Here is some additional information following the discussions during the ‘Curation of ethnobiology collections’ Synthesys course at the Economic Botany Collection Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in June 2013.

See 2 reviews of the course by Gina Allnatt Biology Curator and Andrew Lawton Trainee Biological Curator. Thank you!


Museum objects are at increased risk of accidental damage when they are being handled and moved. Damage caused by handling may not be immediately apparent and can accumulate over time.

As a rule always try to wear gloves when handling museum objects.

Generally two kinds of gloves are used: 1. disposable accelerant free nitrile and 2. cotton.

Disposable nitrile gloves: safe (excellent barrier between you and the object), offer a better barrier for handling metals, a better protection for the wearer (pesticides), good grip. !! Nitrile gloves offer more dexterity than cotton.

Cotton gloves: can snag on objects, can transfer oil from the hands to the object, and do not offer protection from poisons (e.g. pesticides), can leave lint.

Exceptions/when not to wear gloves: Gloves should not be worn where direct contact is essential for a sure grip. Gloves can reduce dexterity when handling thin paper or glass.

When handling objects with bare hands (in situations when gloves are not available or reduce dexterity), ensure your hands are clean and dry. Do not use hand cream.


  • Establish a cleaning protocol that sets out how often museum spaces should be cleaned. Where possible, filters should be installed on air handling systems to keep fine particulates out. This will reduce the need to clean the objects.
Display areas and store room cleaning will reduce the need for object cleaning. Storing objects in boxes will reduce the amount of dust depositing on objects.

Collection items should be cleaned with great care and knowledge of their materials, and condition. For fragile or damaged objects, seek an advice of a trained conservator.

  • How to determine if the object needs cleaning. Follow this very useful guide by the Museum North East Collections Care Framework.

How often to clean? Cleaning (light dusting) of objects in display cases may be required annually depending on dust levels. Object on open display may need to be cleaned more often.

  • For dusty objects, surface dust or dirt can be loosened by gently brushing with a soft brush and removed with a vacuum cleaner.

Purchase a separate vacuum cleaner for objects. Only use a vacuum cleaner that contains at least an HEPA (high effciency particulate air) filter capable of retaining 99.97% of all particles down to 0.3 microns, or an ULPA filter (Ultra-Low Penetration Air filter) that traps 99.99% of particles 0.12 microns and larger.

Important! Conventional vacuum cleaners often have a very strong suction capable of damaging the object. You need a vacuum cleaner with either with a variable speed control or purchase an external rheostat to slow down the motor to reduce the suction.

Page 18 of the document referenced shows how to clean objects made from delicate materials.

As a rule, avoid direct contact between the nozzle and the object. Turn the suction down to the lowest level possible and cover the nozzle with a piece of net or nylon stocking.

  • Cleaning is one of the most important and controversial conservation treatments, capable of changing the meaning of the object. Sometimes dirt or other residue may be part of the object’s biography prior to it entering the collection, and is worthy of preservation.

3. MOULD/FUNGI. For cleaning materials infested by mould/fungi, see these 2 references: CCI ‘Mould Outbreak – An Immediate Response’ and ‘Cleaning Infested Material’ by the Oxford University Library Services.

4. PACKING WITH ACID FREE TISSUE: 2 types of paper available

unbuffered – neutral PH. Good for animal based materials, and for mixed collections.

buffered – to an alkaline PH. Good for cellulose based materials but the akaline PH will damage materials that are slightly acidic (animal-based and others).

Important! For ethnobiological collection with mixed materials and finishes that are sensitive to buffered (alkaline) environment, use only acid free unbuffered paper.

Reference: Conserve O Gram 4/9 Buffered And Unbuffered Storage Materials .

5. MOUNTING OF OBJECTS FOR DISPLAY: Question concerning padding of brackets and tubing with inert and non-abrasive materials

For covering metal and brass tubing used in mount making: Teflon TFE 4:1 heat-shrink tubing. Can be painted with acrylic paint, painting needs time to cure.  The tubing can also be used as is, without shrinking it. Alternative: Polyolefin 2:1 heat-shrink tubing.

Alternative: silicone tubing for incasing metal pins and mount tubing.

For covering mounts and decks: 100% cotton or 100% polyester or 100% polyester felt/suede, ideally the fabrics have to be tested for their corrosiveness, for example by the Oddy test.

Polyester felt can be obtained with a pressure sensitive adhesive on one side, which is useful for covering metal tubing (mounting). The metal tubing/rods can also be coated with Acryloid B72.

more mounting questions? join this great network of hands-on collection care professionals: PACCIN Preparation, Art Handling, Collections Care Information Network

6. DYES: fading of natural dyes on plant materials. To be updated.


 Handout for SYNTHESYS collections care _References