Relative Humidity – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Conservation and Restoration Glossary

I. What is Relative Humidity?

Relative humidity (RH) is the amount of water vapor present in the air compared to the maximum amount of water vapor the air can hold at a specific temperature. It is expressed as a percentage and plays a crucial role in the preservation of artwork and cultural artifacts.

II. Importance of Controlling Relative Humidity in Art Conservation

Controlling relative humidity is essential in art conservation to prevent damage to delicate materials such as paper, canvas, wood, and textiles. Fluctuations in relative humidity can cause warping, cracking, mold growth, and deterioration of artwork over time.

III. Effects of High Relative Humidity on Artwork

High relative humidity can lead to increased moisture content in artwork, making it susceptible to mold growth, warping, and discoloration. Excessive moisture can also weaken the structural integrity of materials, causing them to degrade more rapidly.

IV. Effects of Low Relative Humidity on Artwork

Low relative humidity can cause materials to become brittle and dry, leading to cracking, flaking, and fading of colors. In extreme cases, low humidity levels can result in irreversible damage to artwork, especially to fragile items such as parchment or vellum.

V. Monitoring and Controlling Relative Humidity in Art Conservation

Monitoring relative humidity levels is crucial in art conservation to ensure that the environment remains stable and conducive to the preservation of artwork. This can be done using hygrometers, which measure the moisture content in the air, and humidifiers or dehumidifiers to adjust humidity levels as needed.

VI. Best Practices for Maintaining Optimal Relative Humidity Levels in Art Storage and Display

1. Maintain a stable relative humidity level between 40-60% to prevent damage to artwork.
2. Use climate-controlled storage facilities with proper ventilation and insulation to regulate humidity.
3. Avoid placing artwork near sources of moisture or heat, such as windows, doors, or HVAC vents.
4. Implement a regular monitoring schedule to check relative humidity levels and make adjustments as necessary.
5. Consult with a professional conservator for guidance on specific humidity requirements for different types of artwork.
6. Consider using desiccants or humidity-control devices in storage areas to help maintain optimal conditions for artwork preservation.