Saving Your Treasures: Protect

Saving Your Treasures


Preservation Principles




It is in the nature of all materials to deteriorate. All deterioration is due to the natural forces of physics and chemistry. The scientific Law of Entropy states that nature will tend towards a state of maximum disorder, or in other words, minimum energy. Disordered systems require less energy than ordered systems. Deteriorated materials are less ordered than new materials. The natural order of things means that all materials will deteriorate, and they will deteriorate through chemical or physical mechanisms.

Physical damages are caused when “work” energy, from handling, moving, bending, flexing, and other manipulations, is transferred to the structure of a material, like wood or metal. This energy causes wear, tearing, fraying and other breakage that results in damage to the physical structure of the material. Chemical mechanisms for deterioration involve chemical reactions that break down the structures of materials and molecules. For example, fading results when light causes chemical bonds in a colorant molecule to break down.

Other chemical reactions that cause material deterioration include attack by water or moisture and attack by acids. Newsprint fibers are attacked by the acids in the newsprint and become brittle and yellowed within a few days after the paper is made. Chemically-induced deterioration often results in physical changes in the material.

Physical changes in deterioration do not change the chemical makeup of a material undergoing alteration. They only affect the properties of the material. Chemical changes during deterioration do alter the actual chemical makeup of the materials. Both kinds of changes are permanent and cannot be reversed.

It is not possible to stop deterioration or to reverse changes that have already occurred in the materials of objects. It is only possible to use preventive methods to interfere with the process of deterioration to slow it down. We can also use conservation methods to minimize the effects of what has already occurred. This preventive interference is positive in that it slows the deterioration process. Interference can also be negative and can accelerate deterioration. Positive interference in deterioration is preventative conservation or preventative care.

One can protect objects from this natural course of deterioration by practicing preventive care. The videos below and the handouts and websites on the right show you how preventative care is useful.

Environmental Control

Controlling the temperature, relative humidity, and light is the best way to prolong the life of objects.


Environment: Relative Humidity & Temperature

Environment: Airborne & Gaseous PollutantsEnvironment:

Plant Materials: Envrionmental& Mechanical Deterioration
Animal Materials:
Animal Materials:
Skin & Leather
Animal Materials:
Hair, Hooves, Etc.
Animal Materials:
Bones, Shells, Etc.


Water and Humidity

Relative Humidity & Temperature
Keeping water and high-moisture-content air away from objects will prolong their life.Preserving
a Beaver Castoreum


Acids and Chemicals

Preventing exposure to aggressive acids and other chemicals will lengthen the survival of collections.Plant Materials:
Deterioration - Chemical & Biological



Particulate pollution from fire, smoke, and soot is very damaging to valued heirlooms.

Dust and Dirt

Metals: Preventative CarePreventing exposure to dust and dirt will help your objects last longer.



Controlling pests to avoid infestation will protect objects from pest damage.Plant Materials: Integrated Pest Management 



Careful and proper handling will prevent damage from moving and examining objects.

Examining, Handling, and Housing Paper-Based MaterialsExhibition
Housing Documents for ArchivesHousing Photographs for ArchivesHousing Negatives, Film, Books, Newspapers, Scrapbooks, & Sound Recording Media


Home Repairs

Avoiding home repairs and repairs by non-professionals will prevent some of the most serious damage to objects.


Plant Materials:
Animal Materials:
Preventative Care