UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


New UCL ISH research explores the chemistry of dusty books

3 February 2016

dusty surfaces

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a dusty surface in a museum must be in need of cleaning. We all agree that dust is not aesthetically pleasing, and for this reason, we invest time and money to remove particles from surfaces as soon as we see them. There’s no doubt that dust has an aesthetic effect. But could it also have chemical effects on the dirty surfaces?

Recent research from the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage (UCL ISH) has explored this issue. Paper samples were exposed during months in Apsley House (managed by Historic England) and the Wellcome Collection. The paper accumulated particles of different origins: household dust, road dust, smoke car exhausts… 

The experiments show that particles can trigger chemical degradation, but only at levels of deposition that we would not tolerate indoors. It seems that, as long as we keep cleaning dust when we see it, our books are going to be just fine.

Please follow this link for more information on the publication, "The effect of particulate matter on paper degradation" led by Josep Grau-Bové.

Image caption: Monitoring locations included Apsley House (Historic England) and the Wellcome Collection Building, located in two of the most polluted roads in the UK.