How To Salvage Water Damaged Photos – A Few Tips

For most people, family photographs, letters from near and dear ones, scrapbooks and keepsakes they’ve collected over the years are more precious than the most expensive items in their home. Unlike furniture and other regular household items, all of the above items are irreplaceable and losing them in a water or fire disaster can be hugely distressing. Losing photographs in particular can be especially upsetting. 

There is hope however. Even after a major water invasion, when it seems like nothing can be retrieved from the huge sodden mess in front of you, you may still be able to salvage water damaged photos by taking the following measures:

Step 1: Very carefully pick the water damaged photo albums and photos out of the water or wet mud. Do this very slowly and gently so that the photographs do not tear.

Step 2: Continuing slowly and carefully, separate the water damaged photos that are stuck together or to the pages of the soaked album.   

Step 3: Pick each photograph and gently dip it into a large basin or bucket of cold, clean water. Do not use warm water or running water as that will damage the photos. Keep changing the water frequently as it is important to keep the water clean. 

Step 4: After you clean each photo, lay it face up on a clean, dry blotting surface such as a dry sheet or towel. It is best to use a white, unprinted towel or sheet as wet photos may absorb the colors or prints and get damaged. Change the sheet when it gets too damp and replace with another clean, dry and unprinted sheet.

Step 5: When the photos are completely dry, stack them up and keep them in a clean, dry box or under a light weight to so they stay flat.

A Few Precautions To keep in Mind

  • Avoid drying photos outdoors as they will start to curl when exposed to the sun or wind.
  • Do not try and wipe photos as that will damage the glossy coat on the photos.
  • If you have any photos that are in frames, remove the photographs before they dry or else they will stick to the glass of the frame as they dry and trying to unstuck them will only damage them further.
  • Historical or heirloom photographs are usually sensitive to water damage and could get permanently damaged. Putting them in the freezer could also cause permanent damage. If you have any such photos, don’t attempt to retrieve them by yourself.  Instead, get a professional photo restorer to deal with them.

What To Do If You Cannot Attend To The Photos Right Away

It is best to try and salvage all flood damaged photographs as soon as possible, preferably within 2 days. Keeping them soggy for too long will cause them to stick together, making it even more difficult or even impossible to do any kind of damage control. Sometimes however, there are so many things that need to be attended to immediately and it may just not be possible to get to the water damaged photo albums. In that case, the minimum you should try and do is remove the debris and wet mud off the water damaged photos, stack the clean wet photos in a plastic bag and put the bag in a freezer. This helps slow down the damage. When you get a break from the other more urgent chores, you can then defrost the photos, separate them and dry them as before.

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