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Tips For Saving Water-Damaged Valuables And Heirlooms

Release date: 
September 27, 2003
Release Number: 

Baltimore, MD -- "Even though valuables and family heirlooms have been damaged by the recent storms, they can sometimes be saved if certain procedures are followed," says William Lokey, federal coordinating officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Maryland.

FEMA has obtained recommendations from the American Institute for the 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:

  1. 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.

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

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

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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 also be air dried, or may be 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 to dry on a clean, smooth surface.

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

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

  9. Furniture finishes and painting 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.

  10. Rinse metal objects exposed to flood waters, 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, the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, the National Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Property, and FEMA, strongly recommend that professional conservators be consulted regarding th...

Last Updated: 
January 3, 2018 - 12:52