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  • 1.  Cleaning Pelt/Fur Touch Objects

    Posted 06-17-2019 12:25 PM
    Hi there!

    We have a number of pelt/fur touch objects as items in our educational programming which get handled by numerous kiddos. Does anyone have experience in how to clean/sanitize these items without damaging them? Thanks!

    Joseph Whatley
    Museum Educator
    Whatcom Museum
    Bellingham WA

  • 2.  RE: Cleaning Pelt/Fur Touch Objects

    Posted 06-18-2019 09:24 AM
    I have many fur/pelts in my education collection, so I'd love to hear the answers to this question.


    Tina Smith
    Museum Educator
    Museum of Anthropology - Wake Forest University
    Winston Salem NC

  • 3.  RE: Cleaning Pelt/Fur Touch Objects

    Posted 06-18-2019 12:18 PM
    Hi Joseph,

    There are a number of ways to clean pelt or fur items, however I am not sure how to go about sanitizing them.  Of course you can do more to the touchable (therefore disposable ones) than you can do with accessioned collections. I am assuming that the touch objects have been tested for arsenic and other pesticides. Here are a few suggestions: 
    1.  Vacuum the pelt through a screen.
      1. The best vacuum to use is a HEPA vacuum with a rheostat to control the suction (you do not want to suck up the fur or hair).  If that is not possible use a regular vacuum, but hold the nozzle a distance from the pelt to reduce the suction. 
      2. Place a screen over the object, between the nozzle and the object. Use a window screen or nylon screen, and cover the rough edges with twill tape or masking tape to prevent the screen from catching on the fur or cutting 
    2. Use soft brushes to dislodge dust into the nozzle.  Be sure you wash the brushes. 
    3. Use Microfiber cloths, with a nubby surface, Swiffer dusters or Vellux (TM) blanket material, along the grain of the fur.  Vellux in particular absorbs a lot of dirt and dust.  

    Good Luck

    Gretchen Anderson
    Carnegie Museum of Natural History
    Pittsburgh PA


  • 4.  RE: Cleaning Pelt/Fur Touch Objects

    Posted 06-18-2019 02:33 PM
    ​I do not, but am also interested in any responses to this question :-)

    Hillary Lauren
    Interpretive Content Developer
    Woodland Park Zoo
    Seattle WA

  • 5.  RE: Cleaning Pelt/Fur Touch Objects

    Posted 06-19-2019 11:05 AM
    I've not thought about this before either but here's a Wikihow for people who want to clean their fur coats:
    I would imagine most of it would be useful in this context (since these are non-collections items). Still not sure on the sanitation part but the vinegar and the alcohol recommended for conditioning and spot treatment would probably go a long way towards that effort. Best of luck; let us know how it goes!

    Michelle Nash
    Elkhart County Historical Museum
    Bristol IN

  • 6.  RE: Cleaning Pelt/Fur Touch Objects

    Posted 06-21-2019 10:16 AM
    With all due respect, the link demonstrates some of the real troubles with taking content meant for things that we use in our daily lives and applying those techniques to museum collections.  This article recommends several steps that I think are probably inadvisable for fur coats and are not at all appropriate for collections - even study or teaching collections as discussed here. Gretchen gives good advice for safe dry cleaning practices. Conservators will often use a 1:1 mixture of distilled water and alcohol applied by gently wiping with a lint free cloth or pad to clean hair/fur.  But none of the conditioning advice in that wiki article should be followed.  If students are asked to wash hands before handling that will also help.

    One of the Connecting to Collections Care webinars on taxidermy might be useful for you
    and there is an associated handout

    I don't believe that all cleaning has to be done by a conservator, but using home recipes rather than resources meant for the preservation community can lead to unintended consequences.
    Best regards,

    Rachael Arenstein
    A.M. Art Conservation LLC
    Scarsdale NY

  • 7.  RE: Cleaning Pelt/Fur Touch Objects

    Posted 06-21-2019 11:50 AM

    Well stated Rachael.  I agree completely.  Using home recipes, found on the internet will often cause more harm to your collections (both permanent and educational) than leaving them alone. Conservators have studied how how different materials interact with each other, and can devise strategies to clean objects safely.  If you are concerned there are on-line courses and webinars that will help you better understand what to do and what not to do.  One example of how complicated cleaning is:  a little bit of water might be ok, but a lot of water will cause permanent damage to your hides.  The amount of damage often depends on the type of tan, the overall condition and type of hair/fur.  Another example is that some pelts can actually be brushed, while on others (deer family) the hair will slip (shed).  This is due to the structure of the hair.    


    One rule of thumb is to be as non-invasive and minimal as possible when cleaning – just about anything, including the hides and furs.  Educational collections as described in the first email on this thread and subject to wear and tear through handling . This physical damage will also make them more susceptible to damage from the mechanical and chemical methods of cleaning.  


    Gretchen Anderson


    Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    5800 Baum Blvd.

    Pittsburgh, PA 15213



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