Activated Carbon Preservation Applications

Activated Carbon is a common product in air and water filters.  It is a pollutant scavenger, meaning that its molecular structure has enough void areas to trap gases, such as sulfides and acids, which are causes and/or byproducts of artifact deterioration.  Several types of preservation supplies now contain activated carbon and are worth considering: 

    • 3M strips:  These inexpensive paper strips are good to include in cases with tarnish-prone metals on display or inside pieces of hollowware.  Their pollutant-trapping capacity lasts about 6 months in a closed case or box, so the strips need regular replacement.  The best buy we’ve found on this product is $4.73/10 pack at Cool Tools.

 microchamber boardConservation Resources has developed this product by adding activated carbon and zeolites to archival board.  Microchamber storage boxes offer the artifacts inside a level of protection from pollutants.  They can also absorb pollutants that some artifacts (especially ageing plastics) emit as they degrade, thereby protecting the rest of the collection.

  •  microchamber emulsionConservation Resources also developed this black paint as another pollutant-trapping option.  This may be particularly useful for constructing exhibitions involving especially sensitive materials.

 carbon cloth:  Developed as a military technology, activated carbon cloth has both pollutant-trapping and humidity-buffering characteristics.  It is expensive, but might be worth considering for use in artifact mounts when there is an imperative to exhibit materials prone to pollutant damage.  The cloth is available in small quantities from both University Products and BuyActivatedCharcoal.

  • customized 3-dimensional objects:  Some Chinese companies have recently started selling various sculptures made of activated carbon as decorative purifying agents.  By ordering customized shapes that blend with a particular exhibit, museums may be able to offer another element of artifact pollutant protection.  

Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  For instance, the goal is to protect, rather than clean, silver–not because collection managers are too busy or too lazy–but because every polishing removes a microscopic layer.  Overtime, polishing contributes to noticeable losses of historic materials.  Incorporating an activated carbon product into a display area is an important tarnish-reducing practice.  Also, most collections contain plastics 50-100 years old, if not older.  As these artifacts age, they release acetic acids, which will act as agents of decay on other artifacts.  If complete isolation of such objects is not an option, then pollutant-trapping products are necessary for appropriate storage and display.  So, why not try adding an activated carbon tool to your preservation arsenal?

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About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on November 7, 2011, in collections care, Connecting to Collections, Exhibitions, storage, workshops and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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