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Clean, Dry, Repair and Disinfect Photos
By the RestorationSOS Educational Staff
Most water damaged photos, negatives and color slides can be cleaned and salvaged. Generally, it is recommended to have a professional conservator dry and salvage your photos as knowledge and experience are important to the success of this process.
The following are cases in which you must consult a professional conservator:
- The photos are irreplaceable
- The photos carry a great sentimental value or are family heirlooms
- You are unsure of the vintage or type of film or photo plate you have
- The emulsion of photos is damaged
- You need to freeze a photo to delay the damage
In other cases, if you choose to salvage your photos yourself, start with learning the basic methods of paper salvage and follow this step-by-step guide to prevent further damage.
Freezing Photos (optional)
If you have other dry-out and cleanup tasks that are more urgent, freeze your water-damaged photos since freezing will delay further damage. Consult a professional conservator before freezing any photos.
To freeze your photos, start with rinsing them gently (see detailed explanation below), then place your clean photos in a plastic bag (zip bags are recommended), place them in a container and put in the freezer.
Step 1 - Improve Environmental Conditions
Do not start the salvage process before you improve environmental conditions in the room. That includes lowering humidity levels and drying out the room completely to allow optimal drying conditions.
As with all water damage losses, time is if the essence as you must start treating photos within less than 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth. In addition, improving indoor conditions will allow you to handle photos indoors, as sun and wind will cause photos to curl.
Step 2 - Prioritize
By prioritizing you will set the salvage order. Here is a recommended salvage order:
- Photos for which there are no negatives or copies
- Photos for which the negatives are also water damaged
- Color photos
- Black and white negatives
Step 3 - Clean the Photos
Before drying your water damaged photos, you need to clean them and remove mud and debris. Lift the photos from the water holding it along the edge and gently rinse mud off both sides of the photo in a tub of clear, cold water. Change the water frequently.
Gently separate photos from each other or from water-logged albums. Do not force the separation and do not try to separate stacked photos by rubbing or touching the wet emulsion of the photo surface as you may cause further damage. Separate your photos as much as possible and then return them to the water tub.
Step 4 - Dry Out
To dry your clean photos, place each photo on a clean absorbent paper, face up. Do not use printed paper, as ink may transfer to your wet photos. Replace the paper every hour until the photos completely dry. You can speed up the process using a fan to air-dry the photos.