Dust is an inevitable by-product of visitor access to exhibitions and accumulates on artefacts on open display. Although dirt brought on visitors’ shoes can be captured at the entrance, release of dust from visitors’ clothing is less easily prevented.
How dust is controlled and removed is fundamental to the prevention of cumulative damage to artefacts. On a microscopic scale, dust includes tiny, possibly acidic or sharp mineral particles which can be damaging to materials. Consequent cleaning erodes fragile surfaces, such as textiles and gilding.
When dust is left on a surface for too long, it attracts moisture during periods of high humidity, contributing to staining, corrosion and biological growth. Accumulating dust provides food for insect pests and bacteria, and high humidity can encourage the growth of moulds.
To prevent surface wear, heritage institutions clean only when necessary, using soft natural bristle brushes and low-suction vacuum cleaners.
Hanwell’s DustBug has been designed to measure the accumulation of dust so that users can optimise the intervals between cleaning, and thus maintain standards of presentation and conservation. Analysis of the data can give an understanding of the nature of dust and its distribution in heritage collections.