Air quality and artwork

Air quality plays an important role in the preservation of artwork. Generally, smoke and dust are the two major types of pollutants we think of, but there are others, both indoor and outdoor, that also need to be considered.

Common sources of indoor pollution include fumes from paints, stains, new carpeting and construction materials, and household cleaning supplies. Components of pollution include acidic gases, particulate matter and ozone. Of course, many of the chemical pollutants that cause health problems can also damage artwork. It may be worthwhile to invest in an air purifier.

Some common pollutants are sulfur, chlorides, nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, ozone and particulates. Most become acidic when combined with moisture.
• Sulphur is a major factor in the deterioration of paper. One source of sulphur is the burning of fossil fuels. Other sources include animal protein products such as wool and leather.
• Common salt is a form of chloride, which comes from salt air and perspiration, and can corrode metals.
• Nitrogen oxides come from vehicle exhausts.
• Formaldehyde comes from such products as foam insulation, laminated boards, chipboards, fabric finishes, adhesives and foam rubber.
• Ozone is a major ingredient in smog.
• Particulates are small particles such as dust, smoke and greasy soot that can damage most materials, particularly paper and textiles.

Drying oils in paints and varnishes release harmful fumes. When using common ammonia and chlorine-based cleaning products, people are inadvertently releasing fumes into the air that can harm their artwork.

Gaseous pollutants can bond with oxygen and result in chemical compounds that weaken, embrittle and stain artwork. Solid pollutants can act like sandpaper against the surface of objects. Pollutants promote chemical reactions and accelerate oxidation.

Damage from polluted air depends on the proportion of pollutants to the space, the sensitivity of the artwork, the amount of time the artwork is exposed, as well as the effects of temperature, relative humidity and light.

Because it is not realistic to think all pollutants can be eliminated, look into what products are available and pick the safest for your purposes. It is important to keep fumes to a minimum.

The purer the air, the better … for people and for works of art.

Look for the purple and white Professional Picture Framers Association (PPFA) member decal on a shop door or window!