In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, thousands of family historians will be facing the task of salvaging precious family photos, papers, and heirlooms. Salvage efforts should begin within 48 hours, according to the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
5 First Steps for Water Damaged Family Photos
Work with your most precious photos first — heirloom wedding and old family photos, baby pictures, photos that have not been digitized.
1. Photographs and paper items will be extremely fragile when wet; handle with care. Avoid touching the print surface. Wear protective gloves and masks if photos begin to show mold.
2. Framed photos that become wet should be removed from the frame to air dry flat, when possible. Remove frame backing, loosen edges, and gently free prints from frame.
3. Rinse photos gently with clear water to clean off silt and debris without touching the surface of the print. Use distilled water if available.
4. Air dry wet items indoors if possible. Encourage air circulation by opening windows, running room fans, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers. Photos may curl while drying, but can be flattened later by professionals.
5. If you’re unable to dry out the photos, layer prints with wax paper and place in ziplock type plastic bags. Refrigerate or freeze the packets. Do not store damp items in plastic bags at room temperature — this will cause mold to grow and salvage may be impossible.
Consult a professional conservator for further restoration treatment.
Download a free Genealogy Grab-n-Go Checklist and find more resources in my article “Keep Your Family and Family History Safe.”
This information is adapted from Disaster Response & Recovery, American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and Disaster Recovery Conserve-O-Gram, National Parks Service, National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel
Download the Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel App (ERS) before you need it for advice from the United States National Parks Service National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Available for IOS, Android, and Google devices, the app offers short quick guides for responding to a disaster, and practical advice for salvaging:
- books and paper
- e Records
- framed art
- natural history
Photos: FEMA, and NCPTT Wet Recovery Workshop, 2008.
This post was first published 30 October 2012 has been updated and links refreshed as of 7 September 2017.