How can I attack mold and mildew? It’s everywhere!
You may know mold and mildew as the filmy, slimy, or dry and flakey green or white stuff that can grow on tack, wall, floors, and just about everywhere. But what IS it? And what can you do about it?
To spare all of you a lesson in microbiology, I’ll keep it simple. Molds and mildews are fungus. Mold is typically thought of as the microscopic spores, and mildew is the stuff you can see. All mildews are mold, but not all molds are mildews. Think of them as also being “contagious” from one piece of tack to the next, carried in the air looking for new homes. They can be responsible for allergies, respiratory issues, and turning your tack into useless old piles of leather.
Either way - molds and mildews are common in dark, damp, humid, poorly ventilated areas. (Think Florida in the shade on a day without the breeze.) Unfortunately, these conditions are rampant in some parts of the country, especially during the hot summer months, although a humid and wet winter can contribute just as well.
The problem with leather and mold/mildew is the damage it can inflict. Leather has layers (remember it was once living tissue) and pores, which the mold spores love to burrow into and reproduce. But it’s a tricky deal to get rid of on leather.
First, you need to know that molds and mildews will grow extra well on your leather when the leather has stains, oils, soil, dirt, or organic residues on it. (Loosely translated into sweat, dirt, and poop). So, first step is remove the mold/mildew your tack already has, then prevent it. Remove it with a soft brush in an open area, away from other tack. The spores can go airborne and look for another home. Then you can wipe with distilled white vinegar (avoid this on a daily basis, over time it can damage your leather. For initial removals of mildew it’s OK.) Use a tack cleaner with a fungicide in it (Leather Therapy), and avoid using glycerin based soaps, which keep the leather at the perfect humidity level for mildew.
You will also need to attack your tack room to really prevent mold and mildew. Clean the walls, ceilings, and floors with a bleach solution. The material of your construction will dictate the dilution ration of bleach to water. For example, for painted wood: 3/4 cup bleach to gallon water and for concrete and unpainted wood: 1:3 bleach to water. Rinse all surfaces with clean water when you are done. You can do a quick internet search for more specifics. The point is to rid your tack room of it. If you have a rug in the tack room, consider using it only in dry months.
Sunlight also happens to be mildew’s arch nemesis - so if you can, have windows/skylights in the tack room. Air that baby out! (You may be tempted to sun dry your tack every day, this is not suggested as then you have a slew of other problems to deal with.) Sunlight has great mildew killing properties, which would work great for the undersides of saddle pads and blankets that are “infected”. I would skip sunning the top sides, as the sun will fade colors and patterns.
Also think about purchasing some giant dessicant pouches or strips from an industrial supply house. These are similar to the silica gel packets in your vitamins or supplements, and serve to dry the air. A de-humidifier in your tack room can also be a valuable tool in fighting mold and mildew. Make sure it’s new enough to have an auto off switch and will be safe for use in your tack room.
Think dry and sunny, and you can defeat mold and mildew on your tack!