Acid Free Paper – What does it mean?

Acid damage

I am really proud to say that today I have a special guest blog from Lorraine Finch who is an accredited conservator specialising in the conservation and preservation of film, sound and photographs. She has 22 years conservation experience working in museums, libraries, archives and with individuals. She owns and runs LF Conservation and Preservation. In a series of two blogs, Lorraine is going to do some myth-busting about “acid-free” paper and give us some of that vital tool for all discerning shoppers: knowledge!

Cons headshot

OK, you have some important writing that you want to keep. You’ve bought some acid-free, archival quality paper thinking that your words will be preserved for posterity, but will they?

Archival quality suggests that the paper is permanent, durable and chemically stable, and that therefore it will last for a long time. It may shock you to know that “archival quality “ is a non-technical term. It is not quantifiable. At the time of writing, no standards exist to describe how long “archival” or “archival quality” will last.

So, how about acid-free? What does this mean? Acid-free refers to a paper, produced from virtually any paper making material including wood, from which the active acid has been removed during manufacture. Here’s the next shock. Even though a paper may be acid-free immediately after manufacture, over time it may become acidic due to the presence of impurities in the paper or from pollutants in the air.

Seen the term “buffered” or “buffered paper”? This is a paper where an acid neutralising substance [an alkali] has been added to slow down the degradation of the paper caused by acid. A buffer may be added to acid-free paper.

Are you now asking, what can I use? More about that next time …..

Lorraine Finch, Accredited conservator


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