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Clean up after a disaster can be a nightmare as you rummage through a lifetime of memories now dirty and soggy. Don’t give up. All is not lost and many treasures can be saved if you follow proper procedures. If you are heading out to help those who have suffered the flooding of their home please study these tips before you leave.

Saving Water-Damaged Photos

Most photos, negatives and color slides can be cleaned and dried using the following steps:

Carefully lift the photos from the mud and dirty water. Remove photos from water-logged albums.

Separate any photos that are stacked together by placing them in a tub of clean water and carefully pulling them apart. Do not rub to separate. Be careful not to touch the wet emulsion side of the photo surface, the picture side.

Once you have photos secured, gently rinse both sides of the photo in a bucket or sink of clear, cold water. Be sure there is no sand of grit in your water even if it looks clear. Do not run them under a stream of water. Do not rub the photos and be sure to change the water frequently.

Lay each wet photo face up in a single layer, on any clean blotting paper, such as a paper towel. Don’t use newspapers or printed paper towels, as the ink may transfer to photos. Do not press photos against the paper, let them dry slowly. Change the blotting paper every hour or two until the photos dry. Photos should be dried inside or in an area protected from the wind and sun as both will cause photos to curl or fade.

If you can’t dry your damaged photos immediately, rinse them to remove any mud and debris. Again, in a bucket not under a stream of water. Carefully stack the wet photos between sheets of wax paper and seal them in a sealable type plastic bag. Place photos in freezer to reduce damage. Photos can then be defrosted, separated and air-dried later.

Flood-damaged photos will begin to mold or stick together if you do not treat them within two days so this should be near the top of your priority list.

Prioritize and begin with photographs for which there are no negatives, no duplicates with extended family and friends, or whose negatives are water damaged.

Photos in frames need to be saved while they are still wet or they will stick to the glass as they dry. To remove a wet photo from a picture frame hold both under gently flowing water or totally immersed in water, using the water to separate the photo from the glass.

Historical photos are very sensitive to water damage and may not be recoverable. They should not be frozen without first consulting a professional restorer.

If there are photos which cannot be successfully removed from a frame or photo album or if you are just running out of time, take digital pictures or scans of each. Shoot several, some very close up and some further away from the image. It is amazing what can be done to enhance a digital photo, even if you think it is too far gone take a picture.

Saving Water-Damaged Papers & Books

Most papers, documents and books can be cleaned and air-dried using the following steps:

Carefully remove the papers from the water.

If the damage is from dirty flood water, gently rinse the papers in cold water. If they are fragile lay the papers on a flat surface and rinse with water from a spray bottle.

Lay the papers individually on a flat surface, out of direct sunlight. If the papers are very wet, lay them in piles to dry out a little before separating. Paper is easier to separate when drier. You can also hang papers on a string or clothesline using clothespins to aid the drying process. Papers will curl and discolor but they will be readable and the information saved.

Books can be opened and draped over a line. Open the book to the center and hang over the line. Allow to dry a few hours. Remove the book and open to another page 30 to 50 pages from the center and begin the process again. Continue until the book is completely dry.

Increase air circulation to speed drying by placing in an area with a gentle breeze or near a fan with a gentle breeze.

If you have room to lay everything out, water-logged books should be dried flat. Place absorbent paper between the wet pages. Lay the books flat to dry. You don’t have to place paper between every page, just every 15-30 pages. Change blotting paper every few hours.

If you can’t treat books immediately seal them in zip-loc type bags and store them in the freezer.

Books and paper don’t have to be directly in the water to experience damage. High humidity is enough for the growth of mold. It is important to remove these books and papers to a location with fans and good air circulation to lower humidity. Lay them flat and open in an area of good air movement. You do not need to use blotting paper.

After papers and books are completely dry, they may still retain a musty smell. If the smell remains after a few days place them in a closed container with an open box of baking soda. Be sure the papers and books are completely dry. Do not let the baking soda touch the books or papers. After a few days the smell should be gone or vastly improved.

If you have tried everything, and papers or photos develop mold, digitally scanned them and throw them away. Do not keep moldy items in your home. Move them outdoors to take photos. Again, it is amazing what can be done to enhance and save the information and memories.

If you are heading out to help following a disaster and would like to help saving memories and important papers take the following: a bucket, white paper towels, waxed paper, sealable plastic bags (all sizes), string or narrow rope and clothespins and these directions.

Now is the time, if you have not already done so, to begin a preparedness binder so you will have information available when a disaster happens to you or a loved one or if you are heading out to help in a disaster area. Be sure to place your binder in a safe place when you have warning of an impending disaster.

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