Combatting dust in our collection

The microfibre cloth, lambs' wool duster and HEPA filter vacuum cleaner used in the experiments.

The microfibre cloth, lambs’ wool duster and HEPA filter vacuum cleaner used in the experiments.

Spring. A time for new beginnings and, dare I say it, spring cleaning! With the season well underway your cleaning may be complete but what tools did you favour? A cloth, a vacuum, a duster? Here at The National Archives we’ve investigated different cleaning methods to determine if we can improve our cleaning strategy. Will our results affect your spring clean?

Dust can be difficult to see so we used a white powder that fluoresces brightly under UV light in order to see the ‘dust’ during our experiments. This powder was sprinkled onto cardboard to mimic the dust seen on the boxes that contain records in the repositories. The ‘dusty’ surfaces were then cleaned under normal and UV light, using a microfibre cloth, a lambs’ wool duster and a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner (a High Efficiency Particulate Air filter, which can remove particles as small as 0.3 microns in diameter! Which means that vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters can remove smaller particles than those without). Each cleaning method was assessed for its ability to permanently remove ‘dust’ from the card. As you’ll see from the video below, we had a clear winner.

The vacuum cleaner was most successful at removing the ‘dust’ and did so without causing redistribution of dust to surrounding surfaces. In sharp contrast, the lambs’ wool duster was found to remove the least ‘dust’, causing it to be ingrained into the cardboard surface and to be re-distributed – can you see the plumes of powder during cleaning under UV light?  As a result of this research lambs’ wool dusters are no longer in use in our repositories, dry microfibre cloths will continue to be used, and we’re looking into increasing the use of HEPA filter vacuum cleaners.


  1. Jacqueline Speel says:

    On a first floor terminal the link from the Combatting dust in our collection page to the video does not work.

  2. Dr Helen Wilson says:

    Hi Jacqueline. Thanks for your comment. Access to YouTube, from which the video is embedded, is restricted on networked staff computers. The video should work on a public terminal.

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