The efficiency of chloride extraction from archaeological iron objects using deoxygenated alkaline solutions

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Rimmer, Melanie; Watkinson, David; Wang, Quanyu;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 57, Number 1, p.29-41 (2012)


Chloride-contaminated archaeological iron is unstable and problematic to store and display within museum collections. Reducing its chloride ion content using aqueous desalination followed by storage in controlled relative humidity offers one treatment option. This study reports a quantitative assessment of chloride extraction by aqueous deoxygenated alkaline desalination solutions from 120 individual archaeological iron nails. The three treatment methods comprised alkaline sulphite solution (0.1 M NaOH/0.05 M Na2SO3) at room temperature and at 60°C and sodium hydroxide solution (0.1 M) deoxygenated using a nitrogen gas positive pressure system at room temperature. Chloride extraction was monitored using a specific ion meter. The nails were digested after treatment to measure their residual chloride content. A wide range of extraction patterns emerged, with the majority of individual treatments extracting 60‐99% of the chloride present. Residual chloride levels for 87% of the objects fell below 1000 ppm and 42% were below 200 ppm. Although no treatment extracted 100% of the chloride in the object, alkaline desalination produced very significant reductions in chloride content. The impact of this on future corrosion of the objects is discussed. This quantitative and statistically viable assessment of deoxygenated desalination treatments provides evidence to support their use in conservation practice, which will impact on procedures for the preservation and management of archaeological heritage.