We continue our behind-the-scenes look at the tools used in the Preservation and Conservation Laboratory. In part 1 of the series we highlighted the specialised devices and equipment needed for documenting and examining collection items before they undergo treatment. See “Tools of the Trade Part 1” for the first installment:

Testing…Test 1, 2, 3…

If an extensive treatment is planned we must first conduct tests on the items. In our testing phase we look for key indicators about the characteristics of the collection item. The results help determine a good conservation treatment plan for the item. We start by conducting spot tests on small areas of the paper and the media to help predict how they will react to the planned treatment. Using tiny brushes with water/alcohol and loupes for magnification, we observe several things when it comes to spot testing:

  • We look closely for any movement or transfer of the ink or media;
  • We pay close attention to how quickly the water is being absorbed by the paper;
  • We watch to see what happens with the texture of the paper when water is applied; and
  • We monitor for any shifts in the colour when the water is applied and when it finally dries.















Surface Cleaning

After testing, our most common treatment step is cleaning. While many may believe that cleaning an item is done for aesthetic reasons, in the PAC Lab the concerns are a bit deeper. Dirt and dust hold a range of acidic components which can damage the surface of a collection item. These particles can become ingrained in paper and other porous surfaces creating soils and stains which may be impossible to remove. Surface cleaning is both a preventative measure and aesthetic procedure.

[Learn more about DUST in our Family Heirloom Preservation Clinic in the Preservation Webinar Series]


At the PAC Lab many different methods of cleaning are employed but the most common are:

  • Surface cleaning with soft brushes or eraser crumbs; and
  • Vacuuming with a HEPA-filter vacuum in a fume hood.


Brushes & Eraser Crumbs – What a pair!















There are some tools that just fit great together. In surface cleaning, the use of brushes and eraser crumbs is a frequent pairing. These tools when paired together work well because they are easy to use and get the job done. Grated vinyl eraser crumbs are used by gently rolling the granules in a circular motion on the surface of the item with the fingertips (while wearing nitrile or vinyl gloves to reduce the abrasion on the skin) or with an eraser block. This helps to lift the accumulated soot and dirt off the item. A soft bristle brush is used to dust away the eraser crumbs and dirt without scratching the document.


Even though eraser crumbs and brushes complement one another, brushes are popular and frequently the main stars for surface cleaning. Soft brushes are often used alone for delicate removal of dirt and debris from the surface of fragile objects.















HEPA-Filter Vacuum & Laboratory Fume Hood

Another good pair is the laboratory fume hood and the HEPA-filter vacuum. These two are ideal for cases where there are items with heavy dust or mould presence. Items that are weak and brittle and cannot withstand the suction are not cleaned in this manner. The fume hood is a ventilated enclosure which traps the gases, vapours and fumes of the items while cleaning. These toxins are removed from the building by an exhaust fan at the top of the Laboratory. This fan pulls the air and airborne toxins through isolated ducts, connected to the building, then to be passed into the atmosphere. This equipment is used alongside a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter vacuum which helps prevent small particles from escaping and recirculating in the air of the Lab. The HEPA filter safely traps about 99.97% of airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns. We use a vacuum with adjustable suction speed and detachable and differently sized nozzles.


















In part 3 of this behind-the-scenes series we will showcase the tools used for washing and mending collection items.


For more information about caring for your collections view the recordings of the Preservation Webinar Series:

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American Institute for Conservation (AIC). (2022). Book and Paper Group Wiki - Spot Tests. Retrieved from AIC Wiki - A Collaborative Knowledge Resource:

American Institute for Conservation (AIC). (2022). Book and Paper Group Wiki - Suface Cleaning. Retrieved from AIC Wiki - A Collaborative Knowledge Resource:

Cowan, J., & Guild, S. (2001). Dry Methods for Surface Cleaning Paper - CCI Technical Bulletin 11. Retrieved from Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI):

Gaylord Archival. (2022). Conservation Tools & Equipment - Hand Tools - Winsor & Newton® Dusting Brush. Retrieved from Gaylord Archival:

Nilfisk Industrial Vacuums. (2022). GM 80 with Variable Speed Control. Retrieved from Nilfisk Industrial Vacuums:


Authors:  Heritage Library Division, Preservation and Conservation Laboratory, Ms. Danielle Fraser (Library Conservator) and Mrs. Yuklin Rosales Youk-See (Library Technical Assistant)

Copyright of photographs held by NALIS, reproduction and distribution without written permission is prohibited.



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