& Other Items
From Flood Waters
Flood waters leave significant structural devastation in their wake,
but sometimes the most wrenching losses are the smallest - personal items such as
heirlooms, photographs, textiles and books. With proper handling, however, some of these
items may be reclaimed from the flood waters.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers these tips based on
recommendations of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
and the Heritage Preservation.
- Handle wet photos carefully; the surfaces may be fragile. Wet photos
may be rinsed in clean water and sealed in a plastic garbage bag with a tie or a Zip-Lock
type plastic 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
- 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
- Valuable 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
- 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
- If 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.
- Documents, 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. Sodden papers should also be air dried or may be kept
in a refrigerator or freezer until they can be treated by a professional conservator.
- Remove 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.
- The 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 instead of absorbent sheets between
- 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
- 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 improve.
Professional conservators may be contacted through the free
Conservation Services Referral System of the American Institute for Conservation of
Historic and Artistic Works, 1717 K Street, NW, Ste. 301, Washington, DC 20006; (202)
Emergency Management Agency
Severe Weather Statements
Disaster Supply Kit -
Coping With A Flood Before, During & After
Salvaging Some Common
Flood Safety Tips
National Flood Insurance
Disaster Recovery Page
Office of Emergency Preparedness Phone Numbers