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Slowing the March of Time:

Preserving and Protecting Items of Personal and Historical Significance

Disaster Recovery

Because Aunt Mable stored her papers in the shed under a leak, it doesn't mean that they are all beyond salvage. The same is true if a recent flood claimed your storage room, or a fire raged through your photo collection. Here we offer some general guidelines, but you might find yourself taking the most important items to a professional conservator:

Water/flood (high humidity):

  • Wet items can be very fragile, try not to handle by any surface - edges only.

  • Any mud or dirt that accumulates on an object needs to be removed.

  • Always use rubber gloves when handling objects because floodwaters can be contaminated.

  • If images are blurred, faded or feathered as a result of the water, do not attempt washing.

  • While item is still wet, agitate it in a bath of clear water or use fine hose spray to remove excess dirt.

  • Fans and dehumidifiers should be used for drying, indoors if possible.

  • Never aim airflow directly at air-drying materials, but position for maximum airflow around objects.

  • Use blotting material that is clean and absorbent such as blotter paper, unprinted newsprint paper, paper towels, rags, etc.

  • Screens that are well supported and stacked with space between them will compact drying surface.

  • A porous surface also assists in drying.

  • Glossy materials (magazines, paperbacks, photos, art books, etc.) might be given priority. They are likely to stick together when drying.

  • Interleave wax paper between each page, dry flat without layers if possible.

  • Fan books periodically while drying, interleave paper beyond the edges of the book to wick moisture away - stand on end, open for short periods of time.

  • For layers of items, wait until dry to try unfolding/separating.

  • Do not wring or twist textiles while wet, gently press with palm of hand only.

  • Do not stack wet items deeper than ½" while drying.

  • Some conservators suggest freezing to arrest mold growth - while this is fine while awaiting a professional conservator for most items, do not freeze photos or negatives.

  • Try to remove framed items from frame to dry - if they appear stuck, do not. Leave on stretcher.

  • Shaped objects like baskets and clothing should be supported and shaped as dried - gently pad with toweling, etc. - replace when wet.

  • Rinse metal objects immediately if soil removal is necessary and dry with soft cloth (caked mud should be allowed to dry - remove later).

    * Items that have come apart place in clearly labeled open containers and contact a professional.

    * Sunlight and heat may cause further damage during the drying process.

    * Physical distortions may result, but the information/item will be saved.

Copyrighted work - reprinted here with permission.
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This Page Last Updated: December 15, 2016

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