New gels could allow artwork to be cleaned without causing damage

A gel that turns to liquid for easy removal has been developed to clean works of art.

A wide range of solvents and other cleaning agents, such as enzymes, can be gelled. This enables the most appropriate solvent to be chosen for the type and quantity of compound needing removal.

One of the biggest challenges of using gels to clean artwork is removing them after cleaning is complete. Failing to remove all traces of gel, and even the force needed to wipe them off, can destroy fragile artwork.

Richard Weiss from Georgetown University, US, and colleagues at the University of Florence, Italy, have developed a class of gel that can be converted to a liquid after application and then be removed rapidly and completely.

The conversion from gel to liquid is prompted by adding a drop of weak acid that is compatible with the gel and solvent being used.

A lot of work is still needed to determine the short and long term effects of these gels on different surface types before art conservationists will be able to use them on priceless works of art.

Suzanne Abbott