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Inhibiting Mould and Mildew

Generically, mould and mildew are fungi, relatives of the mushrooms you slice up for salads and sauces. Like mushrooms, they grow rampantly under the right conditions. As the tiny “fruiting bodies” at their tips mature, they bloom and burst to spew billions of microscopic spores into the air. Rub a patch of mould or mildew and you send those spores forth to multiply throughout everything in your tack room. Once mould and mildew spores get into leather fibres, it is almost impossible to completely destroy them without destroying the leather, too. Inhibiting their growth takes diligent care with the right products. If mould and mildew invade your tack room, take these steps to limit its damage:

Leather.

Take mouldy leather out of the tack room and clean it outdoors. That way, you’ll avoid filling the air in the tack room with mould spores that will simply “infect” other items in the confined space. Have a supply of old rags that you’re willing to throw out. Start wiping away any surface mould with a wet rag. Wipe and capture as much of the mould as you can then throw the rag away. Don’t rinse and reuse your rags. That only spreads the mould spores. Use an old toothbrush to clean stitching lines and crevices.

You can find old cavalry manuals and books of Victorian household hints that recommend using vinegar, household bleach or alcohol to remove mould and mildew from leather. While these may have fungicidal properties, they can all damage the leather’s fibre matrix, especially in concentrations strong enough to actually kill mould and mildew spores. Wiping with dilute solutions is a superficial effort no more effective than the plain water you've already used.

Finish cleaning the leather using a water-based, pH neutral product to float away any remaining organic surface dirt that could support mould and mildew growth. Dry the tack in the sun to allow the water to evaporate and to take advantage of the disinfectant properties of the sun’s ultraviolet light.

Some traditional leather cleaners, notably those translucent bars of saddle soap that smell so good, are not good choices for mouldy leather. For starters, they contain glycerin. Glycerin acts as a “humectant” which means it tends to attract and hold atmospheric moisture. While that property may help the leather fibres remain flexible, it also sets your tack up for future mould and mildew growth. Second, because soap is alkaline, overuse can begin to reverse the tanning process (vegetable-tanned leathers have an acidic pH) and ultimately can weaken the leather.

Instead of using saddle soap, condition your leather with a penetrating, pH-neutral product that will lubricate the leather without introducing moisture and which will inhibit mould and mildew growth. Leather Therapy Restorer and Conditioner is the only product currently in the equine market whose claim to inhibit mould and mildew has been tested and accepted by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA declares Leather Therapy Restorer and Conditioner a “stand alone product”, meaning that there is no other product in its category. Products which contain a little vinegar or another surface wiping additive in order to support a claim of mould and mildew resistance are not much more useful than wiping with plain water.

Textiles and Other Washables.

If mould and mildew have invaded saddle pads, blankets or other washables, thoroughly clean these items in hot, soapy water. Add household bleach to the wash water if the items are colourfast. Adding 2 ounces of Leather Therapy Restorer and Conditioner to Leather Laundry Solution in the wash water will remove mouldy odours and inhibit future mould growth. Dry everything thoroughly before returning the items to storage. Non-washable fabrics may need to be dry cleaned, sponged with a disinfectant solution. Discard them if they are badly mildewed.

Wipe down the insides of storage trunks or closets with a solution of water, detergent and 10 percent household bleach to disinfect them and allow them to dry completely before filling them back up again. A light bulb left on in a closet (making sure no item is close enough to heat up and burn) may provide just the right amount of drying heat. Place bags of desiccant materials inside large trunks and renew them periodically according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Overall Environment.

Mould and mildew typically thrive where it is dark, warm and damp (they flourish when the humidity ranges from 65 to 85 percent). If your tack room tends to be dark and damp, consider installing a window to provide sunlight and ventilation. Install a dehumidifier, leave a light bulb or two burning, or install low wattage heating bars like those used by boat owners to reduce dampness. Hang several large bags of desiccant and renew them periodically.

Preventative Maintenance.

Be proactive to keep mould and mildew at bay. After each use, clean dirt and sweat off tack and allow the undersides of saddles and headstalls to dry thoroughly before they go back into the tack room. Dry saddle pads and blankets, preferably in the sun, before folding them and putting them away.

Anna Carner Blangiforti
President and Founder
Unicorn Editions, Ltd


Anna Carner Blangiforti’s hand-raised Arabian gelding Justinian provided the inspiration for her Leather Therapy line which includes Leather Therapy Wash, original Leather Therapy Restorer and Conditioner and new Leather Therapy Water Repellant.