Is acid-free good enough?
Improving on acid-free materials for garment storage
When storing garments long-term, the storage medium you use is very important. It must be compatible with the garment, or irreversible damage could take place. One common method of storing garments such as wedding gowns is to use a cardboard box. However, it is very important that the box be acid-free. The natural acids in paper and cardboard will, over time, attack your gown and weaken and discolor it. In fact, these acids even attack the paper or cardboard itself. Many irreplaceable books and manuscripts have been lost forever due to this self-destructive process. To overcome the problem, manufacturers will often "buffer" their paper; that is add alkaline chemicals such as calcium carbonate to the paper-making process so as to counteract the paper's natural acidity.
Unfortunately, this buffering, which is fine for protecting the paper from its own self-destruction, is not ideal for use in storing garments as the alkalinity can damage the fabric in other ways such as discoloration of dyes or the breakdown of proteins in natural fibers. Ideally, the storage medium for a garment should be "pH-neutral", i.e. be neither acid nor alkaline, and should stay that way.
Acidity or alkalinity is measured on the pH scale. This scale ranges in value from 0 for most acidic to 14 for most alkaline. 7 is pH-neutral:
So what makes a material acidic or alkaline?
Paper, cardboard, wood, ...people... etc. are all organic. Organic compounds are based on hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons are composed entirely of carbon and hydrogen atoms that are joined together in a myriad of different combinations. So any organic material has the potential to donate hydrogen ions to create acidity. Organically based storage materials that are pH-neutral now may not be so later. Humidity or pollution in the air could react with the hydrocarbons and change the pH level towards acidic. It all depends on the strength of the molecular bonds in the material which in turn depends on how the carbon atoms and hydrogen atoms are joined together. Some hydrocarbons such as nylon have strong bonds. Others such as those in paper are not so strong and more prone to becoming acidic over time.
So why use organic materials for garment storage if they have the potential to create a hostile environment for fabrics? Why not substitute the hydrogen in the storage medium for something more stable?
PTFE is more commonly known by the tradename Teflon®. Teflon rejects hydrocarbons totally. This is why fats and meats will not stick to your Teflon-coated cookware. In fact it is so stable and non-reactive that it is commonly used by medicine inside the human body for things like artificial heart valves; an environment where alien substances are usually rejected by a very active immune system. Since PTFE is made only from carbon and fluorine, it can become neither acidic nor alkaline. This is a big improvement over the pH balancing-act situation with papers and cardboards where chemicals are added to adjust pH levels.
The properties of PTFE are well known, and do not change over time. PTFE has been around since April 1938 when it was discovered by DuPont research chemist Roy Plunkett. Tradenamed Teflon in 1945, its first commercial use was not until 1946 when it was used in machine parts for military and industrial applications. Teflon was first used to make non-stick cookware in the early 1960s. Sentinel Archiving, Inc. manufactures the Teflon®-coated Garment SentryTM line of storage bags to protect garments such as wedding gowns during long-term storage.
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