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Foxing stains on books, papers & photographs:
This article defines book & paper foxing - those reddish-brown stains found on some old books, papers, photographs, and other paper products. We explain the causes of foxing stains, the chemistry and mold components of foxing, and we describe what foxing looks like, how it is cleaned from books, papers, or photographs, and how foxing can best be prevented by book and paper restorers and paper conservators.
We provide and cite an extensive list of authoritative references about foxing: cause, cure, and prevention.
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Article Series Contents
Question/Comment: what causes rusty stains or foxing marks on books and paper ? Foxing definition, chemistry, causes, treatments or removal methods, and prevention
Are foxing marks on books and paper always caused by mould or are other factors also at work?
Also, I have a couple of books with shiny pages that have become sticky during a humid summer and have developed orange lines along the edges of some of the pages.
Is this a reaction of the acid in the books seeping through the cut edges or could mould be a factor? - Rachel 9/2/202
At left our photograph of book foxing illustrates foxing stains on the page edges of the book discussed in this article. Photograph taken in direct sunlight.
Reply: iron oxide, fungi and yeast associated with foxing on books and papers: causes, cures, prevention
Your surmise that more than mold is at work in the development of local discoloration or reddish-brown foxing marks on paper and books is correct in that at the core, foxing is caused by exposure of those materials to high humidity, and the brown stains characteristic of foxing marks, according to some researchers are typically found to contain high levels of Iron Oxy-Hydroxide (FeOOH) in one or more chemical forms.
However as paper expert Paolo Calvini corrects the record (in detail below),
Paper chemistry as well as chemistry of inks and other materials comprising the book, paper, stamp, or other foxed document are also important components in the foxing problem. (Carter explains that the general yellowing of some paper products is distinct from the localized red-brown stains associated with foxing. )
Dr. Calvini, generously commenting on this article continues:
Brown stains on various paper goods may also be found to contain conidia and hyphae of fungi, but keep in mind that many of the fungi commonly identified as growing on or in paper products (listed below) do not themselves produce darkly-pigmented fungal materials. Some experts add that bacteria play a role in paper deterioration  (and possibly foxing), and indeed, fungi and certain bacteria are about the only natural organisms in the environment capable of breaking down cellulose.
Our own forensic microscopy lab work as well as that of other experts confirms an interesting diagnostic observation: the color and appearance of stains (black, brown, white, etc) that we see macroscopically or with the naked eye can be quite different from the color and appearance of the staining materials (often fungi) when examined at high magnification under the light microscope. 
In any case, and for those rusty reddish-brown foxing stains on paper, it appears that both moisture and several species of mold are at work together, conspiring in the accumulation of iron oxide stains or foxing stains on paper, as we explain in more detail here. It also is likely that paper and ink chemistry, such as pre-existing levels of iron in the paper, inks, bindings, or other materials is important in the development of foxing stains.
It is useful to note that the term foxing, used to describe brown or reddish brown discoloration appearing on books, papers, some photographs, derives its name from The F and Ox in Ferrous Oxide, or iron oxide deposits that are attracted to areas in the paper substrate. Exposure of a book or other paper materials to water or more often high humidity over the materials' life is the key or gating factor in the development of foxing stains.
This same exposure to humidity is also a determining factor in the development of fungal growth in or on books and papers as well as on other materials such as book bindings, glues, cloth covers, and of course on other indoor building materials and surfaces.
Biotic foxing on paper is indeed a widely-recognized book and paper conservation concern. 9] Yet according to at least some of those experts, the biotic or even chemical origin of these stains remains unclear.
I'm not an expert book or paper conservator, but our photo (above left) is indeed a typical example of modest foxing marks or stains on both the page edges and within pages as well. The example is from our copy of Hypatia or Woman and Knowledge, by Dora Russell, third impression, printed by Mackays Ltd., Chatam, London, in the mid 1920's.
Examining small brown spots of "foxing" stains from a sample page macroscopically we observe a classic fungal colony pattern - as if a colony has grown from a single spore center.
But examining these samples by light microscopy in acid fuchsin and in KOH (not the optimal mountant chemicals for this purpose) as well as dry without a cover slide and using reflected as well as transmitted light did not produce good images of fungal colonization, just a few fungal spores resembling Cladosporium sphaerospermum.
At left our photo illustrates preparing a large sample (triangular cut) of one of these brown stains.
Further work is in process, and of course other experts have examined foxing stains using other methods including FLIR.  [Forensic microscopic images of these stain materials are forthcoming. - Ed.]
Research reported by Arai et als established the fungal basis of foxing stains.  while more recently, Zotti et als, using FLIR, cultures, and other methods, identified Cladosporium sphaerospermum, Penicillium purpurogenum, Aspergillus melleus, Pithomyces chartarum, Aspergillus sclerotiorum as among the most common fungi associated with foxing marks or stains on paper. Those researchers found these fungal genera/species present before and after microwave treatment of foxed papers. 
Further work by the same authors found that these biota were absent after mechanical "rubbing" of the stained areas to remove the apparent stain - which surprised me. My own preliminary work on the brown foxing stains such as those shown here suggests that at least in some cases the foxing stains involve materials that reside within the matrix of wood pulp fibers comprising the paper itself, making successful mechanical surface treatments difficult.
In an earlier work the same lead author, Zotti, who along with Arai has done extensive research on foxing, noted that the while fungi and some yeasts are found in foxing marks on books and papers, the dominant genera and species appeared to be in the Penicillium group.
What are the Foxing Fungi? fungi identified as growing on or in paper materials included the following
At least ten species of fungi and one yeast have been identified as growing on/in or "hosted by" paper, [17a] Indeed, a literature search confirms that among scholarly and research papers we researched for this article, not one authority detected the presence of either of the two types of mildew (Oidium-Erysiphe - powdery mildew, or Peronosporaceae - downy mildew) among the various fungi found growing on books, papers, photographs, stamps, or other paper based works.  op. seq. Fungal species commonly identified as found growing on or in books, papers, photographs, stamps, etc. include at least the following:
Conservationists and paper or book restorers typically use a range of chemical or plant extract treatments to attempt to neutralize the reddish stains associated with foxing. Removing ferrous oxide (FeO) from the paper appears to be a key step in both removing the stains and preventing their recurrence. Where appropriate, such as in visibly moldy books and papers, mold needs to be physically removed from paper and book surfaces first, typically by gentle brushing, wiping, or HEPA vacuuming. Some conservationists also attempt to "kill" the mold using microwave or freeze-drying methods.
Watch out: killing mold simply means that most of the remaining mold spores, if placed in a culture media, will not reproduce. But depending on mold genera/species such spores may still be harmful to humans or other animals and may retain allergenic or even toxic chemicals such as mycotoxins found in some fungi. For this reason, a proper mold remediation strategy should always involve physically cleaning mold from materials and surfaces that can be cleaned, and correcting the conditions that caused the mold growth in the first place. See MOLD KILLING GUIDE for details.
Watch out: Separately, Tronson warns
Warnings & Corrections About Causes of & Treatments for Foxing Stains on Paper
Reader Comment: correcting the record on Foxing and Foxing Stain Removal Techniques
I have read the article about
In the article published here there are some questionable statements:
Sincerely, Paolo Calvini [17a][17b]
I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to send me your note.. I have edited the article above to reflect your warnings.
Using Microwave Oven Treatment for Foxing on Paper Products
Reader Question: any truth to effectiveness of using microwave oven treatments for mold?
(Mar 19, 2014) Foxing said:
Am a collector of cigarette cards and was talking recently about foxing it was mentioned that placing a card in the domestic micro wave and giving it a couple of blasts would do the trick and kill the mold, fungi. Is there any truth in this as it sounds plausible, and if it does work does it harm the card. - Regards David
Reply: uses of microwave treatment on moldy books
Microwaving is one of the techniques used by some book restorers to try to dry out and "kill" mold.
First, on cigarette cards with foxing stains, microwave treatment will almost certainly not remove the existing brown stains attributed to fungal attack.
Next, it might "kill" some or even all of the fungal spores, though we haven't tested that theory. We'd need to identify a suitable culture media that works with foxing-fungi (not all molds will grow in any culture of any sort), then do some testing with samples collected before and after treatment.
Third in my OPINION there may be some cigarette cards that might be damaged, either their inks that might be oxidized or other components such as metallic inks or foils that would cause or might cause a bit of excitement (sparking) in the microwave. In the most extreme case we might even oxidize or brown the card by heat.
Still it's an interesting idea. If you want to pursue it we could get some help from appropriate mycologists and paper restoration experts, and here at InspectApedia we could conduct the lab work in our forensic lab.
Research articles on biotic foxing and its treatments on valuable or antique books, papers, related objects
Other Do-it-yourself Treatments for Foxing?
Reader question: 7/25/14 IAmBill said:
Are there DIY methods on removing the foxing stains because the methods shown don't seem like it. And is putting them out in sunlight one of them?
Watch out: as Calvini cites in comments on this article, some older documented treatments for foxing stains on paper, photographs, books, or other similar products are both obsolete (no longer recommended) and dangerous.
(Aug 1, 2014) IAmBill said:
I am simply asking if there are other DIY methods beyond the two just mentioned. There has to be more, right? Or are there only two?
Bill, researched information on foxing stains including comments from one of the most expert people in the field along with citations are in the article above. If there were other methods advised that research had cited or disclosed they'd be here. What would lead a reader to think our editors withheld useful information.?
I was taken to task by a world expert on this topic Paolo Calvini (in the article above) for including too many now-obsolete and some-dangerous methods for treating foxing stains. I conclude that while there may be more amateur approaches they are either ineffective or dangerous.
The ineffective or less-effective ones that might do something and that I know about are included in the article.
For sure, if you find reference to other foxing stain treatments that we have not discussed here just let me know and I'll be glad to research and comment on them.
Cross-Contamination Among Foxed Books & Papers?
8/24/15 Zack said:
May i know if foxed book could contaminate other books?
It's more likely that the conditions that caused foxing or mold growth on a book would affect others in the same environment. Not all books are equally affected - variations in materials, inks, papers, glues, bindings make a difference too.
Storing Books & Papers to Avoid Foxing
8/25/14 Zack said:
Hi, lately i don't have time to maintain and take care of my books. So i put them in traveling vacuum bag and vacuum the air out. Will this keep my books from getting foxed or mold?
I live in a humid country and maintaining the environment is very costly (i.e aircond and dehumidifier). What is the best method to keep the book in good condition as possible.
Provided the books and papers are already dry, you can store them in a vacuum bag and remove the air, though document experts have warned me about storing important documents in a vacuum. I think equally safe and easier is to place your *dry* books into a clean tightly-sealing plastic container. The remaining few mold spores and moisture molecules sealed in with the books won't cause a mold contamination.
Watch out: if you store wet or damp books and papers in any closed container, vacuumed or not, you can expect mold growth to ensue.
Reader Question: removing stains from a modern papyrus painting
I have a modern Egyptian papyrus painting from the 1970s that sustained some water damage. Before I could get it out of the frame it developed some black spots in the wet areas. I removed the paper from the frame and it's dry now, but I'm wondering about the spots. Are they mold or mildew? They don't look fuzzy or stringy. And is there any way to remove them from the paper? I have some photos I can send along tonight if those would help. - S.B. 8/21/14
Here are the images of the water damaged Egyptian papyrus painting I mentioned in my post. It’s an early 1970s painting, I think the paint is acrylic. It’s mounted on a pane of glass and glued down on two corners. The image is based on a wall painting from the Tomb of Nakht in Thebes.
As you can see, there are black spots and a little white mold on the black hair of one of the figures. The paper is dry now and a little crispy. The spots don’t look fuzzy or stringy. There are also spots on the back in the water affected area.
I think the stains are on the surface of the papyrus, at least they don't seem to go all the way through.
Thanks so much for your help! - S.B. 8/25/2014
Use the email at our CONTACT link to send me some sharp photos and I may comment further.
There won't be mildew (that only grows on living plants) but there may be mold damage to the painting. If the value of the painting does not merit hiring a professional paper conservator and you are going to try a DIY project, gently wipe off the surface mold using a dry cotton or cloth. On some rice paper screens that were water damaged we recently had success using a q-tip moistened with *diluted* household bleach, dabbing onto the stains. Others have tried hydrogen peroxide. We quickly blotted then dabbed thoroughly with distilled water to prevent excessive bleaching and bleach damage.
A general conservator's rule is to start with the most gentle benign approach possible, thus minimizing risk of damage to the artifact. I'd start with a damp wipe with a soft cotton cloth to see what happens.
As a book collector and once-upon-a-time mycologist I found your web site of interest.
However, I do not believe there would be uniform acceptance among professional mycologists of your distinction between "mold" and "mildew". The organisms involved are all fungi in the classical sense. Those attacking dead organic matter like cellulose are not all that different biologically from their relatives that may have a preference for the living cells of plants and animals.
The fact that some parasitic species may be facultative heterotrophs (feeding on non-living materials) supports this view. I believe your cause is best served by promoting the idea that the fungi, a diverse and highly successful breed, will exploit any environment where nutrients and moisture are available whether or not it is living or dead. Books and their bindings in a high humidity environment are sitting ducks.
... [text omitted here]. - Chris 9/7/2012
See our article BOOK MOLD, CLEANING and its section on the Distinction between "mold" and "mildew" on books and in general is questioned & answered for additional details about the importance of the distinction between mold growth on surfaces and mildew growth.
Mildew doesn't grow on books, nor on leather shoes, nor on wallpaper, nor on other indoor building surfaces, though lots of other mold genera/species might
Indeed even among expert book restorers the term mildew is often used loosely and technically incorrectly to refer to the role of certain fungi or mold genera/species in the cause of foxing on books and papers. A few points need clarification: by no means do I suggest that mildew is not a fungus, as mildew is indeed a proper subset of the huge kingdom of fungi. But the fungi appearing on books are different genera/species from the two fungi properly named mildew. There are some important distinctions to be made.
Mildew doesn't grow on shoes, nor on paper, though many other mold genera/species can grow on these materials
I learned about the distinctive properties of mildew as a living plant pathogen among other members of the Fifth Kingdom from Dr. John Haines, my friend and mentor, when John was still serving as the NY State mycologist. Discussing some mold samples I'd brought along for us to examine, I mentioned that I'd just collected some white mildew from leather shoes found in a moldy home. Like many people I just bandied the word mildew about willy-nilly. John asked why I thought it might be mildew, allowed me to embarrass myself, and then kindly explained that mildew grows on plants, not shoes.
Perhaps it's technical nitpicking, but mildew a subset of "mold" that only grows on living plants. Mildews are a small group of fungi found among the Basidiomycota, Ustilaginales if I recall correctly, and any "mildew" if properly identified, will be either Oidium-Erysiphe or Powdery Mildew or Peronosporaceae or Downy Mildew. Mildew, then, has nothing to do with and won't be found growing on books nor on other building surfaces unless the item in the building is a live or recently-live plant.
The fungi identified as mildew include these two groups
Below I include photos of Oidium or powdery mildew that I collected from a jasmine plant (below left) that was growing indoors (we moved it outside before this photo was taken) along with a photo of the same mildew from that plant under my lab microscope (below right).
Watch out: In a library of moldy books, if by careless language we informed building management that we thought the dominant mold present was just a bit of mildew (say Oidium) we would erroneously conclude that other than a possible allergic response or perhaps a problem for nearby houseplants, there was no health risk to building occupants. But in point of fact what I find on moldy library books is typically a potpourri of fungi dominated on book jackets by several species of Aspergillus - far more likely to present an IAQ and health hazard to occupants.
See Distinction between "mold" and "mildew" on books and in general is questioned & answered for additional details about this distinction.
Continue reading at BOOK MOLD, CLEANING or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
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