45th Annual Meeting – Textiles Session, June 1, Panel Discussion on Wet Cleaning

The panel on wet cleaning was an extension of the three presentations that preceded it. The participants were Shirley Ellis, whose talk on the treatment of a Kainai fur-lined baby quilt included a discussion of aqueous immersion cleaning; Dana Goodin, who presented on her use of agarose gels to clean tapestries; and Gennifer Majors, who spoke about her experiments with application methods for cyclododecane.

The first part of the discussion focused largely on the use of cyclododecane. Though it has been used for some time by other specialties, its use in textile conservation is relatively novel. Several attendants described successes using the material to protect non-textile elements (such as buttons and buckles) during cleaning. It does, however, pose some practical problems, such as the difficulty of knowing for sure whether a cyclododecane barrier is sound, or when it has fully sublimed.

The focus then turned to the question of how wet cleaning practice had changed over time. While Orvus has long been used as a “go-to” detergent, some conservators are starting to experiment with other surfactants (e.g. Hostapon) and additives (e.g. chelators). Immersion cleaning, which was once a common treatment, may have become less common — at least in the US and Canada, if not the UK.

Gels offer an alternative to immersion cleaning. Dana explained that she had elected to use gels because immersion cleaning was not a possibility, due in one case to the fragility of the textile and in another to fugitive dyes. Shirley Ellis, however, suggested that gels might actually be less interventive than full immersion, and shouldn’t necessarily be considered only as a last resort. Clearly, this is an evolving issue, and one that will generate many more conversations.