Buffered Tissue

Q: Should I use buffered tissue?

A:  Considerable dialog has gone on within the
museum community about the use of buffered tissues versus non-buffered
tissues.  The pH of all papers drops over time as they deteriorate, even
acid-free papers.  “Acid-free” simply means that when it was
manufactured, the paper had a neutral pH.  Buffered tissues contain a
compound (usually calcium carbonate) meant to neutralize acids that form
in paper during natural aging.  Buffering makes the tissue last longer.
It does not stabilize nearby acidic materials.  This is partly due to
the fact that the amount of “alkaline reserve” is rather small (2-3%)
and does not migrate.  The products of acid degradation do migrate
however, so the tissue does act as a barrier to protect nearby surfaces
from that acid migration.  Theoretically, buffered tissues should not be
used with artifacts made of proteins (animal parts like feathers and
fur, or things made from animals like silk and wool) because those
artifacts prefer a slightly acidic environment.  Alkalinity also is
known to affect some pigments and dyes, and therefore buffered paper is
not recommended with color photographs or pigmented surfaces.
Practically speaking, however, unless the tissue is wet and touching the
surface of the object for an extended time, it is questionable if those
effects are taking place.  Furthermore, tissue is quite thin and the
amount of buffering rather small.  At the Alaska State Museum, we don’t
use buffered tissue at all.  We find it is difficult to keep it separate
from the non-buffered, as they look almost identical.  Buffered tissue
does cost a little more, too.  Simple acid-free tissue paper is so
beneficial for padding, interleaving, and protecting surfaces that we
don’t worry much about the small added risks or benefits that may be
associated with buffered tissues.  Not long ago, we had a conversation
with Dr. Naoko Sonoda of the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka,
Japan.  She was showing us her collections storage, where acid-free
tissue wrapped or padded nearly everything.  We told her about various
modern products we use in the U.S., and she told me that while they are
very interested in those products, deep down they feel very comforted by
the presence of tissue because they have been using it to preserve their
heritage for centuries.  A product tried and true over hundreds of
years.  It is hard to argue with that.


One Response to Buffered Tissue

  1. Pattern Blog says:

    Review Of The 20 X 30 Acidfree Tissue

    […] ference Review for AIC 2004 in ICOM-CC ethno newsletter […]

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