image of a museum gallery with people

10 Crucial Tips To Maintain And Clean A Museum

Museums are more than just depositories for old artifacts — they’re living spaces that tell stories and connect us to our past histories. However, preserving the treasures that lie within and ensuring each visitor is captivated requires meticulous care and attention to detail. 

A lot goes into maintaining and cleaning a museum. It involves everything from climate control and pest management to cleaning and conservation.

Here are some essential tips and strategies to maintain museums, ensuring your collection remains as pristine as ever.

People who clean museums are called museum conservators or conservator technicians. These professionals work alongside other experts in cleaning, repairing, and maintaining artifacts. 

In some cases, museums also outsource specific cleaning tasks like floor care, window washing, or HVAC maintenance to commercial cleaning companies. Usually the latter needs to show some proof that they have experience working in sensitive environments like medical facilities.

Control Temperature and Humidity

Extreme temperature changes can lead to irreparable damage to delicate museum artifacts (cracking, warping, fading, and even mold growth). This is why museums tend to invest in reliable HVAC systems and a lot of time into maintaining them.

HVAC systems need to be regularly monitored and adjusted based on the specific requirements of various equipment and materials. For example, a temperature range of 70-68°F (21-2°C) and relative humidity of 40% (±5%) are suitable for most artifacts.

Follow a Regular Cleaning Schedule

Dust and dirt harm preservation efforts on museum artifacts. These need to be controlled through a regular cleaning schedule to prevent the buildup of dirt and bacteria.

Establish a regular cleaning schedule that clearly outlines cleaning tasks on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Display cases and open exhibits should be dusted daily with soft brushes or microfiber cloths to prevent miniscule particles from building up.

Weekly floor and high-touch surface area cleaning can reduce the spread of germs and contaminants. Meanwhile, less-frequented areas like storage rooms and behind exhibits can be cleaned monthly. 

Train Staff on Proper Handling and Cleaning

Museum staff should be equipped with the know-how to handle and clean museum artifacts to prevent accidental damage. Invest in detailed training programs that cover the following:

  • Teach staff how to safely handle materials like ceramics, metals, paper, and textiles. Staff may need to wear gloves and proper lifting techniques to avoid direct contact with sensitive surfaces.
  • Educate on appropriate cleaning methods and cleaning materials. This might involve specialized brushes, specific vacuum attachments or cleaning solutions formulated for delicate artifacts.
  • Staff should be prepared to handle accidents or spills as quickly as possible. They should always have spill kits readily available, as well as the knowledge to isolate and contain damaged items.

Refresher courses and regular training ensure that the museum staff are kept abreast of best practices. The idea is to let them handle entire museum collections with utmost care and with little supervision. 

Don’t Use Windex to Clean Museum Glass

mother pointing out something to daughter in a museum display case

Windex might be the go-to cleaner for glass at home or for offices, but it’s a big no for museum glass. This is because Windex contains a harsh chemical known as ammonia that reacts with the silica in glass.

This leads to cloudiness or a hazy film forming on the glass surface which obscures the clarity and brilliance of the artwork it’s storing. Repeated ammonia exposure can also cause tiny etches, scratches, and pits that can permanently damage the glass’s surfaces.

So what can you use for cleaning museum glass?

Museum glass has special treatments to reduce glare, protect against UV exposure, or improve clarity and these same solutions are reactive to ammonia and other harsh chemicals.

You should clean museum glass instead with the following cleaners and methods:

  • Distilled water is the gentlest and safest option for cleaning museum glass. Dampen a lint-free cloth with distilled water and gently wipe in a circular motion on the glass surface.

  • Several companies offer cleaning solutions formulated specifically for museum glass. These are usually ammonia and alcohol-free. Some popular brands include:
    • Guardsman
    • Clarity Clean
    • Renaissance Wax

Tip: You should always spot-test cleaning solutions on a small area of the glass before applying to the entire surface. Never spray the cleaner directly onto the glass, instead, apply it on a cleaning cloth first.

Use Only Museum-Safe Cleaning Materials

As previously mentioned, not just any old cleaning product or material will do. Artifacts and exhibits require treatments that won’t harm or degrade. Here is a list of common museum-safe cleaning materials and products:

Cleaning solutions:

  • Distilled water
  • Orvus WA Paste
  • Vulpex Soap
  • Acetone

Cleaning tools:

Materials to avoid:

  • Ammonia-based cleaners
  • Bleach
  • Commercial dusting sprays

Monitor and Address Pest Infestations

Regular pest inspections are the first line of defense against insects and rodents. These pests can cause irreparable damage to priceless materials and artifacts which is why preventing them should be a top priority.

Be watchful of exhibits, storage areas, and surrounding grounds for any potential signs of pest activity like droppings. Gnaw marks, or nests. Prevent pests from entering the venue by ensuring the museum’s cracks and crevices are sealed and the entire venue is regularly cleaned according to schedule.

Regularly Inspect and Maintain Exhibits

Exhibits require regular tune-ups to keep them running smoothly. There should be a dedicated staff responsible for inspecting and maintaining them to the highest standards. 

For example, unchecked minor cracks in a sculpture could worsen over time if left untreated, leading to costly repairs. Fading colors in paintings or textiles could be a sign of light damage, requiring adjustments to the lighting or adding protective measures.

When addressed promptly through routine inspections and maintenance, these issues are less likely to surface.

Control Lighting

Proper lighting allows curators to showcase the best works of art in any gallery or museum but it can also be the ‘silent destroyer’ of artifacts. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation, for instance, can cause paintings, photographs, paper, and other sensitive materials to fade, discolor, and deteriorate.

Fortunately, most curators are primed with using UV-filtering window films and glazing that can reduce the level of exposure entering the museum. Lighting rotations are also implemented and in some cases, curators use low UV-emitting light sources like LED or fiber optics.

Implement Crowd Control Measures

Museums are increasingly turning to technology to optimize the flow of visitors, enhance the guest experience, and protect precious exhibits.

For example, online ticketing systems and timed entry slots prevent overcrowding to ensure everyone enjoys a comfortable visit.

Interactive maps and apps guide visitors and provide real-time information on wait times and crowd levels.

Real telecommunication through digital signage and apps keeps visitors informed about the availability of exhibits and special events.

Proper maintenance and cleanliness play a vital role in preserving not just the structure of the museum but the enduring pieces it protects

Maintaining a museum’s legacy requires ongoing care and attention. All of the tips outlined in this guide, be it controlling lighting or working with commercial cleaning companies play a role in protecting prized curations.

Craddock’s offers commercial cleaning services for museums, art galleries, and exhibits around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. If you’re interested in outsourcing your cleaning needs to us, request a FREE quote today and we’ll get back to you in 24 hours or less.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to serve as a general guide for museum maintenance best practices. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice from a qualified conservator or museum specialist. Always consult with experts before attempting any cleaning or maintenance procedures on valuable artifacts or delicate materials. The author and publisher of this article are not responsible for any damage or loss that may occur as a result of following the information presented here.

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