Hey! Talk to the hand!

Why conservators wear gloves.

Glove up!

Glove up!
Photographer: Heather MacKay © Australian Museum

Gloves are an important part of collection care as they protect artefacts and specimens from being damaged when they are handled. Bare skin naturally contains salts, oils, acids and other chemicals introduced through the use of cleansers, soaps and hand creams. These can be easily transferred to the surface of an object causing damage such as:

  • Permanent staining and marking to unglazed and porous ceramics
  • Permanent etching of polished metal surfaces especially bronze or silver
  • Marking and soiling to modern paintings, un-primed canvases, and plastics
  • Staining or soiling of stone and marble, and alabaster
  • Staining and soiling of some plastics

Gloves also protect collection material from physical damage caused by fingernails, and jewellery. Conversely it is important for hands to be protected from substances that may be on the surface of an object, such as:

  • Friable and/or toxic pigments
  • Natural poison on spearheads
  • Mould on natural history specimens
  • Chemicals used for pest control

There are different types of gloves used in materials conservation, the most common is white cotton gloves. However, cotton gloves are not always appropriate as fibres can snag on rough surfaces; they do not provide good grip on smooth surfaces; and friable pigments can easily be abraded. In these instances nitrile or latex gloves are often used.

Gloves are important protection for us and for the objects we handle.

Heather Mackay , Conservator
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