Dust-binding mopping to protect the art


“Dust-binding mopping prevents dust from settling on our art, ensuring that our exhibits retain their value”

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (KHM) is one of the most important museums in the world. The works of art on display are highly valuable and worthy of protection. For years, maintenance manager Thomas Gaisberger has relied on dust-binding mopping with Masslinn disposable cloths for floor cleaning. In this interview, Thomas Gaisberger explains why this method is ideal for rooms with sensitive art objects and what advantages it offers compared to vacuuming.

Mr Gaisberger and Mr Cermak

Mr Gaisberger, what does the KHM offer visitors?
The Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna was built under the rule of Emperor Franz Joseph to house the collections of the emperors and archdukes of the House of Habsburg. With its magnificent art treasures, it is one of the top museums in the world. In our museum, visitors can experience 5,000 years of art and cultural history – in the form of paintings, goldsmith’s work, sculptures or coins. The Louvre Museum in Paris has the Mona Lisa, we are home to the famous Saliera by Benvenuto Cellini or Bruegel’s Peasant Wedding. At our museum you can find paintings with an insured value of up to 50 million euros – although the market value is many times higher.

What are the challenges of cleaning in a museum? Are they different from classic building cleaning?
Absolutely! While building cleaning companies are all about efficiency, we are measured by how well we preserve value and how we treat the works of art. If a cleaning process is quick but damages our works of art in the long term, that’s no good. It all starts with the building. Our museum sites are protected monuments – so we can’t just tear down the building and rebuild it. That’s why all cleaning procedures are carried out with the utmost care. For example, we only use cleaning machines in the entrance area, not in the individual halls of the art collections. In this way, we avoid damaging any sculptures or artistically designed wall elements. We also have to take care of our art treasures – this places high demands on the cleaning agents and equipment used in terms of ingredients, emissions, tolerable pollutants (VOC), moisture formation and exhaust air generation. In addition, we have many sensitive materials, such as stucco marble. The cleaning method must be carefully adapted to such materials. What’s more, it is not only our works of art that are valuable or that need to be treated with the greatest care, but also the tools used for optimal presentation. For example, a display case in our Kunstkammer costs between 15,000 and 25,000 euros, while a special picture frame for a work of art can easily cost several thousand euros.

What is your role at the museum?
As one of several team leaders, I am responsible for the maintenance of all museum buildings in the KHM Museum Association. In this hub function, I am responsible for all structural maintenance, building cleaning, and many other internal and external technical services. I schedule the in-house maintenance concept as an annual plan and implement it. The KHM Museum Association has its own professional FM department, in which all important FM areas (climate management, building services, electrical and lighting engineering, security management and other services), including maintenance, are brought together.Everything I do involves complex considerations and initiatives to preserve the value of the art objects in the rooms. Together with my teams, I make sure that everything is functioning every day and that the visitors enjoy a pleasant and safe visit.

Are you also allowed to clean the works of art?
No, only the restorers touch the art objects. However, we do clean the area around the art (e.g. the floor in front of a painting or the base of a sculpture). My team and I always have 3 important requirements to consider when it comes to cleaning. The visitors expect a clean room, the restorers demand the highest sensitivity in terms of value conservation, and we as a team want to make cleaning as efficient as possible. So I judge every cleaning process through three pairs of glasses – even if optically speaking I only wear one (laughs).

What types of dirt are generated in the museum?
The biggest problem is the loose dirt that visitors bring into the museum. This can be road dirt on shoes, scuff marks from shoes or of course hair and skin flakes, which form dust. Humans are the number one source of dust. In addition, we have to deal with stubborn dirt in the form of spilled drinks (acidic drinks damage the marble floor) or staining due to snow de-icing agents carried in by shoes.

What cleaning methods do you use to remove this dirt?
Although we remove stubborn dirt by wet mopping or with the scrubber-dryer, we only have one sensible option for loose dirt: dust-binding mopping with Masslinn disposable cloths from Wetrok.

How does dust-binding mopping work?
You stretch a dust cloth onto the dusting unit – and off you go. The room is wiped with oscillating movements. In between, the sides of the cloth are changed and at the end the disposable cloth is disposed of. We use white Masslinn cloths for the marble floors in the domed hall, the art chamber and the staircase, and yellow Masslinn cloths for the parquet floors in the painting galleries. The difference is that the yellow cloths are also impregnated with oil. When wiping, the oil binds the dust to the cloth and thus prevents dust particles from being stirred up.

Why do you prefer dust-binding mopping to vacuuming?
Vacuuming stirs up the dust and some of the vacuumed dust gets back into the air – even with the best exhaust filter. If we were to vacuum the entire room, this dust stirring up or the dust settling would be dangerous for our artworks. This is because dust forms deposits. It contains germs and microorganisms that could permanently alter and damage our works of art. This does not happen with Masslinn dust cloths. The dust is completely absorbed and bound in the cloth. Our parquet floor is already somewhat aged and has some joints – joints in which dust could unfortunately get stuck. However, the dust cloths ensure that no dust builds up even there – we would never be able to do that so thoroughly with a vacuum cleaner.  In addition, dust-binding mopping features a significantly higher area performance compared to the vacuum cleaner. That is why we rely on dust-binding mopping on all large surfaces (parquet and marble floors). Our motto: maximum dust reduction on the collection area without stirring up dust. However, we can’t entirely do without vacuum cleaners. For cleaning ledges, roof elements, skirting zones and under radiators, we also use a Wetrok dry vacuum cleaner.

10 advantages of dust-binding mopping:

  • High area performance
  • Optimal preventative hygiene before wet mopping (microorganisms and germs)
  • Best cleaning results according to FIGR test
  • No cross-contamination (1 disposable cloth per room)
  • No dust stirred up
  • No power consumption
  • No noise (no suction motor)
  • High safety (no cable, no risk of tripping)
  • Low space requirement on the cleaning cart and in the cleaning room
  • Immediate disposal of dirt (not only when changing the vacuum cleaner bag)

One possible disadvantage:
Dust-binding mopping is unsuitable for heavily soiled or textured floor coverings. That’s where the vacuum cleaner comes in.

You mentioned the high area performance of dust-binding wiping – how large of an area do you clean daily with the dust cloths?
In the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the area is around 9,000 square metres per day, but in all the buildings of the museum association as a whole, there are probably another 15,000 square metres of collection space and a large number of office spaces. To clean efficiently, we use the 93-centimetre-wide version of the Wetrok mop (Balit 930) – whereas for the office areas, we use the 56-centimetre-wide Balit mop.

Dust-binding mopping vs. vacuuming:

Which method covers more area per hour?
In a practical comparison, the methods achieve the following area performance (smooth floor covering, free area):

Vacuuming dust-binding mopping
(conventional dry vacuum cleaner) (dust cloths & mop)
around 300 m2/h around 600-800 m2/h

Conclusion: With dust-binding mopping, cleaners cover twice as much surface area per hour.

In the domed hall of the Kunsthistorisches Museum there are sofas and chairs for visitors in the middle of the room – how does that work with the dusting unit?
Dusting works perfectly even in cramped rooms. For mopping on an “as-needed” basis during the day under seats, we simply use a narrower mopping unit of 56 centimetres (Balit 560). We mop the rooms every morning before the museum opens – with up to 5,000 visitors a day, it would hardly be possible while the museum is in operation (laughs). Once a week, the rooms are completely emptied for cleaning – then we cover a lot of space in a short time with the wide dusting unit.

Have you also tested dust cloths from other manufacturers? If so, what is your verdict?
Yes, we have done several tests with dust cloths from other manufacturers. Our conclusion: Their cleaning performance is insufficient. The Masslinn cloths from Wetrok are a little more expensive to buy than other dust cloths, but their quality is unbeatable. The oil impregnation binds all types of dust – from the coarsest to the finest dusts. That is the level of quality we need and will continue to rely on in the future.

Do you combine dust-binding mopping with wet mopping? If yes, in what form?
In fact, we use wet mopping very sparingly because the method has many potential sources of error that can have disastrous consequences. Excessive dosing can cause slippery floors, using the wrong mop or too much water can permanently damage the floor. Often, such faults can then only be remedied with time-consuming deep cleaning. The parquet floors of the collection areas are not given periodic wet cleaning. Instead, they are only damp or wet mopped on an as-needed basis – otherwise dust-binding mopping is sufficient. In rainy weather or in winter, of course, we also wipe more often with a wet cloth, as more stubborn dirt accumulates then. For wet mopping, we use a wet mopping unit and pre-wetted mops. Our basic rule is: before each wet mopping, remove loose dirt with dust cloths. Otherwise it would be counterproductive and the dust would spread everywhere due to the moisture.

How important is training in dust-binding mopping and what content do you impart to your team?
Basically, the method is very simple, and the risk of application errors is accordingly small. Our cleaning staff is very specialised – both our internal and external cleaners. Nevertheless, regular training is important. I show cleaners how to move the dusting unit optimally around the room – for example, that the unit has to be pushed when cleaning the edges and that the cleaning of the free area has to be done backwards in oscillating movements. Ergonomics is also an issue. For optimal posture, cleaners should adjust the telescopic handle of the dusting unit to chin height. For us, one absolute no-go is that the dusting unit must NEVER be leaned against the wall, otherwise art objects or wall panelling could be damaged.

You have approached external cleaners – have you outsourced any areas of the cleaning? If yes, which ones?
We divide cleaning into three areas: cleaning of exhibition areas and art collections, cleaning of other guest areas and special cleaning. All rooms in which art is stored are cleaned by our in-house cleaning team – both for maintenance cleaning and special cleaning. In terms of special cleaning, this means work such as sanding the parquet or dusting the ceremonial equipment at a height of over fifteen metres. Less sensitive rooms, such as the entrance area, the offices and the bistro area, are cleaned by our long-term external cleaning partner.

Masslinn dust cloths have achieved brilliant results in the FIGR test and are Cradle to Cradle certified. How important are such external labels and expert assessments for you?
Of course, we have our own test procedures to put cleaning products through their paces. As a result, we know how effective the cloths are in removing dust even without the FIGR test (grins). Nevertheless, such market studies and labels provide good orientation – we are particularly glad to be certified with the Cradle-to-Cradle environmental label. We are also in the process of being ecologically certified as a company. It is a big plus if a company has been using certified environmentally friendly cleaning tools for years.

Which companies would you recommend dust-binding wiping with Masslinn cloths to?
Anyone looking for an efficient and hygienic method of dust removal. Especially for museums/churches (dust-sensitive buildings) or hotel and healthcare facilities (prevention of viruses and germs carried by dust), the method of dust-binding mopping with disposable cloths is ideal.

Why did you choose Wetrok as the main supplier of your cleaning products?
The Wetrok team deals with the specifics of our building and offers us an individual, efficient and sustainable solution for every problem. They spare no elaborate tests and efforts to develop an ideal cleaning solution for us. When it comes to display case cleaning, for example, many tests were necessary to select the ideal glass cleaning agent for us – the Wetrok experts discovered that the type of surfactants in the formula determines whether our special panes are streak-free and clear or milky after cleaning. For the protective treatment of our wood floors with Wetrok Polish, the Wetrok experts also visited us on site, advised us and helped us develop the ideal application method with the lowest emissions – because a coating agent can also become a hazard for paintings. We appreciate this extra mile that Wetrok goes for us – which is why we have been sourcing our cleaning agents from Wetrok for several decades.


Video tutorial:
Dust-binding mopping – here’s how it works


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