Documents or books that have been stored in less than desirable conditions may have dirt on them. The outer surfaces of rolled documents (such as maps, posters, or architectural drawings) may also be dusty. To clean books, see "Cleaning and Preserving Books," a handout from the ADAH Government Records Division.

Surface cleaning can be very time consuming. Establish cleaning priorities based on need (Is the writing obscured?), the relative value of the records, and staff resources. Cleaning methods must be gentle to avoid causing damage, particularly if a document is fragile. In most instances, cleaning may be limited to brushing, but other methods may also be desirable. Cleaning always begins with the gentlest method-brushing-and progresses to more aggressive methods. Brittle documents cannot withstand any method other than a gentle brushing. The use of more aggressive cleaners will tear paper.

1. Materials that Cannot be Surface Cleaned. Pastel, charcoal, graphite pencil, colored pencil, and water colors; heavily coated paper stock (such as art books and glossy magazines); extremely weak or brittle documents with deteriorating ink; and materials that have major tears or losses cannot be surface cleaned.

2. Cleaning. Begin with a clean work surface covered with a large sheet of paper. The paper can be scored and folded along three sides to stand upright, thus preventing dust and eraser particles from being scattered about the work surface. Wear a clean, white cotton glove on one hand to hold the document in place during cleaning. Change the glove as soon as it becomes dirty. (Gloves should be washed in a mild detergent.) Various tools may be employed: long-bristled, soft brushes; dry-cleaning pads, and vinyl erasers. If a document is very large, weights may be used to hold it in place during cleaning

2.1. Brushing. Soft, long-bristled brushes should be used. White bristles are best, because it is easy to see when they are dirty and need to be washed. Bristles should be washed in a mild detergent, rinsed thoroughly, blotted between paper towels, and allowed to air-dry. Beginning in the center of the document, brush surface dirt toward the document's edges. Continue this process over the entire document. Many times, brushing is the only cleaning method necessary. If dirt remains and the document's condition permits it, use a dry cleaning pad.

2.2. Dry Cleaning Pads. Dry cleaning or drafting pads are small bags of art gum eraser particles. This kind of pad should never be rubbed on the document like an eraser, as it will become soiled with the first use. Instead, deposit the eraser particles onto the document by squeezing and kneading the pad. Squeeze a small number of particles onto the document; then use the tips of the middle and index fingers to rub the particles gently in a circular motion. The eraser particles will become darker as they pick up loose dirt. Carefully but thoroughly, brush the eraser particles off the document so that they do not adhere to it. Continue cleaning small areas of the document until the entire surface has been cleaned. If only a portion of the document has surface dirt, clean that area only. If this method does not remove sufficient dirt, use a Magic Rub eraser.

2.3. Magic Rub Eraser. Use a Magic Rub Eraser only as a last resort. Clean only the portion of the document containing surface dirt. If the entire document needs to be cleaned, begin in the center and work toward the edges. Use short, light, one-directional strokes to remove surface dirt. Brush the particles away before moving on to another area of the document. As the eraser itself gets dirty, rub it on a clean piece of paper to remove the dirt. Because this cleaning method is more abrasive than previous methods described, care must be taken so that the document's surface is not damaged. If surface dirt cannot be removed by a Magic Rub eraser, leave the document as it is.

The following conclusions were formed from a 1981 New York University study of dry cleaning products: (1) Magic Rub erasers have substantially different composition than the other products tested. (2) All dry cleaning products tested left particulate matter in the fibers of the paper. (3) All the products tested altered the paper's surface characteristics, but not its mechanical properties. Of the erasers tested, Magic Rub caused the least alteration to paper. Pink Pearl Eraser No. 101 was judged to be the worst eraser tested.

3. Supplies and Suppliers. The following supplies can be purchased from art supply stores, drafting supply stores, photography shops, and archival products catalogs: brushes, (soft, long-bristled), dry cleaning or drafting pads, Magic Rub erasers, large sheets of white paper, cotton gloves (white, lint-free), and heavy lead weights.

4. Sources of Additional Assistance. For more information on this and other records conservation issues, contact: Linda Overman, ADAH Conservation Officer, at

ADAH Government Records Division

P.O. Box 300100, Montgomery, AL 36130-0100

Telephone: (334)242-4452; fax: (334)240-3433


ADAH web site:

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