Don't Let Water Damage Ruin Your Photos: A Quick Guide

Don't Let Water Damage Ruin Your Photos: A Quick Guide

We have seen in the news recently that acts of nature are capable of ruining your physical memorabilia, but more common issues – a busted pipe, sewer backup, or even high humidity – can also destroy some of your family’s irreplaceable treasures. As is usually the case in life, the best time to act is before disaster strikes. Being prepared for the worst can be the best solution to prevent heartache in the future.

Here we have put together a helpful guide with information borrowed from the national archives and record-keeping industries to help you be prepared in case disaster strikes. These are some of the best ways to protect your treasured memories from water damage.

What You Can Do Now:

1) Convert all your photos, videos, and albums to a digital format. This way, you will always have easily replicable copies in case the originals are damaged. It’s sort of like having a spare key to your home.

2) Choose a safe and secure place to store your physical memories. Keeping them in airtight plastic bags and containers within a climate-controlled area (attics and garages are out) is the best method for long-term storage. It’s also a good idea to store them in plastic bins or on an elevated surface.

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What You Can Do After Water Damage Occurs:

1) First, don’t panic! There is a window (although limited) to salvage your memories. Time is the key element; you are trying to remove the conditions that mold needs to grow. Always start with the most precious items – the ones that are not digitized and don’t exist anywhere else.

2) Time, water, and dirt will ruin your items, but pollution or other contaminants in the event of flooding are also very dangerous to you. Protect yourself first and make sure to wear the necessary gear: gloves, masks, and eye protection.  

3) Remove damaged photos from their albums, frames, books, and envelopes. Then, using cold water, rinse them of any dirt and debris. Photos that are stuck to glass frames or to each other can be placed in a container of water to allow separation. Once clean, rinse each in a bath of distilled water. Replace the water as it becomes dirty or muggy with fresh, cold water.

4) If you are unable to complete step #3 in a timely manner, place wet articles in air-tight bags, separated with wax paper, and put them in the freezer until you are able to clean them – this helps stave off mold growth. Always defrost completely to room temperature before cleaning.

5) Air dry your photos, negatives, slides, and album pages. This will take some time; NEVER use heat to accelerate the process as this will ruin your items. Set the wet items out to air dry inside and away from direct sunlight. Placing them outdoors or in direct sunlight may cause fading or deterioration. Separate photos and film reels and make sure to spread them out face up on a towel-covered table. You may want to have some fans circulating air in the room to assist the drying process. You can also hang photos and negatives on a line with plastic (never metal) clips. (Note: once fully dry, photos will tend to curl; you can prevent this by placing them under heavy books overnight.)

6) Video cassettes, audio recordings, and film canisters are best handled by professional restoration companies who are trained to save them from the destructive nature of water. NEVER try to play back these materials, as water and debris will damage both the tape and the playback machine. The National Archives website (www.archives.gov) has a treasure trove of useful information and lists of companies that can assist with these types of memories.

Bad things can happen when you least expect them, but if you follow these instructions, there’s no need to panic. Your memories will be safe and can continue to be celebrated for generations!

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