By Bonnie Kreitler
We’ve thoroughly cleaned and conditioned every piece of tack and washed every saddle pad twice but when we open the tack room door, we can still smell mold. After several days, we can see mold blooming on our tack again. What are we doing wrong? Help!
I use a leather care product with mildewcide and always clean off my saddle after every ride before I return it to my tack locker at the barn where I board. But my locker still smells funky and if I skip a day of riding, I’m likely to find mold on the undersides of the saddle skirt when I come back. Why isn’t the mildewcide working?
These riders and many others have discovered that when mold and mildew invade leather tack and the areas where it is stored, a frustrating cycle begins. Avoiding mold spores altogether is impossible. There are literally billions of them floating in the air around us. When they land on an organic food source (like leather) and have the proper moisture level, they release enzymes that break down the food sources so they can grow and spew more spores into the air to perpetuate the cycle.
There is nothing more discouraging than “damage control.” The best way to deal with mold and mildew is to prevent them from invading in the first place. Spending minutes on prevention is much less time consuming than the hours spent in cleaning up a problem.
To prevent mold and mildew from getting a toehold in your tack in the first place, regularly apply a penetrating leather conditioner with a leather-friendly pH and a mildewcide that is non-toxic, biodegradable, Earth friendly, and has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Read the wording on labels carefully. The “mildew inhibiting” ingredients in some leather care products are untested and may even damage the leather matrix. Avoid using saddle soaps with glycerin that attracts moisture and supports mold growth. Some oils like neatsfoot compounds and lanolin can act as food sources for mold.
Understand that mildewcides are preventatives. That’s why you need to use them on a regular basis. Once mold and mildew spores get a toehold in the tangle of fibers that make up your leather’s inner corium, it is nearly impossible to get them out completely. While some of the products frustrated riders resort to may temporarily slow the regrowth of mold spores, they can also harm the leather. The pH of bleach can the bonds among the leather’s inner fibers. Similarly, rubbing alcohol can dry the fibers out and make them brittle. Damaged or brittle fibers mean weaker leather—and possible safety concerns. If mold and mildew invade non-leather portions of tack such as saddle linings or stuffed panels, getting rid of nasty musty odors becomes more than just a surface challenge.
If you can’t remove the mold’s food source to inhibit its growth, the other alternative is to control the moisture level of your tack and tack room. Mold thrives when relative humidity is 55 percent or higher. Relative humidity is the amount of moisture air actually holds compared to the maximum amount it could hold and it fluctuates with temperature and weather conditions. Use these tips to control the humidity level of your tack and tack room. You may need to adopt a combination of them depending on the region of the country where you live and the changing seasons. Staying ahead of mold and mildew is a year-round job.
It goes without saying that using any electrical appliances in a barn (even something as simple as a light bulb) requires careful attention to every fire safety precaution. Before you plug in any appliances, make sure your barn wiring is up to code, that you are using properly grounded and protected outlets, and that the appliances have built-in safety mechanisms that will turn them off automatically should they begin to overheat. Take steps to be sure that light bulbs or heaters always have sufficient clearance around them and that they cannot be carelessly blocked should someone toss a saddle pad or clothing near them.
Anna Carner Blangiforti is president and founder of Leather Therapy products. Leather Therapy Restorer and Conditioner is the only leather care product whose mildew inhibiting ingredient has earned Environmental Protection Agency approval to use the term “mildew preventative” on its label.