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Preserving Treasures After the Disaster

Water - Contamination - Mold - Smoke & Soot - Locating a Conservator - Additional Links


Safety Precautions

Wear protective face gear or masks, latex gloves and long sleeves.

If mold and/or contamination is present, wear a respirator. Some mold species and/or contaminants are toxic; if any health effects are observed, contact a doctor and/or mycologist. When cleaning items with dry mold, make sure the mold spores are drawn away from you, i.e. by the use of a vacuum cleaner.

Wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap after handling materials with mold or contamination.


(Click on photographs to enlarge)

Paper Documents, Maps, Posters, etc:

Paper is very fragile when wet and must be handled with care, provide adequate support.

Blot excess water off the documents.

Do not attempt to separate individual items while very wet. You may leave them in stacks no higher than 1/4" to dry.

If pages can be separated safely they can be interleaved using absorbent paper towels or separating materials, such as waxed paper. Change interleaving materials until item is dry.

Clean, rusted-free window screens stacked with bricks or wood blocks between them will provide a drying surface with maximum air circulation.

Video demonstration on how to air dry paper using a screen

If drying items on a hard surface, cover area with absorbent materials and change when wet. When items are almost dry, place them between protective sheets such as blank newsprint and put a lightweight on them to flatten.

Note: If the item is too wet when placed under weights, you may create an environment for mold. Check frequently.


Books that are more than half wet should be allowed to drain. Place the book on its top edge on a sheet or towel. Place small pieces of sponge under the fore-edge of the book to allow water to drain. Do not fan open the pages. Continue until water is no longer draining. The book can now be frozen.

Freezing does not dry the book but it prevents further damage from water absorption. A book may safely remain frozen for weeks, even months. Wrap the book in plain waxed paper and place in the freezer. Frost-free freezers can dry out wet books by the same process that produces “Freezer burn” in food. The process however can take weeks to months depending on the moisture in the book.

Video demonstration on how to wrap a book for freezing

After the books have frozen, the ice can be brushed off and the books can be thawed slowly. During the thawing process blot all excess water and then air-dry as described below.

Using fan to air dry bookBbooks that are half wet have the best result when be air-dried. Fan books open and stand on top or bottom edge; never stand them on the front edge. Stand books on driest edge first as it is the strongest. As the book dries turn it upside-down to the opposite edge every few hours.

Video demonstration of how to set up a book for air drying

Place a sheet of white paper towels larger than the pages between the front and back cover and adjacent page before standing on edges. Replace the interleaving as it becomes saturated.

Video demonstration of interleaving

When the book is no longer wet, but still cool to the touch, close and place on a solid surface with a slight weight such as a brick to keep distortion to a minimum.

Check frequently to ensure that no mold is growing.

Photographic Materials

Some historical photographs are very sensitive to water damage and may not be recoverable.

Most prints, negatives and color slides can be air-dried. The emulsion (picture or image) side should be face up.

Avoid touching the front surface of wet or damp photographic prints or negatives. Note: The emulsion side often appears less glossy on negatives and color slides.

If photographic materials are covered with mud or dirt and are still wet, they may be gently rinsed in a bucket of cold, clean water, or a light stream of cold water, and then dried.

line dryingTo speed drying time, dry items on a clothesline using wooden or non-abrasive plastic clothespins. Do not pin over image!

Video demonstration on how to air dry photographs using a screen

removing backingAir-drying Framed Photographs: Place the frame glass-side down and remove the backing materials.
frame and objects air drying separatelyCarefully remove object and air-dry. If the object is stuck to the glass, do not remove; instead dry frame with object inside, glass side down on a flat surface.

Do not unfold delicate wet fabrics. Do not stack wet textiles.

Rinse, drain and blot items with clean towels or sheets to remove excess water. Block and shape each damp textile to its original shape.

If possible air dry indoors using air conditioning or fans, if not possible air dry outside away from direct sunlight.

Clean, rusted-free window screens stacked with bricks or wood blocks between them will provide a drying surface with maximum air circulation.

Wood Furniture

Rinse/sponge surfaces gently to clean. Blot. Air dry slowly.

Hold veneer in place while drying using weights or clamps. Protect surface with waxed paper.

Upholstered Furniture

Rinse off mud.

Remove cushions and other separate pieces. Wrap in sheets or towels to air dry, replace sheet or towel when damp.

Blot wood sections and air-dry slowly.


Remove from frames. Do not separate paintings from their stretchers.

Keep wet paintings horizontal and paint-side up with nothing touching the surface. Avoid drying in direct sunlight.


Rinse off mud and dirt with cool clean water. If dirt persists soak in a dilute detergent solution. Do not rub the disc.

Video demonstration on how to wash CDs

Dry vertically, in a rack if possible. If not place printed side down on clean sheet on wax paper.

Air-dry the accompanying paper insert as described in the air-drying of paper section.

Computer diskettes

Remove diskette from casing and bathe in clean water.

Air dry on paper towels or lint-free microfiber towels such as glass cleaning cloths.

Place diskette into new casing and copy. Discard original after copying.

Video, computer and recording tape

If the tape is wet, disassemble case and remove tape.

Leaving tape on reel, rinse in clean water.

Video demonstration of how to wash audio cassettes

Video demonstration of how to wash video cassettes

Support vertically on clean sheet or towel to dry.

Reassemble dried tape and case and copy. Discard original after copying.

Recording discs such as 45s, 78’s and LPs

Dry loose labels and sleeves as described in air-drying paper section.

Rinse discs in clean water if mud or dirt is present.

Air dry on a support or screen to permit good air circulation.

Computer hard drives

Computer hard drives cannot be allowed to dry out and be expected to be able to power up again. Do not blow dry the hard drive. Remove from the computer, do not shake out the water, simply place in a plastic bag, seal and send to a computer recovery company.

Back-up discs or tapes are much easier and cheaper to recover than hard drives.




smoke and Soot

Air-drying – General Principals:

  • Use fans to provide maximum air circulation but do not aim fans directly at the drying materials.
  • Absorb excess moisture using a clean sponge, paper, such as children’s drawing pads or blank newsprint pads or bath towels, sheets etc.
  • Do not blot on hand-written ink or fragile surfaces. Do not use printed newsprint for blotting; ink can transfer.
fan drying

Locating a Conservator

Additional Links



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