At the recent Caring for Collections workshop in Murray Bridge, we had a lesson in cleaning in museums from Artlab textiles conservator, Kristin Phillips. Kristin pointed out that the type of cleaning and the products you might use at home are not necessarily appropriate to a museum, where ensuring that the objects survive into the future is the most important concern.
There is a comprehensive cleaning help sheet on the History SA website. It has information about how to clean different types of objects and suggestions about how to go about cleaning.Here are some reminders, though:
• Vacuuming is better than dusting, since it removes the dust, rather than just shifting it around. (You can buy the kits of attachments from AusVac).
• Handling objects can cause damage, so ensure that you are wearing gloves to provide a barrier between the oils on your hands and the object’s surface.
• Some objects can be wiped over with a damp cloth to remove soiling – eg glassware and ceramics. Paper and wood objects, though, will absorb the water, so make sure that you are certain what an object is made of before you begin
• Textiles can hold a lot of dust, which will detract from the appearance of the items and can also be damaging. Brush vacuuming is the best way to remove dust from textiles. You can use a piece of net in an embroidery hoop to protect any loose fibres
• The oils etc on your hands will corrode metal objects – be sure to wear gloves when handling them.
• Cleaning of silver items should be carried out only if necessary, since cleaning actually removes some of the silver
If you are dusting, be aware that the particles you have collected on the cloth can be abrasive to the objects you are cleaning, so make sure your cloth is always clean.