TSG Chapter VI. Treatment of Textiles - Section D. Aqueous Cleaning

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Contributors: Originally drafted by Jennifer Cruise.
Editors: Mary Ballard, Jennifer Cruise.
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Copyright: 2022. The Textile Wiki pages are a publication of the Textile Specialty Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.
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Warnings[edit | edit source]

There are many reasons NOT to wet clean.

  • Irreversible
  • Hard to predict
  • Must prepare for intervention if unwanted changes occur
  • Many textiles are significantly weaker when wet
  • Dyes can bleed
  • Fibers swell
  • Some embellishment materials are incompatible (gelatin sequins, etc.)

Planning[edit | edit source]

A full plan for all handling steps and materials is needed before beginning: immersion, agitation, turning, lifting, draining, blotting, blocking, drying.

Space and equipment[edit | edit source]

  • Use the largest flat bath possible for fragile items (avoid folds, allow water to flow through and around items)
  • In deeper baths, sturdy items may be "accordioned"
  • Baths should be slanted for draining (note that this increases depth needs at one end of bath)

Supports in the bath[edit | edit source]

  • Mylar/Melinex sheet - smooth surface for lifting, blocking, drying (see drying section)
  • Net layers - draining sling for moving items or top layer to protect from abrasion during sponging (note that net itself can be abrasive)
  • Perforated draining surface above the base of the bath can add support and promote rapid drainage.

Treatment order[edit | edit source]

  • Surface cleaning to remove loose soils, dusts, etc. is usually performed before wet cleaning, to reduce the burden of soiling in the bath and the risk of embedding soils in the weave structure of the textile. However, some fibers may be too fragile to tolerate surface cleaning without some type of consolidation.
  • Spot treatments for stain removal must be planned in coordination with wet cleaning. Usually best to complete any "dry" solvent treatments prior to aqueous spot treatments and bath immersion.
  • Repairs order: decide whether they should happen before or after cleaning. Cleaning may induce further damage, while new materials may "settle in" better with old if cleaning happens after they are incorporated. Some repairs should only be undertaken after wet treatments are completed, and soiling and degradation products are reduced/eliminated.
  • Stitched supports (temporary): Netting envelopes or localized supports to protect weak areas during cleaning

Water[edit | edit source]

  • Tap (hardness, common contaminants and their effects)
  • Deionized (softened)
  • Distilled
  • Cleaning effects of water alone.

Surfactants[edit | edit source]

  • Anionic, non-ionic, zwitterionic
  • Bath pHs typical for each
  • pH at which each is effective
  • Effect of temperature, cloud point
  • Effect of CMC (critical micelle concentration)

Bath additives[edit | edit source]

  • Chelators
  • Soil re-deposition inhibitors (some overlap with chelation)
  • Buffers
  • Other

Rinsing[edit | edit source]

  • Water type, volume, number of changes
  • Adjusting pH
    • as part of cleaning
    • to address dye changes or reverse other effects

Agitation[edit | edit source]

Turning[edit | edit source]

Draining/lifting[edit | edit source]

Repeat wash cycles[edit | edit source]

Blotting[edit | edit source]

See Drying, Blotting, and Blocking.

Drying[edit | edit source]

See Drying, Blotting, and Blocking.

Special methods[edit | edit source]

Using a wet/dry vacuum for aqueous carpet cleaning

Further Reading[edit | edit source]

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