Blow it off: Moving beyond compressed air with carbon dioxide snow

L. H. (Hugh) Shockey Jr.


Carbon dioxide snow cleaning has advanced significantly in recent years, making it an affordable and consumer-friendly surface cleaning method. The technology has been tested and used in critical cleaning applications, such as the removal of surface contamination during the production of silicon microchip wafers and precision optical lenses. Carbon dioxide snow cleaning is an emerging technology in conservation with the possibility of aiding in the cleaning of sensitive surfaces.

Robert Morris’ molded plastic sculpture Model, 1967 was requested for loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection. As part of the loan process, the work was examined and a whitish surface haze was readily visible that disfigured the appearance of the work. After careful consideration, carbon dioxide snow cleaning was chosen as the treatment method to address the surface condition. Carbon dioxide snow proved to be an effective and efficient method of reducing the appearance of the disfiguring haze without bringing solvent or aqueous cleaning systems to the surface of the sculpture. The results from the cleaning of Robert Morris’ Model, 1967 suggest that carbon dioxide snow cleaning may provide a useful tool for the conservator’s toolbox with the potential to address cleaning problems and ongoing maintenance of objects with sensitive surfaces.

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2009 | Los Angeles | Volume 16