Author Topic: Precautionary measures for mold growth  (Read 1185 times)

Offline Elisabeth_M

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Precautionary measures for mold growth
« on: June 03, 2016, 12:32:30 PM »
tl;dr version:

A lab sterile technique that is simple to do at home:  everytime you open your ink bottle and dip a pen in, you are risking contaminating for mold.  Therefore, if you often have bottles of ink that go bad before you finish them, divide that ink into four (or five or six or ten) containers.  This is best done the very first time you open the bottle, but better late than never.  Then, if one container starts growing mold, you throw out that container of ink and you still have the other containers of ink that are (hopefully) still clean (though you probably want to keep an eye on them just in case).  I hope it goes without saying that your containers must be very clean before you pour the ink into them!  If you want to get fanatical about it, you can buy presterilized sample tubes and bottles from amazon.  Or, you can boil the glass ones with metal lids.  Or, just run them through the dishwashing machine. Also, an open bottle of distilled water is not sterile (even if it was prior to opening) so don't think you're going to inhibit mold growth just because you use distilled water.

Longer version:

I've seen several posts talking about mold growth in ink and gum arabic, so I thought I would mention a few techniques that may help prevent having to throw out whole bottles of ink.  As many of you know, I went to school for cell biology so I know a bit about sterile lab technique when handling liquids that microbes just love to grow in.

The first thing to understand is that some microbes (molds, yeasts, fungi) can make spores which are basically inert forms of the microbe.  These spores are everywhere--on surfaces and in the air (not to make you paranoid or anything!)--and are just waiting for their chance to land in some nice environment that will allow them to grow.  That means that every time you open the lid to your ink bottle (or gum arabic), you are exposing the contents to mold spores that are just itching to get in there and growEvery time you dip your pen in the bottle, you are sticking spores right into your ink.

In lab, we would never put any non-sterile object into a liquid.  However, it's impractical to sterilize all of your pens prior to dipping them in the ink (and the process may very well ruin your nibs, depending on how you sterilized them).  And, there is still the problem of the spores that fall in the minute you open the lid.  BUT nothing says you have to keep all of your ink in one bottle!  It was common practice in lab to have many small bottles of growth liquid rather than keep it all in one big bottle (ie 10 bottles of 10 mL each rather than 1 bottle of 100mL).  That way, if one bottle becomes contaminated, you throw it out and you still have 90 mL of clean liquid.  If it was all in one bottle, you'd have to throw out the whole 100mL.

You could certainly do the same at home.  Just get some squeaky clean containers (tubes, bottles, whatever) and when you open a new bottle of ink, divide it into four or five or whatever bottles (ie pour a quarter of it into each of 3 bottles and then leave the last quarter in the original container).  *From then on, work out of just one of those bottles until it is gone or becomes contaminated.  If it becomes contaminated, toss it, and grab one of the clean bottles to use.  Repeat from * until you run out of ink, then buy a new bottle of ink, divide it up, etc.

Other considerations:

*Most microbes like hot, damp places in which to grow.  So, keep the clean bottles somewhere cool and dry.  You could even keep them in your fridge, although that would make your ink pretty viscous when you first take it out and you would need to wait until it warmed up before using.  Freezing would be even better to inhibit growth but it might do some strange things to your ink and it might not be useable after it thawed.

*Inks made from organic material (plants, animals) are more likely to grow mold, although mold can grow on/in most things

*Molds come in many delightful colors and textures, including a translucent, colorless gel kind of thing that frequently saw in lab (it would just sort of be suspended in the middle of a bottle of liquid).  Just because you can't see the mold, doesn't mean it isn't there. 

*Distilled water is not sterile.  I repeat, distilled water is not sterile!  You can buy bottles of distilled water that have been sterilized, but as soon as you open it up, it's no more sterile than your bottle of ink.  If you live in a place were you do not have to boil the water before drinking it, there is very little difference between an open bottle of distilled water and tap water in terms of sterility.
Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.  --Carl Sagan

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Offline Bianca M

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Re: Precautionary measures for mold growth
« Reply #1 on: June 03, 2016, 12:49:27 PM »
Thanks for this, Elizabeth!  Very good considerations.  This is precisely why I divvy up my gum arabic- I pour some from the large bottle into a smaller dropper bottle (easier dispensing, too) so I'm not constantly opening/exposing my GA in the larger bottle. 

The germaphobe in me kept replacing "mold" with "bacteria" while reading this  ::) - I JUST got finished wiping down my desk and scrubbing my keyboard and mouse.  So I'm sort of laughing at the timing of reading this!  It makes me want to go sterilize everything! Alas, I must get to addressing some envelopes. 

Offline Inked botanicals

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Re: Precautionary measures for mold growth
« Reply #2 on: June 03, 2016, 01:25:56 PM »
Great explanation Elisabeth! Do you think doing the filling of the littler containers around a flame would help?
Alba.

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Offline Elisabeth_M

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Re: Precautionary measures for mold growth
« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2016, 07:21:41 AM »
The germaphobe in me kept replacing "mold" with "bacteria" while reading this  ::) - I JUST got finished wiping down my desk and scrubbing my keyboard and mouse.  So I'm sort of laughing at the timing of reading this!  It makes me want to go sterilize everything! Alas, I must get to addressing some envelopes.

As I was writing this, I wondered if I was going to freak anyone out with my "spores are everywhere" talk. :)  But, before you sterilize everything, consider this:  there are, from a medical standpoint, three types of microbes (molds, single-cell fungi, and bacteria--beneficial, neutral, and disease causing-- and they have their own little ecosystem, all vying for limited resources.  When you upset their environment (for instance, by constantly sterilizing the same surface) you create an opportunity for the "bad" microbes (especially ones that are resistant to whatever anti-microbial you are using) to come in and take over the whole area.  You can see this when people take antibiotics, especially long term (like in a hospital setting, in fact there is a nasty disease called C diff which is the result of a bad bacteria taking over your intestines).  This is why people sometimes get yeast infections when they take antibiotics--the bacteria are gone, so the yeast take over.  This is not to say that you shouldn't clean things, just that over-use of anti-microbial/anti-bacterial agents can create worse situations than just using soap and water.
Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.  --Carl Sagan

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Offline Elisabeth_M

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Re: Precautionary measures for mold growth
« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2016, 07:27:48 AM »
Great explanation Elisabeth! Do you think doing the filling of the littler containers around a flame would help?

If you already have a small bunsen burner or alcohol burner already, then having it on while you fill the smaller containers would help prevent mold growth.  You could even swipe the mouth of the smaller container in the flame (this works with plastic containers too, but by swipe, I mean quickly pass it through the flame).  However, unless you constantly have ink going bad, I wouldn't go out and buy a burner just for your personal use.  I would use one if I was bottling ink to sell, though, because it's going to be sitting on the shelf a long time and I wouldn't want to take the chance that my customers might buy a bottle of ink full of mold.
Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.  --Carl Sagan

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Offline Estrella

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Re: Precautionary measures for mold growth
« Reply #5 on: June 07, 2016, 12:31:35 PM »
Very useful information. Thanks Elisabeth!
I've been doing this a while now - transferring new ink into smaller bottles. And even then, I transfer ink into smaller dinky dips to work out of! I have a whole storage cart of labeled ink bottles, lol. It looks like I have so many various inks, but it's due to all of the smaller bottles.

So last night I was getting ready to work on a project, and I couldn't open my ink jar!! My husband couldn't open it, either! And it's gold ink!! Here's a link to a photo I had previously posted of the jars - glass ink jars - I thought they were cute, not so much anymore! lol  Are these "safe" to transfer ink into - and how can I now open it?! LOL  :P ???

Also, your instagram link doesn't work!  :-\

Offline Elisabeth_M

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Re: Precautionary measures for mold growth
« Reply #6 on: June 27, 2016, 07:50:14 AM »
Sorry, Estrella, I somehow missed your post about the jars.  First, those jars are adorable--great find!  I don't see why you wouldn't be able to put ink into them or why they would be so difficult to open.  In case you still haven't been able to open them, have you tried all of the usual things people do to loosen stuck lids such as these? http://www.networx.com/article/11-ways-to-open-a-stuck-jar-lid?  As to why it got stuck in the first place, I can think of two possibilities.  The first is that some ink got on the outside rim of the jar and when it dried it created a seal between the jar and the lid.  The second is that a vacuum was created inside the jar (this is the reason why jars of food from the store can be hard to open.  This happens if the jar and its contents are very hot when you tighten the lid of the jar.  I hope that helps!

Thanks for letting me know about the instagram link.  I haven't posted anything on it in ages, so you didn't miss much by not being able to access it.   ::)  I'll fix the link, though, just in case I get inspired to post something there.  ;D
Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.  --Carl Sagan

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