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How to Save Water-Damaged Photos, Books, and Documents

old water damaged book

During a flooding incident, your documents and books are at great risk. Both the water and the ensuing humidity in the air can cause permanent deterioration. The good news is that you can save most of your papers and books, but only if you act fast and work with caution.

It’s important to start salvaging your water-damaged photos, books, and documents within two days or they will start to become moldy and deteriorate.

Saving Water-Damaged Photos

  • Save pictures in frames when they are still drenched, otherwise you might damage the photos when trying to remove them. To safely separate a wet photo from a picture frame, gently rinse both photo and frame with water, and carefully remove the photo.
  • For saving very old photos, consult a professional conservator first. These historical photographs are more sensitive to damage and restoration.
  • When you’re ready, remove the photos from the water or mud being careful not to touch the front of the photos.
  • Place the photos image side up onto a rigid surface like a board.
  • If photos have dirt on them, rinse them gently using clean water in a bucket or sink.
  • After cleaning the photos, lay them on blotting paper, such as a paper towel. Don’t use newspapers to prevent ink from smudging the photos.
  • Dry the photos indoors. Don’t take them outside as sunlight and wind will cause photos to curl more quickly.
  • Let photos air-dry, but change the paper towels every one to two hours.
  • If drying the photos is not your first priority, you can buy some time by freezing them. Just make sure to first rinse them of dirt and stack them between sheets of wax paper. This will make them easier to separate when treated.

Saving Water-Damaged Books and Documents

  • Remove your documents from the water with care. If the papers are dirty, gently rinse them and lay them on a flat surface on top of blotted paper. Use paper towels without prints and avoid newspaper. Keep changing the paper towels.
  • Don’t dry them outside where sunlight and wind can curl the items. Let them air-dry indoors and run an oscillating fan in the room to increase air circulation and speed up drying.
  • For waterlogged books, place one absorbent paper between every 20 to 50 wet pages and lay the books flat to dry. Change the blotting paper every few hours.
  • If you can put the books in a vertical position, try to fan the pages out and allow to air-dry. Speed up the drying process using a fan.
  • To postpone the drying of paper documents or books, seal them in plastic zipper bags and stick them in the freezer. This helps preserve them and stops mold from developing until they’re ready to be restored.
  • If papers and books smell musty after drying, place them in an open box and put that inside a closed container with baking soda to absorb odors. Don’t let baking soda touch the books.

Although you may be able to follow all of these steps yourself, hiring a document and photo restoration professional is generally a safer alternative. Trained technicians have the equipment and experience to salvage sensitive documents and bring them safely back to life.

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