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Tips for the Care of Water-Damaged Family Valuables and Heirlooms

Release date: 
August 3, 1999
Release Number: 

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- The floodwaters have receded, you've cleaned up the mess--you can now return to your home. What do you do about those precious possessions that have been damaged in the flood?

Family valuables and heirlooms can sometimes be saved after they've been damaged by water in a disaster such as the storms and flooding that recently struck Iowa.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has obtained the following recommendations from the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC) and the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property (NIC) for the recovery of water-damaged belongings.

Ten Tips for Recovering Water-Damaged Valuables:

  • If the object is still wet rinse with clear, clean water or a fine hose spray. Clean off dry silt and debris with a soft brush or dab with a damp cloth. Be careful not to grind debris into the object.

  • Air dry objects indoors if possible. Sunlight and heat may dry certain materials too quickly, causing splits, warpage and buckling.

  • Inhibit the growth of mold and mildew by reducing the level of humidity. Increase airflow with fans, open windows, or air conditioners and dehumidifiers.

  • Remove heavy deposits of mold growth from walls, baseboards, floors and other household surfaces with commercially available disinfectants. Avoid using disinfectants on historic wallpapers.

  • If objects are broken or begin to fall apart place all broken pieces, bits of veneer and detached parts in clearly labeled open containers. Do not attempt to repair objects until completely dry or, in the case of important materials, until you have consulted with a professional conservator.

  • Documents, books, photographs, and works of art on paper may be extremely fragile when wet--be careful when handling them. Free the edges of prints and paper objects in mats and frames if possible. These should be allowed to air dry. Soaked books and papers should be air dried or kept in a refrigerator or freezer until a professional conservator can treat them. Please note, photographs and negatives that have gotten wet and stuck together should never be pulled apart. Soak them in clean water until they separate on their own. Rinse them in more clean water. Do not touch the wet surface. Allow them to dry on a clean, smooth surface.

  • Textiles, leather, and other organic materials will also be severely affected by exposure to water and should be allowed to air dry.

  • Remove wet paintings from the frame but not from the stretcher. Air dry, face up, away from direct sunlight.

  • Furniture finishes and painted surfaces may develop a white haze or bloom from contact with water and humidity. These problems do not require immediate attention. Consult a professional conservator for treatment.

  • Rinse metal objects exposed to floodwaters, mud, or silt with clear water and dry immediately with a clean, soft cloth. Allow heavy mud deposits on large metal objects such as sculpture to dry. Caked mud can be removed later. Consult a professional conservator for further treatment.

Because the information given is general, FEMA, AIC and NIC strongly recommend that professional conservators be consulted regarding the appropriate method of treatment for historic objects.

Last Updated: 
January 3, 2018 - 13:04