Cleaning, washing and flattening-2


     Documents damaged in floods and with deposits of mud are washed in thermostatically controlled stainless-steel sinks containing a mixture of water and 0.05 per cent PREVENTOL as a fungicide. The solution is kept at approximately 400 C. The sheets are washed on floating wooden boards held still by stainless-steel angle irons, which are also used to hold the sheets in alignment under water during washing

    The sheets are interleaved with a wet-strength paper. Resin sized, this paper has the property of retaining most of its dry strength when wet, and acts as a support to the sheets. Each sheet is washed separately, very soft brushes being used to remove dirt mud, etc., sticking to the paper. The brushing is in an outwards direction in order to avoid tearing or scuffing the paper. All pressure should be avoided, and any traces of mud remaining after the initial brushing are removed by gentle brushing over and over again until they disappear. This process is repeated with the other sheets

     After washing, the sheets are placed in a solution of PREVENTOL bath (0.5 per cent) as a fungicide for about thirty minutes and then pressured to remove excess water

     One material often recommended for washing and removing mud and grime from paper is soap solution. Being a chemical compound, its action is specific. For this reason, washing with soap of unknown composition and chemical action should not be attempted. On the other hand, detergents such as Lissapol-N etc. have no harmful effects on paper and may be used safely. Documents so treated should be thoroughly washed in running water to remove any traces of the compound, which might later cause degradation of cellulose. In Florence, flood-damaged records have been successfully washed with Lissapol N (5 per cent).


    Washing followed by sizing often suffices to remove stains and impart body to an otherwise brittle paper. Organic solvents, which are perfectly safe, must frequently be used to remove more tenacious stains. With these solvents, it is not necessary to treat the entire document, as their application, unlike that of water, does not result in appreciable expansion of the paper. It is safe to treat only those parts which require cleaning with a non-lining cotton swab dipped in the selected solvent

     The different solvents used for removing stains do, however affect printing and coloured inks, causing them to run and leave new and unexpected stains on paper. It is therefore advisable to test the fastness of the ink to the solvent chosen. The process is similar to that used for testing the fastness of ink to washing, with the difference that a specimen of the writing, instead of being tested with a drop of water, is rubbed gently with a cotton swab dipped in the solvent and then pressed with blotting paper. If the blotter is stained, the ink is soluble in the solvent. Black typewriter inks and carbon copies run or smudge in such solvents, and should be protected before the document is cleaned. One protective treatment is starch sizing, but the cleaning of such documents should always be approached with caution


     The paper is laid with the stained side down on a white blotter. The portion to be treated is cleaned with cotton dipped in the selected solvent and then sponged from the back. The stain is softened by the action of the solvent and transferred to the blotting paper. The paper is then placed on a new blotting paper and sponged again paper is then placed on a new blotting paper and sponged again on the blotter. The paper is then turned over and treated in the same way. This procedure helps to prevent the stain from spreading and leaving a new stain on the document which would thus require re-cleaning. The treated document is then allowed to dry. It requires no ironing or flattening.

Other stains

     The stains encountered on old documents are often due to ‘foxing or to ink. Foxing is caused by mildew, and takes the form of a spotty brown discolouration observed on documents and prints which have been stored in damp rooms for a considerable time the ‘foxed’ area is more acidic than the un-foxed or clear part. Difficult to remove by solvent treatment, it may be effectively removed, like ink and other stains, by bleaching.


     Bleaching is somewhat drastic. It tends to weaken the paper and fade the writing on the document, although carbonaceous inks are not affected. It is therefore desirable to examine the effect of the bleaching agent on a few sheets of similar nature but of no value before subjecting the affected document to this treatment. Archive documents may be treated by bleaching if their paper is in good condition and if the stain is highly objectionable. Otherwise, the stain should be left untreated


     Flattening comprises the removal of folds, wrinkles and curls and is carried out prior to the actual restoration of documents. Folded documents have a tendency to break at the folds if they are handled extensively without prior flattening. Every time a folded document is opened and refolded, the fold is weakened until it eventually breaks. Once this has happened the only remedy is restoration, a costly process.

     Most folded documents, if properly flattened, do not require extensive repairs, but may be docketed, used and kept safely for years to come. The process of flattening is a simple one. The paper is opened carefully and spread as smoothly as possible on plastic netting fitted in wooden frames. Some fifteen to twenty such frames may be loaded on a trolley, each frame being capable of taking four foolscap size sheets. The trolley is then placed in a humidification room measuring 2.4 m by 3 m and equipped with Pettifoggers -a device which injects steam into the room-or with any other mechanical humidifier. Relative humidity of go to 95 per cent is maintained in the room. The spread sheets absorb moisture uniformly from the moisture-laden air. When they have become thoroughly damp, the sheets are removed. Each is then placed between blotters and ironed until all folds, creases and wrinkles are removed. Care should be taken to ensure that the sheet is protected from direct contact with the iron, which may be of the ordinary household electrical type. Damping only at the folds should be strictly avoided as the water on drying will leave stains on the document. The entire document sheet should be wetted uniformly.

     If a humidifying machine is not available, each sheet should be supported on a plastic wire net and dipped in a bath containing water, as in the washing process, and then flattened. This, of course, is a time-consuming process.

     Most documents which have been washed or bleached or flattened, do not require any further treatment except resizing, which imparts the strength necessary for safe handling. Resizing is the last step in the restoration process and is carried out in cases where the document requires no further treatment for handling or after the document has been repaired and strengthened by the manual process of repair using paste.