Calcium Carbonate on Bronze Finds; safe sequestering with sodium tripolyphosphate?

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Stelzner, Jörg; Eggert, Gerhard;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 53, Number 4, p.264-272 (2008)


The removal of calcareous accretions from archaeological bronzes can be a difficult step in their conservation. Chemical cleaning with chelating agents might be an alternative to mechanical methods. In this study the use of the chelating agent sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP) was examined to determine whether it is effective in discriminating between calcium carbonate and copper patina, and non-corrosive to copper alloys in the presence of air. Comparative experiments with STPP and disodium ethylenediamine-tetraacetate (Na2-EDTA) were carried out on synthetic malachite, cuprite, calcium carbonate, naturally polished malachite surfaces and sheets of bronze and brass. In addition to the properties of the chelating agent, the solubility of the salts and the pH values of the solutions are crucial factors in the removal of compounds of low solubility. The quantity of metal ions dissolved, estimated by atomic absorption spectral analysis and scanning electron microscopy, showed that the calcareous accretions could be removed satisfactorily, but STPP also dissolved constituent parts of the patina, such as malachite and cuprite, and may harm bronze or brass. Compared to Na2-EDTA, STPP is less effective in dissolving calcium carbonate. It is less harmful to the patina and base metal, but may lead to patination of the underlying metal.