TSG Chapter III. Environmental Concerns for Textiles - Section B. Air Quality

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Contributors: Originally drafted by Sarah C. Stevens. Contributions from: Mary Ballard, Lucy Commoner, Shirley Ellis, Robin Hanson, Irene Karsten, Richard Kerschner, Teresa Knutson, Anne Murray, Zoe Annis Perkins, Patty Silence, Jan Vuori.
Editors: Kathy Francis, Mary Kaldany, Nancy Love, Nancy Pollak, Deborah Lee Trupin. Copy Editor/Layout Consultant: Jessica S. Brown. Original content date: April 2, 1998.

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Copyright: 2018. The Textile Wiki pages are a publication of the Textile Specialty Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
The Textile Wiki pages are published for the members of the Textile Specialty Group. Publication does not endorse or recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein.


Air Quality

Factors to consider

Particulate soils: Dust, dirt, grit, etc.
Sources of particulate soils
  • Soils are brought in from the outside by people, through open windows, and by insufficiently filtered HVAC systems.
  • Within a building, carpeting and standard acoustical ceiling tiles are sources of particulate matter.
  • Construction, renovation, or exhibit building projects within the museum generate particulate soils.
Problems and damage from particulate soils
  • Soiling can be visually disturbing.
  • Soils may attract and hold moisture and lead to growth of biological organisms.
  • Abrasiveness of soils can result in mechanical damage.
  • The combination of acidic particulate soils and high RH may accelerate damage in acid-sensitive textiles.
Gaseous pollutants: acidic gases, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, or oxidants such as ozone
Sources of gaseous pollution
  • Vehicular exhaust and burning of fossil fuels in power stations are usually more of a problem in urban and industrial areas than in rural areas.
  • Gaseous pollution within buildings come from various sources.
Damaging volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are generated from many building materials, such as vinyl flooring, carpeting and carpet pads, urea formaldehyde-containing wood products, adhesives, paints, gasketing materials, plastics, fabric finishes, and some cleaning products.
  • Gaseous pollutants can come from kitchen exhaust systems.
  • Gaseous pollutants may come from heating systems, especially oil-fired furnaces or boilers.
  • Ozone can come from electrostatic precipitators in the building’s HVAC system, electronic air cleaners, laser printers, and photocopy machines.
  • Gaseous pollutants inside cases are usually generated by the case materials, but can also come from the object(s) displayed in the case.
Problems and damage from gaseous pollutants
  • Gaseous pollutants can alter the pH of an artifact, thereby contributing to fiber breakdown.
  • Gaseous pollutants can alter dyes.
  • Damage from gaseous pollutants can be accelerated by high RH.

Preventive methods

Reduce particulate and gaseous pollutants entering the building by using particulate and gaseous filters on HVAC systems/units.
Carefully select all building and exhibit materials and finishes to be nonpolluting, ideally working with a museum environmental consultant or selecting “green” architectural products.
Protect textiles within the building from pollutants and particulates.
Use good housekeeping methods.
  • Use HEPA vacuums to maintain galleries and storage areas.
  • Use door mats at entrances to reduce dirt from shoes.
  • Remove carpeting from galleries. If carpeting must be used, static-reducing carpets (that test below 3.5 kv) are a better choice.
  • Clean dust mops after use; use HEPA vacuum to clean the mops.
  • Do not use brooms or sweeping motions.
Keep all stored textiles in closed storage containers/furniture. See VIII.B: Storage Furniture and VIII.C: Storage Materials
Display textiles in cases or glazed frames whenever possible.
  • Microclimates can be created within sealed frames that contain RH-buffering media as well as pollutant/corrosion scavengers.
  • Use and maintain air filters and/or pollution scavengers in exhibition cases.
  • Anaerobic or anoxic environments may be created for special situations but are usually reserved for insect eradication.
If textiles are on open display, avoid placing them in direct air currents (e.g., incoming or return air vents).

Further Reading

Appelbaum, B. 1991. Guide to environmental protection of collections. Madison, Conn.: Sound View Press.

Canadian Conservation Institute. 1992. Textiles and the environment. CCI Notes 13/1. Ottawa, Ontario,Canada: Canadian Heritage.

Finch, K., and G. Putnam. 1977. Caring for textiles. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications.

Giuntini, C. 1992. Storage of historic fabrics and costumes. In Conservation concerns: A guide for collectors and curators. Ed. K. Bachmann. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Grzywacz, C. M. Monitoring for gaseous pollutants in museum environments. 2006. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute.

Guldbeck, P. E. 1985. The care of antiques and historical collections. 2d ed. Revised and expanded by A. B. MacLeish. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History.

Hatchfield, P. B. 2002. Pollutants in the museum environment: Practical strategies for problem solving in design, exhibition and storage. London: Archetype Publications.

Mailand, H. F., and D. S. Alig. 1999. Preserving textiles: A guide for the nonspecialist. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Ogden, S. 2000. Temperature, relative humidity, light, and air quality: Basic guidelines for preservation. Andover, Mass.: Northeast Document Conservation Center.

Orlofsky, P. 1992. Textile conservation. In Conservation concerns: A guide for collectors and curators. Ed.K. Bachmann. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Sandwith, H., and S. Stainton, comps. 2006. The National Trust manual of housekeeping: The care of collections in historic houses open to the public. London: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Tétrault, J. 2003. Airborne pollutants in museums, galleries, and archives: Risk assessment, control strategies, and preservation management. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Canadian Heritage.

Thomson, G. 1986. The museum environment. 2d ed. London: Butterworths.


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