Polyethylene Glycol – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Conservation and Restoration Glossary

I. What is Polyethylene Glycol?

Polyethylene glycol (PEG) is a synthetic polymer that is commonly used in a variety of industries, including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and food.
It is a water-soluble compound that is derived from ethylene glycol, which is a petroleum-based compound.

II. History of Polyethylene Glycol in Art Conservation and Restoration

Polyethylene glycol has been used in art conservation and restoration since the 1950s.
It was initially used as a consolidant for porous materials such as wood and stone.

III. Properties and Uses of Polyethylene Glycol in Art Conservation

Polyethylene glycol has a low toxicity level and is non-reactive with most materials, making it an ideal choice for art conservation.
It has the ability to penetrate deep into porous materials, strengthening and stabilizing them.

IV. Application of Polyethylene Glycol in Treating Artwork

When treating artwork with polyethylene glycol, conservators typically use a method called “impregnation.”
This involves soaking the artwork in a solution of polyethylene glycol, allowing it to penetrate the material.

V. Challenges and Considerations when Using Polyethylene Glycol in Art Conservation

One of the main challenges when using polyethylene glycol in art conservation is determining the appropriate concentration and application method for each specific artwork.
Conservators must also consider the long-term effects of polyethylene glycol on the artwork, as it can alter the appearance and texture of some materials.

VI. Case Studies of Polyethylene Glycol in Art Restoration

One notable case study of polyethylene glycol in art restoration is the treatment of the Mary Rose, a 16th-century warship that sank off the coast of England.
Conservators used polyethylene glycol to strengthen and preserve the ship’s wooden timbers, allowing them to be successfully raised and displayed in a museum.