Fine Art Restoration/off gassing concerns



A librarian suggested I contact you.  This has to do with semi-archival storage of fabric and leather objects.  
An expert commented; it's correct that the stainless steel and glass containers would eliminate the problems of off gassing or chemical reactivity with the odors if you can get an airtight seal, but you also have the problem of a large amount of empty airspace around the footwear since you can't make steel or glass fit around the shoe.  The more empty airspace there is, the more odors will be evaporated from the shoes to reach equilibrium of the gases in the airspace.
Unfortunately there is no way to preserve your odor except by sealing the shoes in an airtight container or bag.  If you allow any air exchange, your odors will evaporate.  You want to be really careful about the layer of material closest to your shoes.  That's why the lack of reactivity of Mylar or the fluorinated plastics is critical regardless of permeability.

Are there any storage materials that can be used to store the ladies worn costume accessories in an airtight environment without the concern of off gassing?

A Paper Conservator mentioned; if the items can't breathe then they will be locked into a micro climate and the off gassing will accelerate deterioration.

A lady Conservator mentioned; no plastic containers.  Even with inert materials, plastic smells may develop over the long term.
It is important to use packing materials that will not lend their scent to the objects over time.

The worn costume accessories will only be in storage for up to 1 year which by many is considered short term.  I'm hoping there are alternatives to glass or metal storage materials.
I have seen films with low oxygen permeability such as Aclar; Marvelseal 360, EVOH/nylon barrier film.

Some others suggested PCTFE, PFA, and FEP fluoropolymer bags.  There are also odor and vapor barrier bags such as OPSAK.
I read to avoid polyethylene zip lock bags developed for food storage and home use because of printing inks and dyes.
You may suggest I only buy the storage materials from an archival supplier.

If you are not able to help me, are there other experts you recommend I contact besides textile conservators regarding the off gassing concerns  with storing worn costume accessories in an airtight environment for up to 1 year?

Any information you can provide is greatly appreciated.  Thank you!

ANSWER: I don't understand exactly what you are asking here- are you concerned about the off-gassing of the storage container materials, or VOC's of some sort coming out of the object materials?  Are you trying to preserve an odor in the objects?  Please clarify what you are trying to do and I should be able to give you some advice.  A photo or two of the objects would also help.
P. Storch

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I am trying to preserve the biological odors from the worn footwear Unchanged for at least 1 year if this is possible through the right packaging and storage procedure.

An expert mentioned; you are dealing with a delicate balance that you are trying to preserve because you have to preserve the odors without changing the composition of the mix and you have to preserve the bacteria without either killing or encouraging new growth.
The Volatile fatty acids are the waste products of the bacteria that populate the foot.  The VFAs aren't decay products, they are excretion products of the bacteria.  That's good because the odors won't inevitably decay, but if the population of bacteria change in the shoes, then the odors will change.

I am concerned about the off gassing of using storage materials other than stainless steel or glass.
The stainless steel storage containers from the food industry she recommends are expensive online and also at the retail stores.
The lady Conservator mentioned; you do not need to be very aware of the materials the shoes/boots are made from.  You already know that the odors of the footwear will dissipate within a short period of time and you will be discarding the footwear once the odors have dissipated.
The off gassed chemicals could come from the storage container if you are not using stainless steel containers/lids for storage.  Which specific off gassed chemicals depends on exactly what the storage container is made from.

The materials used to create the archival storage boxes will off gas molecules such as paper, adhesives, printing inks, packaging plastics.  Some of these molecules will have an odor that humans can smell.  These molecules will be absorbed by the materials used to create the shoes.
Eventually, the odor of the used footwear will fade (there is no way to increase the concentration of these molecules), being overtaken by the odor molecules of the materials that the footwear is made from as those materials deteriorate further and from dilution when the shoes are removed from their airtight storage containers.
She also mentioned; there is no archival shoe box that won't off gas nor absorb odor molecules unless the archival shoe box is made from stainless steel metal and the openings sealed with aluminum foil tape.
Marvelseal should not be used if it contains an inner layer of polyethylene.  I do not recommend the use of oxygen absorbers because of the heat they generate.  In a small space such as the storage container, it will be almost impossible to keep the absorber sachet physically away from the shoes.  The oxygen absorbers would also need to be replaced every time you open the storage container.  I agree that a box would be a better storage container than a bag as a box would provide physical support of the shoes.

A perfume expert mentioned; I understand you need to preserve the odor absorbed to the shoe from the wearer.  For a relatively short time sealing the shoe would do it.

She did not mention how to seal the footwear for a relatively short time.  The expert from another site is against heat sealing the bags and more for using "C clamps.
The Conservator mentioned; you should use the clamps that are sold by the suppliers of gas sampling bags as the C clamps are specifically manufactured for that use.

A lady who works for an archival company mentioned she would definitely go with the acid free tissue, acid free paperboard box and silica gel.  Storing in polypropylene or polyethylene bags, though doable, she doesn't think they preserve, both scent or visual as well if you were to keep them in a box.  Moisture in bags is definitely a problem, you do not want to have them completely sealed.

The Non conservator mentioned, very simply, if you do not seal the bags, the shoes will rapidly lose odor.  If you were to go with her procedure, it would be difficult to say how much scent from each pair would be lost, but I think most of it in 6 months.

The Non Conservator first suggested using a non breathable polypropylene bag.  Then later preferred LDPE zipper lock bags to store the footwear because of the mold risk from using sealed polypropylene bags.  Both of these bags have poor gas barrier properties compared to films with low oxygen permeability.
The other expert agrees that a bag would be better to use than a box.
The lady Conservator feels a box would be better to use than a bag.

If the bag is clear that you recommend I use, I will also need you to recommend a covering to place over the clear storage bags to keep light off the footwear or a storage container to place the clear bags into.

Whichever packing and storage procedure you feel will work as the footwear will only be in storage for short term, up to 1 year.
I do like the idea of using a steel shelving unit that I can store many bags onto or storage boxes.

I'm sorry I do not have a picture to give you.  The ladies footwear is purchased from thrift stores so my money will go to a good cause.

Thank you for helping me with my project/hobby.

ANSWER: That's what I thought, but some of the responses made it unclear as to what the actual goal is.

Knowing that, I think that the most elegant solution would be to obtain 5 to 10 gallon aquarium tanks.  I'm unsure about how many pairs of shoes that you would be preserving for a year or so, but you can fit several pairs, depending on size and shape, into a 5 gal. tank.  The silicone sealant used in aquarium tanks is food-grade, which means that it does not off-gas any VOC's that would interact with the objects.  You can line the tank with MarvelSeal 360 (aluminized side in) to make the walls opaque and to ensure a tight enclosure.  The lid can be made from any solid material cut to the outer edges of the tank and lined with MarvelSeal.  Once the lid is placed on the tank, seal the edges with aluminized framer's tape.  The tank or tanks can then be stored on metal shelving.

If the objects have been conditioned to ambient relative humidity before being enclosed, you don't have to worry about mold.  Once they're sealed in the tanks, they'll be protected from changes in RH in the storage area.  You can always add silica gel cassettes to absorb any excess moisture inside the enclosures.

I'm curious as to why you wish to preserve the odors in footwear?  Generally I'm asked about how to remove odors from object materials, so this is an unusual query.

Good luck with the project.

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Thank you so much for your wonderful packaging and storage solution for the ladies worn footwear.  I am so glad the lady librarian from Florida recommended I contact you.
I do have two more questions to ask you please before closing.

the lady Conservator and Scientist commented; if many pairs are stored in one box the scent from one pair could mix in with another pair.

Q#1.  If several pairs of ladies worn footwear are stored in a 5 or 10 gallon aquarium, could the scent from one pair mix in with another pair?

I would never want for this to happen as I wish to preserve the original odor from each worn shoe or boot.
She suggested I store only one pair of shoes or boots per stainless steel container.  She mentioned if I had no limit each stainless steel container would have only one shoe or only one boot stored inside.  
I would not like the idea of having twice as many stainless steel storage containers in my apartment.

Q#2.  Who studies perspiration chemistry and foot microbes?

I'm not sure if you also recommend I contact Biochemists, experts from the Dr. Scholls company, Dermatologists, experts from the antiperspirant and deodorant industry or Podiatrists for additional information.

I wish to preserve the biological odors from the ladies worn footwear as this is related to a shoe fetish.  I wandered where this fetish came from and a lady from Oranum mentioned about a painful experience from my past life.  I was not able to walk as I lost my right foot due to an electical accident.
My mother does not believe in past lives but I do.

Another lady Conservator commented; conservation of scent is a really really unexplored angle of preservation.  So fascinating!

Thank you for your expert advice and for your time. This hobby is one of the few things in my life that makes me happy.  Kerry on the King of Queens show said "life is too short not to do things that make you happy".

Thank you for the further information.  I was thinking in terms of efficient storage, which is usually the case in museums.  This is really analogous to preserving individual scientific specimens.  I still think that the tank idea would work well for boots- you might have to fold the uppers somewhat.  I did come up with another container idea that should be relatively inexpensive- large steel containers like those used for popcorn.  They have very tightly fitting lids and they are impermeable.  The largest size should be able to hold a pair of women's shoes. You can seal the lid to the can with aluminized tap both to assure a tight closure and to discourage unauthorized opening. The can that I have was made by the Independent Can Company, Belcamp, MD, 21017.  Here's their website and contact info:

I think that stainless steel is overkill, and the people who suggested that were probably also thinking more like museum conservators rather than in a more pragmatic and practical way.  I think that the food tins will work very well for this.  The one that I have has preserved the odor of the bag of popcorn that I've kept in it for the past two years, and no mold or rust is evident.  My side interest is preserving food for display, so by default that would involve preserving odors in some cases.

Certainly contacting scientists at companies like Scholls and SC Johnon would make sense, I would think that they would be interested in corresponding with you.  A method of odor analysis in the scent industry utilizes human detection of odors, and is called 'organoleptic' analysis.  Search on "Science of odor" and you'll come up with a variety of articles on the subject that will help start your search.

I hope that helps and answers your questions.

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Paul S. Storch


I'm happy to answer questions concerning the preservation and conservation of three-dimensional archaeological, ethnographic, historic, technological, and decorative arts objects. My materials expertise includes leather, wood, metals, and composite materials.


I have close to thirty years experience as a conservator at three different museums and in private practice. I currently work as a collections manager overseeing 40,000 historic objects at over 20 sites around the state, as well as having a private treatment and consultation practice in the Midwest.

American Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works Minnesota Association of Museums The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections Professional Picture Framers Association

Journal of the American Institute For Conservation Texas Archaeology University of Texas Conservation Notes Caring for American Indian Objects/Minnesota Historical Society Press The Interpreter/Minnesota Historical Society Journal of Field Archaeology

B.A. in Anthropology/Archaeology; M.A. in Anthropology/Museum Studies with a concentration in Archaeological and Ethnographic Conservation.

Awards and Honors
Recognition certificate from the Institute of Museum Services

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