Trash It

Does your collection contain large, rolled papers like posters that need to be flattened for appropriate storage or objects that have absorbed bad odors? If so, trash cans can be handy preservation tools for humidification as well as fumigation.

A National Park Service Conserve-O-Gram outlines the process of setting up humidification chambers, including the trash-can variety. A document should be fairly sturdy in order to stand on one rolled end safely. It can be placed inside a smaller, water-tight container inside the larger trash can. Several inches of water should fill the base of the larger can. After several hours in the chamber, remove the document and begin blotting and weighting process according to these instructions.

courtesy, Tara Kennedy

Tara Kennedy, Preservation Field Services Librarian at Yale University Library, recently promoted trash cans’ other collections-care use–fumigation–in a Connecting to Collections online community webinar. Pour or place an odor-absorbing material in the bottom of the large trash can. Several good materials are:

  • activated charcoal in the form of briquettes
  • baking soda
  • kitty litter (unscented)—probably the least expensive option
  • Gonzo Odor Eliminator, made from volcanic rocks (zeolites)

Place the olfactory-offending object in a smaller bin inside the larger trash can. Secure the lid on the trash can only. After a few days, the stink disappears from the object. For a good discussion and set of photos on setting up a trash-can fumigation chamber to remove cigarette smoke odor from books, click here.

As our staff has learned from C2C’s fire recovery workshops, objects that do not suffer direct fire damage continue to smell like smoke indefinitely. A trash can fumigation chamber, then, could serve as a recovery measure for objects that emerge from a burn unscathed but stinky.

Note that this type of fumigation only works for objects that have absorbed odors, not objects that generate strong smells from their own deterioration processes. (Cellulose acetate and its vinegar-like scent is a common example.) If your collection contains objects that smell as the result of an inherent vice, consider storing them in microchamber boxes to trap the pollutants they emit.

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 27, 2012, in collections care, Connecting to Collections, disaster preparedness, fire, storage, workshops and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thank you for your link to our Parks Library Preservation blog post describing the step-by-step process of removing odors from books and paper-based materials. The trash can is certainly a surprisingly versatile item in the conservation lab, and can be put to good alternative use for personal collections as well!

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