics are not readily available on the extent of mildew damage to personal property. While all indicators point to the conclusion that it is not a sizable factor, it does occur; and generally to the member whose goods are delivered from non-temp storage with mildew on valued items. Insignificant statistics mean nothing. Mildew becomes a significant factor to that member-and to the transportation officer and the carrier who must consider a claim for damaged goods.

The problem has been one of continuing concern to both commercial warehousemen and the government. Both interests have studied the problem rather extensively to determine its cause and to identify methods to prevent or minimize mildew damage to stored personal property.

Microorganisms (bacteria fungi) which cause mildew exist over a large part of the earth wailing for die right combination of factors to begin their rapid growth. The problem is severe, however, only in regions having the right combination of temperature and humidity. Most microorganisms will grow in a temperature range of 590 to 950 E) although some forms will grow at nearly 320 W) and others will grow at very' high temperatures. The average optimum condition for producing mildew is a temperature of about 860 (F) and a relative humidity of 95-100 percent. Below 65 percent relative humidity there is little opportunity for microorganism growth.

The answer would seem to be a carefully controlled warehouse environment, with temperature and humidity always within an optimum range. The ideal storage facility would have installed preventive equipment (i.e. ventilation fans or insulation of metal constructed buildings) to combat any mildew problem. As a practical mailer, however, such a facility would not be cost effective except for the storage of extremely high value items which warrant extra attention.

Within practical cost considerations then, what measures should the government require from the warehouse industry.' to minimize mildew damage and thereby reduce claims from members? What role does the ITO fill in solving the problem? What precautions should the member take?

By precedent. the Department of Defense position has been that a furniture storage contractor is liable under a Liability for Care of Goods clause for mildew damage to certain stored items, since mildew is not 'in "act of God.,' * Since molds which cause mildew need moisture and certain temperatures to grow and they flourish wherever it is damp, warm, poorly aired, and poorly lighted, it follows that temperature control. proper ventilation, and dehumidifying the air in a storage facility can prevent mildew. It is the warehouseman's duty to inspect and record on the warehouse receipt/inventory any evidence of mildew that may contaminate the stored personal property.

There are various ways of controlling the environment in the effort to control the growth of microorganisms and prevent mildew damage, and the Department of Defense makes no pretense of dictating to individual warehousemen. Each decides the combination of ways considered appropriate and cost effective for the climatic conditions of a particular location. The use of weatherproof packages of containers, the use of desiccants, dehumidification, and air conditioning to control the temperature and humidity during storage and transport are all used in the effort to control mildew.

Some Florida Gulf Coast warehousemen have found that by installing large electric vent fans they can keep air circulating. thereby decreasing the humidity even though the temperature continues to rise.

In the upper peninsula of Michigan, warehousemen have employed moisture absorbing chemicals such as silica, activated alumina, and-the most common-flake calcium chloride and a simple wire mesh cone style unit. The unit is constructed of no. 8 mesh wire, with a diameter at the top of the cone of 10-12 inches and a height of 14-21 inches. The cone is placed directly over a drain or any standard size pail or bucket, When the calcium chloride is placed in the cone and exposed to moisture laden air, it draws the moisture, condenses it into liquefied form, and allows it to fall into the bucket or drain.

NOTE: An act of God has been defined as "any accident due to natural causes directly and exclusively without human intervention, such as could not have been reasonably prevented by any amount of foresight and pains, and care reasonable to have been expected." - Bouvier's Law Dictionary, Vol 1.


The amount of chemical necessary in any one season depends on the size of the storage facility, the amount of moisture in tic air, and the extent to which the storage area is kept closed. While the rate of absorption may' vary. it will be rapid when first employed and will reduce gradually as the moisture in the air is reduced. The action will continue as long as there is excess moisture in the air.

Preventive measures must be a continuing effort. For this reason, inspection of contractors' facilities must be made periodically to reveal any evidence of mildew producing conditions-roof leaks, wall seepage, water condensation in the warehouse, or shipments that have been containerized in a damp condition,

Warehousemen are expected to take every reasonable precaution to prevent the growth of mildew, and MTMC Regional Storage Management Office (RSMO) inspectors make regular checks to ensure that mildew is being prevented. There are some basic actions which the member can and should take before placing properly' in long-term storage.

Basically, all items should be inspected and cleaned to ensure that no food particles are left around in nooks and crannies; that all finger prints/palm prints (which contain moisture in the form of human perspiration) tire wiped clean from finished surfaces and leather covered items; that no fruit flavored/scented polish is left on items being stored; that items - especially rugs - being removed from a basement are free from musty odors, and that refrigerators, freezers and washing machines are completely dried out, with all hidden moisture gone.

Refrigerators and freezers are cited most often as the items in which mold and mildew damage continue to be most common. The problem is two-fold. First, members do not always have these appliances completely defrosted and dried out prior to day of pick-up by the storage contractor. Second, contractors do not always assure that the appliance is prepared so as to provide ventilation which will prevent mold and mildew. Even though the appliance may appear dry, there may be water under rubber door seals, around freezer coils, and in insulation.

The above precautions will help control mold growth and deterioration of stored household goods. if personal properly' still contracts mildew, however, it is important to remember that all spores must be removed before mildew can be controlled and the goods used again. The following treatments are recommended by tile U.S. Department of Agriculture:

  • Clothing and household goods fabrics. Brush off the surface growth (out of doors, to prevent scattering spores in the house). Allow sun and air to permeate items thoroughly. Wash stained articles immediately with soap and water, rinse well, and dry in the sun. If stain remains on white articles, treat them with a mixture of lemon juice and salt. Spread out in the sun to bleach, rinse thoroughly, and dry. A solution of one tablespoon of sodium perborate bleach (such as Clorox 2 or Snowy Bleach) to one pint of water can be used to sponge or soak a stained article. After 30 minutes, rinse well. (Test on an inconspicuous area before using on a colored fabric.) Chlorine bleach is effective on articles not adversely affected by mildew.
  • Library books. If mildew is severe, dust talcum powder between pages. Let the powder remain to absorb for several hours, then brush the mold off.
  • Leather goods. Wipe with a clean cloth soaked in diluted alcohol, then dry in flowing air. If mildew remains, wash the item with thick suds or a mild soap, saddle soap, or soap Containing a germicide or fungicide, Wipe with a damp cloth and dry in an airy place. When dry, polish with a good wax dressing. Mildew can be removed from inner pans of shoes with a cotton tipped swab moistened in formaldehyde solution (this can be purchased from any drug store). Wrap the shoes tightly in paper or plastic bags and allow vapors to permeate for at least one hour. Shoes should be aired outdoors before wearing.
  • Upholstered articles, mattresses, and rugs. Again brush off loose mold outdoors with a broom. Vacuum the surface and dry' thoroughly in the sun or with an electric heater and fan. Then sponge lightly, using only the suds from soap or a synthetic detergent dissolved in water. Follow with a clean damp cloth or wipe with a cloth wrung out in diluted alcohol (one cup denatured or rubbing alcohol to one cup of water), and then, dry. Sponge rugs and carpets with thick suds or rug shampoo, using as little water as possible. If molds have grown into inner Parts of any articles of clothing, send them to a reliable dry cleaning firm for thorough drying and fumigation.

Clearly, means and methods to prevent and control mildew growth in non-temp storage are available. At die same time, efforts will continue by both industry and government to develop improved arid more effective controls for the problem. The ultimate goal, of course, is to devise practical mildew preventive measures - measures with cost effectiveness. This will mean more profitable operation for the industry, cost savings for die government, and increased customer satisfaction not only for military members but for the many members of the civilian community who also move from place to place in the course of a career.

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by Bobbie McFatter  - Louisiana State University Cooperative Extension Service

Mildew can be removed from upholstered furniture, mattresses, rugs and carpets, reminds Bobbie McFatter of the Louisiana State University Cooperative Extension Service.

Try to remove the mildew spots as soon as they are discovered to keep the mold from weakening or rotting the fabric, urges the home economist in telling how to do the job.

First, brush surface mold from the fabric or rug. Do this outdoors when possible to prevent scattering fresh mildew spores in the house. Use the upholstery attachment and vacuum the entire surface of the fabric to draw out as much mold as possible.

If mildew stains remain on upholstery or mattresses, sponge lightly with thick suds and wipe with a clean damp cloth. Use as little water as possible so the filling won't get wet.

A mixture of diluted alcohol (one cup of rubbing alcohol to one cup of water) can be used on upholstered furniture to remove mildew. Wipe the fabric with a cloth dampened with the alcohol mixture. Then dry it thoroughly.

An electric heater and a fan can be used to dry and carry away moist air after mildewed furniture has been cleaned. An hour or so in the sun and fresh air will help stop mold growth.

Sponge mildewed rugs and carpets with thick suds or a rug shampoo. Then remove the suds by wiping with a cloth dampened in clean water. Dry in the sun if possible.

If molds have grown into the inner pans of an article, send it to a reliable dry cleaner or storage company for thorough drying and fumigation Fumigation will kill existing molds but will not protect against future mildew attacks. New growth can be prevented by keeping articles clean and dry.

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