Acids are essential for our daily comfort, but when it comes to scrapbooking, there’s really nothing worse. If you look at old scrapbooks or photo albums that your grandmother or even your mother made, you’ll notice a distinct “aged” look to the photos. Most of that damage is not caused by time, it’s caused by acids.
The best place to buy acid-free products is at a scrapbook store or scrapbook supply website, but that doesn’t mean everything you find there is acid free. You need to learn to read labels. There are certain label codes that mean a product is safe. If the packaging is unclear, you can always ask the sales clerk or research the product online.
If you’re unsure of a the acid level of paper, or just want to double check, you can test products on your own with a Ph pen. They’re available at your local scrapbook store. They are also great if you’re using products that aren’t prepackaged for scrapbooking like greeting cards or wrapping paper. For just a small investment, you’ll be saving precious memories.
PH pens have chemicals in them that change color when you expose them to an acid. Just write on a small piece of the material you want to test. If it stays the same color, it’s safe. If the material changes color, don’t use it.
If papers are too dark to see the color change, just rub the paper onto a white sheet until some of the color comes off. Then, test the white sheet with your pH pen. The acid is usually in the ink, not the paper, so this should give you an accurate result.
Everyone will tell you to use acid free paper, cardstock, and photo albums, but there are other hidden offenders that can do just as much damage to your memories if you don’t buy acid-free products.
Glue. Using a pH pen isn’t feasible for products like glue and other adhesives. You should learn the tell-tale signs that there’s acid present in the product. The first and easiest is, of course, by reading the package, but that’s not always helpful. A safe glue should not have a strong distinct smell and should always dry clear.
Page protectors. These are another big acid offender. While it may seem easier to just go buy regular protectors from the store, the very things you use to protect your photos may actually be destroying them.
Ink. Whether you’re keeping track of your photos by writing on the back or just journaling and adding details on the pages of your scrapbook, you need to use acid-free ink pens.
Storage boxes. Whether you’re using boxes to store pictures that haven’t been used yet, or to store completed books, you should make sure that the boxes are acid free. Acidic boxes can do just as much damage as putting pictures on acidic paper.
While it may take a little extra time and money to find and buy acid-free products, the long term results will make it worth the effort.