Conservation Concerns: Vacuuming Garments

By: Lidia Plaza

Keeping objects clean is often half the battle in maintaining a textile collection. Unfortunately, for the past several decades the Maryland Historical Society's collection has been kept in Pratt House, a facility that is a historical treasure unto itself but sadly not the most pristine place to store textiles.  Thus, we vacuum most items as they come out of Pratt House and get processed into the new storage facility.

Even though the vacuum is on, the suction is low enough that it doesn't tug on the glove. Even though the vacuum is on, the suction is low enough that it doesn't tug on the glove.


Not every object gets vacuumed, however.  Textiles that are fragile, deteriorating, or have loose pieces are left  un-vacuumed.  Many of these objects will require more extensive conservation treatment and the conservator will decide how best to clean the textile, if and when it is deemed appropriate.

Items that are sturdy enough to withstand vacuuming are still treated delicately. We use a vacuum with a HEPA filter and an adjustable suction setting,  and only use very low settings with costume collection items. The suction is low enough that the vacuum does not even tug on one's nitrile glove once the attachment is on.

Using low suction and brush attachments prevents damage to the textile and allows us to easily reach folds in the garment.  The attachments we typically use are small natural hair brushes that are safe to the textiles, but allow us to brush away any surface soil. Although there is rarely any visible change in the appearance of the garment, the process does remove unwanted dust.

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We've only been at this a few weeks, and we've already had to change the filter!  You can see how much dust we really get out of those garments.