“Water can cause the bleeding of inks and dyes in journal entries, digital photographs, and decorative papers, causing them to appear blurry or streaked,” says this article in Scrapbook Retailer. “When exposed to water, some prints and materials will soften and stick to adjacent surfaces. Papers that get wet can become distorted or warped and some may even dissolve completely in water.”
Even more yucky? “Dirty water from sewage leaks, floodwaters from rivers, and colored liquids like fruit juices make the clean-up process more difficult and staining of the album materials more likely.”
Preventing the damage in the first place is of course the best option, but it’s not always an option we’re given. Floods happen. Spills happen. Windows get left open.
So what to do if a scrapbook gets wet? Or a photo album or loose pictures?
First, says the Library of Congress, “Take necessary safety precautions if the water is contaminated with sewage or other hazards or if there is active (wet or furry) mold growth.”
“In general, wet photographs should be air dried or frozen as quickly as possible,” states the Northeast Document Conservation Center website. “Once they are stabilized by either of these methods, there is time to decide what course of action to take.” But don’t delay too long, they say. “Time is of the essence: the longer the period of time between the emergency and salvage, the greater the amount of permanent damage that will occur.”
A few more tips from that same article on the Northeast Document Conservation Center website, written by Gary Albright:
- Save prints before plastic-based films, as the latter will last longer.
- Allow water to drain off photos first, as needed. Then air dry photographs, face up, laying flat on paper towels. Negatives should be hung to dry.
- Separate wet photos from each other and other items (like a scrapbook page) as much as possible.
- If photos are stuck together, freeze them as a bunch, wrapped in wax paper. Then thaw them. As they gradually thaw, peel photos off and let them air dry.
- Don’t worry if pictures curl up while they are drying. You can flatten them once they’re totally dry.
Unfortunately, some very old photo types will not survive a water bath at all. Others may weather a quick dip but not long-term exposure to dampness. It’s SO important to preserve images digitally! You can scan entire album pages if they fit on your scanner, so you can record captions or the arrangement of pictures on a page. Or use a scanner like Flip-Pal that has stitching software to help stitch together larger images.
In a pinch, snap pictures with your mobile device: close-ups of photographs and captions, and full-page images that at least capture how it’s laid out (even if at a lower resolution). Mobile Genealogy: How to Use Your Tablet and Smartphone for Family History Research by Lisa Louise Cooke has a chapter on digital imaging apps that can help you digitally preserve family albums and scrapbooks–whether they’ve gotten wet or not.
Lisa Louise Cooke trusts all our computer files–including images, sound files and videos that have taken thousands of hours to create–to Backblaze online backup service, the official backup of Genealogy Gems. For about $5 a month (or $50 for an entire year), you can protect your files, too. It only takes a couple of minutes to give yourself the peace of mind of knowing that, even if disaster strikes, you’ll still be able to recover your digital files quickly and easily. Go to www.Backblaze.com/Lisa to get started.