Article thumbnail

The room temperature evaporation behavior of purported azeotropes used as cleaning solutions in art conservation

By Megan Sara Carrison


Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)Finely-tuned solvent mixtures are used by art conservators for the difficult task of safely and selectively removing yellowed varnish, disfiguring grime, and discolored overpaint from the surface of oil paintings. This process is often referred to as “picture cleaning” and depends on the different solubilities of the obfuscating surface materials and the underlying paint medium. However, differential evaporation rates for the solvents used in these carefully formulated cleaning mixtures can change the potency of the mixture over time, which could potentially lead to solutions having solubility characteristics that are ineffective at cleaning, or worse yet, are deleterious to artists’ oil paints. Azeotropic blends of solvents have been proposed as an alternative for maintaining consistent solvent composition throughout the evaporation process while benefiting from their high vapor pressure relative to the pure solvents. Azeotropes are specific combinations of two or more solvents at a precise concentration that behave as a single solvent, maintaining a constant composition in both the liquid and vapor phases. The use of purportedly azeotropic solvent blends has appeared in the art conservation literature for the cleaning of historic objects and paintings. However, these solvent mixtures are taken from tables of azeotropic compositions given at their boiling point. We have studied one of these solutions, a 19:81 vol% mixture of isopropanol and n-hexane. For the first time, the actual evaporation behavior of this purported azeotropic mixture was followed in detail at room temperature conditions. Through the use of rudimentary vapor pressure measurements, gravimetric analysis, as well as sophisticated compositional determinations of both the liquid phase and headspace of evaporating mixtures by gas chromatography, this particular cleaning solution has been shown to be zeotropic (i.e. NOT an azeotrope) under the conditions typical of conservation studios. The true room temperature azeotropic composition was found instead to contain half as much isopropanol at 9.5 vol%. Art conservators should therefore be dubious of purportedly azeotropic mixtures reported at boiling points well above room temperature. Individual azeotropic cleaning blends are best determined chemically prior to their use in art restoration. Furthermore, the introduction of a model paint film to the evaporating room temperature azeotrope was shown to further confound its behavior, calling into question whether solvent systems can be configured to evaporate with constant composition from the surface of an artwork

Topics: Azeotropes, solvents, art conservation, Art -- Conservation and restoration -- Research -- Evaluation -- Analysis, Art objects -- Conservation and restoration -- Research -- Evaluation -- Analysis, Solvents -- Research -- Evaluation -- Analysis, Azeotropes, Solvents -- Biodegradation, Gravimetric analysis, Painting -- Conservation and restoration -- Research -- Evaluation -- Analysis, Forensic sciences -- Research
Year: 2014
OAI identifier:
Provided by: IUPUIScholarWorks

Suggested articles

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.