Dr. Benoit, archivist, shares tips for flood recovery

As the waters are beginning to recede, and victims of the Louisiana flooding disaster are starting to return home, our thoughts begin turning toward recovery. While we can replace many of our personal belongings, the same cannot be said for our damaged family treasures. Dr. Ed Benoit, III, Assistant Professor in the School of Library & Information Science, and coordinator of the Archival Studies and Cultural Heritage Resource Management graduate programs, offers the following advice for salvaging family treasures.

Mold can set in within 48 hours of materials being removed from the flood waters, so it is important to prioritize which materials you would like to salvage. Each of the sections below highlight the needs for books, documents, and photographs.


Remember that the water soaked books will be much more pliable and the paper prone to tearing when wet. Be careful when handling waterlogged books. You should clean the books by carefully and gentle moving individual books through clean water (see the video “Salvage of Water Damaged Books,” below). Once the books are clean, you can either air dry them or freeze them to air dry later.


Individual documents are even weaker than books, so it may not be possible to clean all of the dirt off through the techniques described above. Additionally, you must provide significant support while handling the wet documents. If the document is strong enough, you can use clotheslines to dry the documents or you can rest them on a laundry drying racks (see the video, “Salvage of Water Damaged Documents and Leaflets,” below).


Family photographs often top the salvage prioritization list, and luckily, they can often be saved with a bit of work. If your photographs are in albums, you should initially treat them like books by gently moving the entire album through a bin of clean water in one motion. Once the albums are cleaned, you can carefully use a pair of scissors to remove the individual photographs from the album and then very carefully separate the photograph from the plastic covering (if it is in one). If the photograph is clean, you can simply air dry it or hang it to dry on a wash line with plastic clips. If the photograph itself is dirty, you can remove debris by submerging the photograph in a tub of clean water, and gently cleaning it with a soft brush under the water.

If the photographs are not in albums, you should rinse them in the clean water tub, separate them, clean the individual photographs (if necessary), and then dry them. Try to remove any framed photographs from within their frames—it is important to try and keep photographs from drying onto glass.

Freezing to Prevent Mold

If you do not have time to air-dry your documents, books or photographs (due to lack or power, space, etc.) you can freeze the cleaned objects and dry them later. To freeze the objects, wrap them in wax paper—photographs should be separated with the wax paper—and place them into freezer bags. You can them place them into your frost-free freezer and wait until you have the time and space to air dry them later.

Important Note: Do not try to freeze magnetic tape such as VHS tapes, reel-to-reel audio, cassette tapes, or camcorder tapes. If you have moving image or audio materials you would like to salvage, please see this guide.

Videos and Guides

The conservators of Preservation Australia posted several helpful YouTube videos on salvaging water-damaged materials.  Please note that any reference to temperatures in these videos will be in degrees Celsius.

Introduction to Salvaging Water Damaged Material, Mold and Freezing Options

Salvage of Water Damaged Books

Air Drying Techniques for Water Damaged Books

Salvage of Water Damaged Documents and Leaflets

Salvage of Water Damaged Photographs

Salvage of Water Damaged Objects

Salvage of Water Damaged Furniture and Wood

Salvage of Water Damaged Textiles


Here are some other useful guides:

Image Permanence Institute:

A Consumer Guide for the Recovery of Water-Damaged Traditional and Digital Prints


Northeast Document Conservation Center:

Emergency Salvage of Wet Books and Records

Emergency Salvage of Wet Photographs

Emergency Salvage of Moldy Books and Paper

Freezing and Drying Wet Books and Records


National Archives and Records Administration:

Emergency Salvage of Flood Damaged Family Records

Saving Family Treasures

Salvage Procedures


American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works:

Disaster Response and Recovery


Finally, if you would like to hire a professional conservator, you can locate one through the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.


Dr. Edward Benoit, III