May 25, 2004
Precious Heirlooms from Flood Waters
As the tornado damage cleanup work continues and the flood
water recede, homeowners may be finding some of their heirlooms
damaged. Personal items such as heirlooms, keepsakes, photographs,
textiles and books may be found wet, torn or almost destroyed.
Some items, with proper handling, however, may be saved and
wet photos carefully; the surfaces may be fragile. Wet photos
may be rinsed in clean water and sealed in a plastic garbage
bag. If possible, put wax paper between each photo. If a freezer
is available, freeze the photos immediately. Later, photos
may be defrosted, separated and air-dried. If no freezer or
refrigerator is available, rinse wet photos in clean water
and dry them, face up, in a single layer on a clean surface
(a table, window screen or clean plastic laid out on the ground).
Don't dry photos in direct sunlight. Don't worry if the photos
curl as they dry. A photo expert can be contacted later about
flattening them. With the use of technology, some damaged
photos can be scanned, and tears and spots corrected using
a photo editing program, and then printed. Family and friends
that have copies of photos of persons who have been involved
in loss of most of their possessions may want to offer copies
of their photos to the family to help replace the "family
textiles, such as quilts, laces, needlework or tapestries,
will be weaker and heavier when wet and will require extra
care. Wear plastic disposable gloves, protective clothing,
goggles, and if possible, use a respirator while working on
flood-damaged textiles. Do not attempt to unfold extremely
delicate fabrics if the fragile layers are stuck together.
Wait until they are dry and consult a conservator.
To remove mud and debris, re-wet the textiles with gently
flowing clean water or with a fine hose spray. Gently press
water out with the palm of your hand. Don't wring or twist
dry. Remove excess water with dry towels, blotting paper or
blank newsprint, especially if the dyes are bleeding. Avoid
stacking textiles while drying. Reshape the textile while
it is damp to approximate its original contours.
Don't place textiles in sealed plastic bags. Air dry indoors
with the lights on to inhibit mold and circulate the air with
air conditioning, fans and open windows. Use a dehumidifier
in the room with the wet textiles and drain the collecting
heirloom items are broken or begin to fall apart, place broken
pieces, bits of veneer and detached parts in labeled open
containers. Don't attempt to repair objects until completely
dry or, in the case of important materials, until you consult
with a professional conservator.
books and works of art on paper may be extremely fragile when
wet. Free the edges of prints and paper objects in mats and
frames, if possible. These should be allowed to air dry. Soaked
papers should also be air dried or may be kept in a refrigerator
or freezer until they can be treated by a professional conservator.
the backing and wet paintings from the frame but not from
the stretcher. Air dry, face up, away from direct sunlight.
If the books are underwater or soaking wet, pick up each one
with both hands and place it in a non-paper container (milk
crate, wire basket, etc.) so it can be transported safely
to an area where it can dry. Keep the book closed while you
move it; wet books are very fragile. Remember: the wetter
the book, the heavier it is and the more likely to be damaged
by rough handling.
best way to dry books is with cool, dry, circulating air.
Never dry them by using an oven, microwave, hair dryer or
iron. If the volume is very wet, place it flat on a clean
table or bench that is covered with absorbent material. Carefully
place sheets of absorbent material (paper towels, blotters
or uninked newsprint) between sections of pages. Don't distort
the binding, though. Change the sheets as they become wet.
To speed drying, change the location of the blotters each
time they are replaced. With books that have coated pages,
use waxed paper between pages.
If the volume is damp or only partially wet, stand it upright
on its driest edge with its pages fanned open. If you are
using fans to keep the air circulating, make sure the spines
or covers are facing the breeze. If needed, insert blotting
materials between pages. Once the book is dry but feels cool
to the touch, close it and place it on its side with a slight
weight on it. Check regularly for mold growth. You can also
freeze the books to be defrosted and dried later, when conditions
tips are available through the FEMA Web site at www.fema.gov,
and through www.heritageemergency.org,
and the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension publications
on Care of Quilts -Cleaning (NF02-525), Conservation of Textiles
Items (NF93-137), Preservation of Paper Items (NF93-138) available
through the local Extension Offices or on the web
conservators may be contacted through the free Conservation
Services Referral System of the American Institute for Conservation
of Historic and Artistic Works at (202) 452-9545.
Local and area professional photographers, museum personnel
and librarians may be able to offer more tips.
Shirley Niemeyer, Extension Specialist, Housing & Environment,
University of Nebraska-Lincoln FEMA and the Heritage Emergency
National Task Force, a coalition of 34 national organizations
and federal agencies.