Welcome to part one of a special three-part series where we're investigating some recent viral life hacks that have been making their way around Instagram. On August 5th, 2017 the Instagram account @Blossom posted a video stating: "Brighten up your day with these 5 surprising hacks". These hacks consisted of repairing and cleaning various objects with household items. The video can be found here.
Obviously as you can see from the post, the conservator in me cringed.... and she cringed HARD. So what's a girl to do when faced with such strange things spreading around the internet? Make a video and tell the world otherwise, of course! My friend Anna and I decided to look into the science behind these "clever" hacks, see if they actually work, and look at them from a conservation viewpoint.
Part 1: Broken Plate and Milk
First Thoughts: WHAAAT?! Are these people insane? As a ceramics conservation student, this made my jaw drop. First of all, why would anyone do this? How is milk supposed to actually bind broken pieces of ceramic together and make it strong enough to prevent any further breakage?
The Science behind it: Milk contains a phosphoprotein called Casein. It is the major component of cheese, and can act as a binding agent. Casein has been used to help bind paint, and is also a popular ingredient in wood glue. Upon further looking, we found that its plasticity might actually work. While there are many online forums touting the usefulness of this technique with cracked ceramic dishes, I could not find any real sources stating that milk alone could bind two broken pieces together effectively. ( Except this questionable YouTube video). So we decided to try both!
The Experiment: We found an old cup and saucer to experiment on at a flea market. Unfortunately, my attempts to find a piece that I wouldn't hate destroying proved useless as smashing them was almost too much for me to bear. We broke the saucer, while the cup was only cracked.
The Result: Less than ideal. Watch the video above to see our disappointed faces.
Conservation Viewpoint: While in theory, this method could work as a great binding agent, using milk to repair cracks in pottery is not recommended. Milk is organic, meaning that not only will it decompose, it can (and probably will) attract biological growth, not to mention potential pests to feed on your newly repaired plate. The binding is definitely not strong enough to effectively hold your ceramics together for daily use either.
Have any more questions about archaeology or history? Shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking to Find Out More?
Wikipedia: Casein (I don't always recommend Wikipedia, but they do a great job explaining, and there's a ton of extra resources listed)
Cornel Centre for Materials Research: Turning Milk into Homemade Glue
Apartment Therapy: Repair Cracked China with Milk!