Tips to Preserve Wet Papers Documents & Photographs from the North Carolina State Archives

The following information is from the North Carolina State Archives:

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA – If your special papers and photographs are not in plastic, or stored somewhere safe, there are steps that may save water-damaged treasures.

Gov. Bev Perdue requested a Disaster Declaration for 18 North Carolina counties touched by fierce thunderstorms this past weekend, and 10 have been declared disaster areas by the federal government. This is a time for all citizens to get their emergency plans and supply kits ready for the summer storm season.

The North Carolina State Archives, Department of Cultural Resources, recommends the following suggestions from Heritage Preservation (www.heritagepreservation.org):

Safety first. There may be health risks, so wear plastic or rubber gloves for cleanup. If there is mold, wear a protective surgical mask or respirator, goggles and coveralls.

Prevent mold. You need to work fast, as mold can form within 48 hours. Reduce the humidity and temperature around your treasures quickly as you clean and dry them.

Can’t do it all? Objects that can’t be dealt with immediately should be put in open, unsealed boxes or bags. Photos, papers, books, and textiles that can’t be treated in 48 hours should be frozen.

Air Dry. Gentle air drying is best, indoors if possible. Avoid using hair dryers, irons, ovens, and prolonged exposure to sunlight. This will do irreversible damage. Increase good airflow with fans, air conditioners and dehumidifiers.

Handle with Care. Use great care when handling heirlooms, which can be especially fragile when wet. Separate damp materials by removing contents from drawers, taking photographs out of damp albums, removing paintings from frames, and placing paper towels between pages of wet books.

Clean Gently. Loosen dirt and debris on fragile objects gently with soft brushes and cloths as rubbing can grind in dirt.

Salvage photos. Rinse photographs carefully in clean water. Air dry photos on a plastic screen or paper towel, or by hanging a corner with a plastic clothespin. Don’t let the surfaces contact while drying.

Prioritize. Focus on what’s most important if you can’t save everything.

Call in a pro. A conservator may be able to help with a badly damaged treasure. Set it aside in a well-ventilated room until you find professional help. For help, contact the Guide to Conservation Services, American Institute for Conservation, (202) 452-9545, http://aic.stanford.edu.

These recommendations are for guidance only. Neither Heritage Preservation nor the State Archives in the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources assumes responsibility or liability for damaged objects.

Author: Leland Meitzler

Leland K. Meitzler founded Heritage Quest in 1985, and has worked as Managing Editor of both Heritage Quest Magazine and The Genealogical Helper. He currently operates Family Roots Publishing Company (www.FamilyRootsPublishing.com), writes daily at GenealogyBlog.com, writes the weekly Genealogy Newsline, conducts the annual Salt Lake Christmas Tour to the Family History Library, and speaks nationally, having given over 2000 lectures since 1983.

3 thoughts on “Tips to Preserve Wet Papers Documents & Photographs from the North Carolina State Archives”

  1. Mold is horrible! We just got done doing mold remediation on a home in NJ, and all their possessions were destroyed. Well not all, but a large majority of them couldn’t be saved.

    To avoid losing possessions to mold, lock them in an air tight container, then put tiny bags of damprid in the boxes. All you need is a small ziplock bag, put a half a cup in, get a pin, poke a few holes in the bag (it won’t come out they are pellets) then lock it in the bins! This way if you ever need mold remediation done, your possessions will be safe and dry. =]

  2. We had this same exact problem in our attic. During last winter, we got a ton of snow on the roof of our home. By summer time, we had a crack in our roof, but had no idea.

    Of course all the rain leaked right through onto all of our belongings, which then became infested with mold. It was horrible to say the least.

  3. We had a similar problem, except ours affected papers in the basement. We were able to salvage a good number of them, but unfortunately not all. You live and learn!

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