COVID 19 Exhibitry Cleaning Guidance

Recommendations for Cleaning and Disinfecting NPS Exhibitry to Combat Novel Coronavirus

The recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) give guidance to the general public for routine cleaning and disinfecting their own households as well as for households in homes with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19. For more information, go to the CDC’s website.

The CDC recommendations were not developed for use in public facilities such as NPS visitor centers, or for use on or around cultural resources such as historic structures and museum collections. In fact, many of the recommended cleaning and disinfecting products could damage park cultural resources.

For example,

  • Direct application of certain chemicals (e.g. localized sprays/aerosols, or wipes) can cause damage such as corrosion, pitting, staining, and disruption of coatings to historic surfaces and museum objects.
  • Indirect applications of chemicals (e.g., vapors, mists, electrostatic guns, or “fog” treatments) can damage historic surfaces and enter unsealed exhibit cases, damaging museum objects.

  • Excessive moisture from soap and water mixtures can cause damage such as lifting coatings/paint layers, staining to historic surface and objects.

  • Cleaners and disinfectants can be difficult to control, causing unintended damage to adjacent historic surfaces and objects.

Cleaning and disinfecting NPS facilities, public areas, historic structures, and museum exhibits therefore requires careful consideration of the risks, benefits, and impacts on both people and cultural resources before undertaking. “Over cleaning” presents risks to both the historic materials and employees or visitors who may be sensitive or allergic to chemicals used in cleaning and disinfecting.

This document provides recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting the following NPS exhibitry and historic house museum elements that may be touched by the public:

  • Tactile exhibits

  • Exhibit cases/vitrines with museum objects (exteriors only)

  • Exhibit panels (within reach of public)

  • Museum objects on open display inside buildings

  • Non-historic doorknobs, handrails, benches, chairs, and reading rails

  • Historic doorknobs, door jambs, handrails, benches, and chairs

  • A/V equipment in exhibits such as touch screens, monitors, and interactive exhibits

  • Wayside exhibits

  • Outdoor plaques/sculpture

This document does NOT address:

  • Cleaning and disinfecting museum storage spaces.

  • Handling or cleaning of individual museum objects in museum storage areas.

Cleaning in museum storage areas should follow approved protocols specified in a park’s museum Housekeeping Plan. Also, a new resource, “Caring for Heritage Collections during the COVID-19 Pandemic”, was developed by an ad-hoc task force at the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) to help staff from heritage institutions ensure that collections and heritage materials remain safe. Previous guidance from the Canadian Conservation Institute referenced studies on SARS CoV 1 and MERS that found these viruses could persist on surfaces for up to 9 days and recommended items that could not be disinfected be isolated for 9 days prior to handling as a COVID-19 precaution. Specific studies are now available for SARS CoV 2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and have not found this virus to live for more than 72 hours on surfaces in controlled laboratory environments.

If parks have additional questions about cleaning museum storage areas or museum objects, contact HFC’s conservators to discuss specific concerns.

  • If resources allow, install hand sanitizer stations at the entranceway to the exhibit space and next to tactile experiences (prioritize the tactile experiences). Be sure the hand sanitizer stations are not positioned directly next to non-tactile museum objects on open display, to prevent accidental contamination with sanitizer.
  • If spaces containing exhibits must be accessed by staff for security or other reasons before the facility is reopened, limit access to one consistent individual (if possible).
  • If the space/area has not been occupied for several days, the virus that was present on any surface is no longer viable. No additional cleaning or disinfecting is needed other than “normal” housekeeping tasks. Consult your Housekeeping Plan (see the NPS Museum Handbook Part 1, Chapter 13: Museum Housekeeping).
  • Do not spray aerosol disinfectants, use “fog” treatments, or implement electrostatic guns in any exhibit spaces/areas. The effects of the chemicals contained in these treatments on materials is unknown.

Below are some recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting specific components commonly found and touched by visitors in an exhibit environment.

Fabricated/Purchased Exhibit Components

  • Tactile exhibits

  • Exhibit cases/vitrines with museum objects (exteriors only)

  • Exhibit panels (within reach of public)

  • A/V equipment in exhibits such as touch screens, monitors, and interactive exhibits

  • Wayside exhibits

  • Non-historic doorknobs, handrails, benches and chairs, and reading rails

  • Locate and consult manuals/guides - For all fabricated/purchased exhibitry components consult the exhibit maintenance manual/guide or Housekeeping Plan (if they exist). Some of these documents outline appropriate and/or inappropriate cleaning and disinfecting methods to use that are specific to the needs of the construction materials/equipment. Using inappropriate products/chemicals or methods can damage surfaces at any time.

    • Test cleaning and disinfecting methods (if guide/manual exists) – Even if cleaning and disinfecting products are suggested in the exhibit maintenance manual/guide, first test those products on a small, unobtrusive area if these are not used on a regular basis as part of a housekeeping plan. If the proposed cleaner or disinfectant damages the surface, discontinue use. Damage can be considered a change in appearance of the test area surface, resulting in noticeable difference compared to surrounding untested surface. If used regularly such as in a Housekeeping Plan proceed as normal.
  • Explore options if no manual/guide exists –

  • If no guide or manual can be found some cleaning and disinfecting may still be able to be performed for certain surfaces provided tests are completed on small, unobtrusive areas first and no damage is observed. NOTE: Do no test the disinfecting mixture mentioned below on something that is known to have a surface coating, such as wood with a finish or outdoor bronze with a wax protective coating. If in doubt, contact an HFC conservator BEFORE using any product or with other questions or concerns.
  • The following chart contains cleaning and disinfecting solutions that are recommended for TESTING on:

    • Tactile exhibits

    • Exhibit panels (within reach of public)

    • Wayside exhibits

    • Non-historic doorknobs, handrails, benches and chairs, and reading rails

If tests prove to cause no damage, cleaning and disinfecting can be conducted. Cleaning and disinfecting should occur at least once a day (more if possible, considering visitor traffic and staff time). It may be advised to set up a routine of cleaning each morning before buildings open for the day. NOTE: Be cautious of overcleaning which, as stated earlier, can present risks to both the historic materials and employees or visitors who may be sensitive or allergic to chemicals used in cleaning and disinfecting.

Supplies (need for cleaning and disinfecting)

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  • Recommended cleaning products:

    • Orvus WA Paste™ (pH neutral, synthetic soap)- available on Amazon.com or commonly found at horse tack shops.

    • Seventh Generation All-Purpose Cleaner - Free and Clear - available at most retailers

  • Spray bottles – new/clean bottles

  • Distilled water

• Paper wipes/towels (disposable) – one recommended brand is:

WypAll®- All-purpose Wipers

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DO NOT use paper towels that are rough and not very absorbent as they could potentially scratch surfaces (these include the commonly found brown, tri-fold variety). If the product above is not used, ensure the paper towels are soft, absorbent and additive free.

NOTE: Staff using chemicals to clean and disinfect must review the chemical Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and conduct a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) to ensure that appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn when using the chemicals.


Cleaning (for surfaces listed previously that can withstand cleaning)

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  • Cleaning with Orvus WA Paste™ (This product requires preparation before use)
    • Mix 1 TBSP of Orvus WA Paste™ per gallon of distilled water to make a diluted solution. Note that the solution will NOT produce suds. Do not use dish detergents or commercial cleaners because they may leave a film that is difficult to remove and may permanently damage some decorative finishes and metals.
    • Fill a spray bottle with soap solution and label the outside to indicate what solution is inside.
    • Fill a second spray bottle with distilled water only and label the bottle.
    • Spray enough soap solution onto a paper wipe/towel that it dampens the paper wipe/towel, but not so much that wiping the surface will leave water streaks. Using limited amounts of water is critical because saturating surfaces may cause damage.
    • Wipe the surface with the soap solution-dampened paper wipe/towel, only a few passes before throwing out the paper wipe/towel. Repeat process until the entire surface has been cleaned.
    • Wipe the surface again with a paper wipe/towel lightly dampened with distilled water. This will “rinse” the surface of any remaining soapy residue.
  • Cleaning with Seventh Generation All-Purpose Cleaner – Free and Clear (this product does not require preparation and can be used as is)
    • Fill a spray bottle with distilled water only (for rinsing).
    • Spray enough All-Purpose Cleaner onto a paper wipe/towel that it dampens the paper wipe/towel, but not so much that wiping the surface will leave water streaks. Using limited amounts of water is critical because saturating surfaces may cause damage.
    • Wipe the surface with the dampened paper wipe/towel, only a few passes before throwing out the paper wipe/towel. Repeat process until the entire surface has been cleaned.
    • Wipe the surface again with a paper wipe/towel lightly dampened with distilled water. This will "rinse" the surface of any remaining soapy residue

Disinfecting (For surfaces listed previously that can withstand disinfecting)

  • Slightly dampen a paper wipe/towel with isopropyl alcohol. Do not dampen so much that the paper wipe/towel drips or wiping the surface leaves streaks.

  • Wipe the surface with the dampened paper towel, only a few passes or until the paper towel feels like it is starting to dry. Throw out that paper towel and repeat the process until the entire surface has been wiped.

*Note that although isopropyl alcohol is considered a mild solvent, having a trashcan full of damped paper towels can pose a risk. Stagger cleaning of surfaces throughout the day so that the disposed towels have a chance to dry (evaporate) completely.

The above-mentioned cleaning and disinfecting solutions are NOT recommended for:

  • Exhibit cases/vitrines with museum objects (exteriors only) – If there is no existing manual/guide for cleaning and disinfecting cases/vitrines, do not attempt the solutions mentioned above. The intrusion of water into the cases could be a major problem. Vitrines made of acrylic are of special concern as they could be easily scratched, even with paper wipe/towels.

*Seek methods for distancing visitors from cases/vitrines using stanchions and signs that remind them DO NOT TOUCH.

  • A/V equipment in exhibits such as touch screens, monitors, and interactive exhibits – The electronic components could be at risk from mechanical failure if cleaning and disinfecting solutions are introduced.

Consider creating alternative programs or media. Also consider placing a plastic sheet (Mylar) over touchscreens. This Mylar sheet can be disinfected or replaced on a regular basis

After testing (and no damage has been observed) clean with the cleaning solution outlined in the chart above. Do NOT disinfect.

Do NOT clean or disinfect. If you suspect contamination, isolate the object/area using stanchions etc. and contact an HFC conservator. Remind park staff and visitors “DO NOT TOUCH” verbally and with signage.

** The novel corocavirus pandemic is an ever changing situation. The guidance provided here was developed from information available as of June 2, 2020 and is subject to change


















Last updated: June 2, 2020