Museum Monday Must-Haves: Chemical Sponges

What should you have on hand to recover objects from a fire?

Chemical or soot sponge.

Chemical sponges! After you’ve vacuumed the friable debris from an object damaged with soot, try chemical sponges on hard-surfaced objects. These tacky sponges can pick up the greasy components of soot staining. Also called soot sponges, they are available from hardware stores and museum suppliers. In a major fire recovery, you will be going through large quantities of these sponges: it’s best to identify a few vendors now in your emergency plan supplies list.

Always involve a conservator in your recovery planning in the event of an emergency. Contacting the American Institute for Conservation is a great place to start. Be mindful of the objects on which you use these sponges. Their rubber composition can cause metals to corrode. Using them on textiles can drive soot further into the weave. A conservator with disaster recovery experience can advise you on the proper course for recovery methods for different types of objects.

Recovering collections from a fire is not an easy task. It takes time. It’s stressful. The objects often have damage that might not be treatable. But having the right tools helps.

Watch this video from Heritage Preservation on recovering collections from a fire.

The Cuming Museum in Southwark experienced a fire on March 25, 2013.


About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.