Restoring Water Damaged Photos

Restoring Precious Photos After Water Damage

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When disasters hit, the loss of precious family photographs, scrapbooks, and memorabilia takes a huge emotional toll because, unlike furniture or clothing, these memorabilia items are irreplaceable.  Whether it’s from a natural disaster, humidity, or your house was flooded or caught fire, your prized photos have probably suffered from water damage. 


The first rule of fixing wet photos?  Don’t panic!  You may be able to salvage many or all of your pictures.  Nothing is more depressing than facing piles of soggy, maybe even mud-spattered photos, papers, and other valuables after they’ve suffered water damage, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something to fix them.


The best thing to do is to try to get to fixing wet photos within a maximum of two days, or they probably will begin to mold or stick together, making it much more unlikely they can be salvaged.  This is hard to make a priority in such a short period of time after a disaster because there are so many other things demanding your attention.  However, faster action is definitely better.

The Steps of Restoring Water Damaged Photos

Restoring Water Damaged Photos Stack Of Photos

Begin with photographs for which there are no negatives, or for which the negatives are also water damaged.  Don’t let the photos dry out!  As your photographs dry, they will stick to each other and any other materials they may be in contact with.  You’ll find it impossible to pull them apart without causing potentially irreparable damage.


Remove photos from frames

Pictures in frames need to be saved when they are still soaking wet, otherwise, the photo surface will stick to the glass as it dries and you will not be able to separate them without damaging the photo emulsion.  


Fix wet framed photos by removing from the picture frame, keeping the glass and photo together.  Holding both, rinse with clear flowing water, using the water stream to gently separate the photo from the glass.  Be patient - this might take a while.  Your goal is to keep the emulsion on the photo, so do not forcefully pull the photo from the glass: rather use the water to let them float or glide apart.


Remove photos from albums

Remove photos from water-logged albums and separate any that are stacked together, being careful not to rub or touch the wet emulsion of the photo surface with your fingers or anything else (not even a soft rag which may be your first instinct).  If they are especially fragile, try laying the photos and/or papers on a flat surface and rinsing with a gentle spray of water.


Rinse and submerge them in cold water

While you’re working on your photos, store them in a container full of cold, clean tap water;  the colder the better. Don’t add chlorine to the water, but change the water every day. The chlorine in tap water is enough to prevent the growth of fungi and other biological threats.


For restoration, the first step is to rinse your photos in a container of cold, clear running water.  Don’t run the water directly onto the photos, because that could damage the chemical emulsion, causing permanent damage.  Keep rinsing them until the run-off water is clear.


Remove the photos one by one

Carefully remove your photographs or negatives from the water, taking the smallest quantity possible.  Pull them out of their wrappers if they are in a wrapper or envelope of some sort and gently separate them.  DO NOT FORCE THEM APART.  If they do not come apart easily, re-soak and rinse them, Repeat the separate-soak cycle as many times as necessary. 


Lay the photos out to dry

Lay each wet photo face up on any clean blotting paper, such as a paper towel.  Don't use newspapers or printed paper towels, as the ink may transfer to your wet photos.  Change the blotting paper every hour or two until the photos dry.  Try to dry the photos inside if possible, as sun and wind will cause photos to curl more quickly.


If you don't have time right away to fix wet photos, just rinse them to remove any mud and debris, then carefully stack the wet photos (or clumps of photos) between sheets of wax paper and seal them in a Ziploc-type plastic bag.  If possible, freeze the photos to prevent further damage. This way photos can be defrosted, separated, and air-dried later when you have the time to do it properly.


Dry slides and negatives

Hang-dry slides and negatives from a clothesline.  Make sure they will not be exposed to dust. As an option, special solutions are available that facilitate uniform, spot-free drying when applied to negatives and slides.


What to do about curling

If your prints curl while drying, wet the paper side (NOT the emulsion!) with a moist sponge and place each one between two pieces of acid-free paper or photo blotters, and leave them under a flat, heavy object for a day or two.  Change the paper every hour or so until the pictures dry.


DO NOT place the photos outside since the wind and sun could cause the paper of the photographs to curl.


Most of all, try to prevent photos from drying together

Although the pictures do improve over time, the same cannot be said for images that become stuck together.  In many instances, these pictures ruin one another.  And although you may not want to force them apart, sometimes that is the only choice.

Where To Store Photos

Restoring Water Damaged Photos Photos In A Box

Never store treasured photos in your attic, garage, or basement, even though it is tempting to do so.  If you’re lucky enough to have a roomy attic, garage, or basement, they can offer tons of storage space, but because of weather, critters, and location, these areas of your home aren’t ideal storage for photos, valued documents, books, and artwork. 


The main reason you shouldn’t be storing items in these spots is the potential for water damage. Not only are attics, garages, and basements easy targets for flooding and accidents like fallen trees during storms, but climate plays a big role in this aspect as well.  It’s not just water damage that can occur.  Heat can also cause significant damage and even ruin some items.


And, it also goes without saying that animals can get into your attic, garage, or basement. Whether birds or moths in the attic, a raccoon in the garage, or mice in the basement, critters aren’t concerned with taking care of your belongings.


Old photos, documents, books, newspapers, magazines, artwork and paintings are all off limits for the attic, garage, or basement.  These items are negatively affected by heat, humidity, bugs, and even light.  


Heat can cause the paint to crack and expand or contract on paintings.  Light, humidity, and heat can cause serious discoloration and even mildew on photos, documents, and reading materials of any kind. 


You know those little silverfish you see poking around your drains and other dark, wet areas of the house?  They, as well as moths, will chew up these items.  Remember, nothing of true value should be stored in these spaces, so it’s best to keep any old photographs, official documents like passports, sentimental artwork, newspaper clippings, or educational degrees in a safe place inside the well-maintained areas of your home.

How to Protect Your Valuable Photos, Artwork, and Documents

Restoring Water Damaged Photos Old Photo Album

Acid-free folders

Precious items like these need protection from pests and variations in humidity.  If you're thinking long-term preservation, remove all metal from the papers (staples, paperclips, etc.) and any rubber bands (they'll decompose and stick to paper).  Put items like loose papers into acid-free folders. 


Air-tight containers

Protection from humidity (mold risk) vs. protection from dry air (brittle, breaking risk) is something you'll have to weigh seasonally.  A truly airtight plastic tub sounds like the best solution, especially if you're in an area where insects are plentiful. Roaches and spiders LOVE cardboard. 


You can also bundle the items in tight, non-clingy plastic wrap to protect from pests, then store in clearly labeled banker's boxes so you're not trapping moisture in. Check in every six months or as the seasons change. 


Bring them into your home’s living spaces

Assuming that you have *some* space in your house, bring in the most fragile and valued items and keep them in your acid free boxes there. There are no guarantees with the fluctuation in temperature that items stored outdoors won't suffer some changes, but you can at least minimize this by keeping things dry and acid-free. 


Photos are best kept in the coolest, driest area in your home, one that doesn't have a huge fluctuation in temperature. That's why the attic, basement and garage are not good ideas. Most people don't have climate controls outside the usual living spaces.


Exposure to light also shortens the lifespan of photos. Since light can wreak havoc on photographs, choose a storage space that protects and shields prints from illumination. Fireplaces, furnace vents, light bulbs, candles and sunlight generate light and heat that can destroy family photos.  


Interior closets -- not adjacent to outside walls -- that are above-ground are ideal locations to store precious photos since they tend to be dry and cool throughout the year.  Display your choice portrait for a few months or weeks, then return it to storage while other shots are showcased in rotation.


Quality storage boxes

Use storage boxes of archival quality.  This means they're composed of acid-free materials. You can buy conservator-approved boxes at photography or craft stores.  Look for labels or markings that specify that the products are "acid-free."  If you want to invest in archival-quality albums, you can find them at archive or art supply stores.


Proper boxes and albums will also protect your pictures from light, dust, dirt, rodents and insects. Regularly dust and clean the closet where you'll be keeping your portraits and snapshots.

Five Star Restoration - Water Damage Restoration Experts

At Five Star Restoration, we recognize how upsetting and stressful a water damage situation is.  Our goal is to restore your space as quickly, economically, and professionally as possible with as little inconvenience to you as possible.  


We employ professional, well trained, experienced, and certified cleaners.  Our training includes using new technology and equipment which will provide the best result.


Our experts are well trained and knowledgeable in all kinds of fabric, wood, and other surface stains that may require different restoration techniques.  We provide guaranteed water damage repair and restoration and advise our customers on how to take care of their property post water damage restoration.

We use certified, environmentally friendly cleaning agents because our client’s health is always a primary consideration.


The quickest response is crucial in preventing water damage from further destroying your residential or commercial property.  When you call Five Star Restoration with a water damage problem, we will respond quickly, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


Call us today at (951) 368-2227 with any questions.  We are always happy to help.  

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Restoring Water Damaged Photos