The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 7, Number 3
Jul 1983

An Analysis of Dust Cloths for Library Materials

by Michele V. Cloonan
Formerly on Newberry Library conservation staff; at present a student at the University of Illinois School of Library and Information Science. Author of "Cleaning the Newberry's Collections," AN 6: 53-54, Aug. 1982.

The necessity of testing products used for the cleaning and repairing of library materials was recognized by Carolyn Horton while she was writing the manual, Cleaning and Preserving Bindings and Related Materials, for the Library Technology Program of the American Library Association in the 1960s.1 All of the products recommended in the manual were tested by Walter C. McCrone Associates, an independent research laboratory in Chicago. the tests were designed to determine whether or not use of the products on leather, paper, or vellum left harmful residues which would cause premature deterioration. McCrone's procedure consisted of treating samples of leather, paper and vellum with the products and then artificially aging them with untreated (control) samples.2 All of the samples were then subjected to the M.I.T. Folding Endurance Test, a tear resistance test, and microscopical examination in order to determine whether or not treatment affected their permanence or durability.1

McCrone's most recent tests were funded by Chicopee Products, the manufacturers of Stretch 'n Dust. Anxious to tap the potential library market, the company agreed to let McCrone teat both Stretch 'n Dust, and the commonly used One-Wipes. Although One-Wipes were tested earlier for the Horton manual, they are now produced by a different manufacturer and it was felt that the formulation might have changed since the first tests.

The samples, chosen by the author and provided by the Newberry Library and Bill Minter, were newsprint (mechanical wood pulp), Permalife bond (chemical wood pulp), turn-of-the-nineteenth century handmade paper, acrylic-impregnated book cloth, and leather. The vellum of the earlier tests was replaced in these tests by book cloth, a binding material more commonly found in most libraries.

In addition to the tests performed for Horton's book, two others were included: a phloroglucinol teat for lignin, and a teat to determine color change, for the book cloth and leather, three tests were performed: microscopical examination, pH determination and color change. The dust cloths were also extracted before and after aging and examined by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy for any changes in chemical composition.

The test results indicated that there was no significant difference between the samples treated with a dust cloth and those that were not treated with any cloth. Therefore, both Stretch 'n Dust and One-Wipe can be safely recommended to librarians who need to clean their collections.

After reading McCrone's results, it seemed appropriate to test the dust cloths informally again. Chicopee has recently marketed an untreated dust cloth called Chicopee Shop Cloth and I used it along with Stretch 'n Dust and One-Wipe to clean the Mies van der Rohe collection at the University of Illinois, Chicago campus. The collection, housed in the Special Collections Department of the Library, comprises approximately 300 volumes of twentieth century imprints.

The three different dust cloths were alternated shelf by shelf and the following observations made:

  1. Stretch 'n Dust has less tensile strength than One- Wipes.
  2. One-Wipes glide along the surfaces of books more easily than the other cloths, probably due to the heavier oil content in the cloth.
  3. Chicopee Shop Cloths tend to move least easily over the surfaces of books, probably because the cloths are untreated.
  4. It is easier to detect dirt on the white Shop Cloths than on the other two cloths, which are yellow.
  5. Stretch 'n Dust and One-Wipes seem to work more satisfactorily on leather bindings due to their oil content than the Shop Cloth does.
  6. Chicopee Shop Cloths seem to be more satisfactory for cloth and paper bindings than either One-Wipes or Stretch 'n Dust, because they are untreated.

One-Wipes are made of cotton flannel, while Stretch 'n Dust and the Chicopee Shop Cloth are made of rayon. Layton Rosencrance, Product Director of Stretch 'n Dust, feels that fabric weave influences dust pickup and retention and that a free-fiber fabric picks up dust better than a woven fabric, which has a denser weave.3 in our small 300-book sample there was no noticeable difference.

Stretch 'n Dust is probably the most versatile of the three cloths. It is satisfactory not only for library materials, but for bookshelves as well. Stretch 'n Dust can also be trimmed and used as a filter over vacuum cleaner brushes and nozzles as described in "Cleaning the Newberry's Collections." One-Wipes, on the other hand, are so thick that they do not make satisfactory filters.

Usage of the three cloths should be matched to the task. If the librarian or conservator wants to use an untreated cloth, the Chicopee Shop Cloth should be considered. For an extensive cleaning project, Stretch 'n Dust and a small hand vacuum are probably the best alternatives. For leather bindings or small cleaning projects, One-Wipes may be preferred. For polyester encapsulations, I prefer the two Chicopee cloths. Stretch 'n Dust and the Chicopee Shop Cloth are disposable; One-Wipes hold up to fewer machine washings than hand washings.

Figure 1 summarizes the characteristics of the three cloths.

  Fair Good Excellent
Tensile strength & durability   A & B C
Ease of application     A, B & C
Use on leather bindings B A C
Use on paper, cloth, & vellum bindings C A B
Versatility   B & C A

Figure 1. Comparative performance of dust cloths. a=Chicopee Stretch 'n Dust, b=Chicopee Shop Cloth, C Guardsman One-Wipe.

While the McCrone tests are useful indicators for anyone charged with the responsibility of cleaning or repairing library materials, they are not wholly ideal. The tests do not, for example, reveal the chemical composition of the products, and such information is almost impossible to obtain from manufacturers. As mentioned above, One-Wipes are now manufactured by another company and although they are still safe to use, it is impossible to know whether or not their chemical formulation has changed. Testing is also very expensive; few institutions can afford to have it done. Until there is a national institute for conservation that can offer comprehensive testing services at prices lower than those of private research laboratories, few such tests can be expected.


1. Carolyn Horton. Cleaning and Preserving Bindings and Related Materials. 2nd ed. rev. Chicago: Library Technology Program, ALA, 1969, pp. 62-64.

2. A list of the products tested can be found on pages 56-59 of the Horton manual; included are One-Wipes, Pink Pearl Erasers, Endust and Opaline Cleaner.

3. Personal communication.

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