Whether your photos have been damaged due to natural disaster, time deterioration or by accident, here are some helpful tips for dealing with water damage and your paper-based photos.
• Try less invasive recovery methods first. Minor spills can be removed by applying uniform pressure with blotting paper, un-printed newsprint, or non-textured, plain paper towels.
• If necessary, place your dirty, wet photos in a tub of clean, cold water. Distilled or purified spring water is safest and preferred. Tap water can be used; the chlorine in it may prevent the growth of mold and fungus. Note: if the water that damaged your photos contained any chemicals or salt, it may react to the chlorine in tap water and further damage the photo. Test a photo of lesser importance to see how it reacts to the cleaning process. Avoid running water directly on the photos, since doing so can damage any photographic emulsions used to develop the print.
If stacks of photos are stuck together, do not try to pull them apart immediately. Place the entire stack in water.
• Photos in plastic sleeves or albums present several options. Remove the protective sleeves and treat each photo separately. Commercial adhesive solvents are available for prints that cannot be easily removed from pages.
You may also try to treat the whole page by rinsing it, gently cleaning the images and then freezing the page for future treatment. For album pages that have important information on them, consider cutting the pages from the album with the photos removed and air dry them for future reference when you remount your prints on a fresh album page.
Clean photos gently while in the water. Very gently agitate the photos to remove dirt from both sides—do not rub them! If needed, brush off dirt, mud and debris using a soft bristle brush, foam craft brush, a cotton ball, or soft cotton cloth. Be careful not to brush off the image. Note: If photos are deteriorating, do not attempt to remove dirt. Refresh the water as you clean. Place cleaned photos in another tank of clean cold water for final rinsing.
• Gently separate photos stuck together. Gently separate as many photos as you can while they are submerged, then return them to another water tub for more soaking. Repeat the separate/soak process as needed. You may find that the top and bottom prints in the stack are damaged, but the photos in-between will be fine. If some photos are still stuck together, you can freeze the stack and work on separating them another time.
For extended soaking, change water frequently. Keep water cold by using ice or placing the container in the refrigerator to reduce further softening. Check the prints often to see how they are responding. The less time they spend in water the better to avoid further deterioration.
• Remove cleaned, rinsed photos from the rinsing tub. Plan to remove and air-dry the photos as soon as possible. Otherwise, plan on placing them in freezer bags to dry them in the future. Touching only the photo edges or using film-developing tongs, allow excess water to drip off and get ready to freeze them or begin the drying process.
See also Water Damaged Photos Part 1
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See also Water Damaged Photos Part 4