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To Clean or Not to Clean - that is the question

Posted by Conservators on Jul 10, 2012 12:31:12 AM

Author: Gretel

Date: 3 July 2012

Temperature: -31C

Wind Speed: 10 Knots

Temp with wind chill: -50C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A



Conservation isn’t just about cleaning. During the course of conserving an artefact we look for information about its manufacture, history and use. Conservators have to use their skill and judgement when deciding whether to remove material or preserve it.


I was presented with this task recently when I came to conserve an enamelled iron mug. The photograph taken before treatment shows that the mug is both corroded (from the deterioration of the iron) and soiled.

BT cup.jpg

Enamel mug before conservation treatment


While carefully removing the iron corrosion, without causing damage to the flaking and fragile enamel, I determined that the soiling  inside the cup was evidence of its history of use.  It was in actual fact the ‘tidemark’ left by the last contents of the cup – much like you would get today from an unwashed mug. This evidence was left in-situ to show the use of the mug. Future analysis of the residue could even indicate what the owner of the mug enjoyed the last time this mug was used.


Enamel mug after conservation treatment

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