How to preserve a flood-damaged item

The recent weather event and flooding in Queensland and northern New South Wales has sadly destroyed many homes and the personal items they contain including photos, important documents and valuables. All hope is not lost, if you act quickly now you may have a chance of recovering some of this items. While for many the immediate focus will be cleaning out homes, there is a chance to recover some important items. Remember if there is an opportunity to freeze items such as images and photographs, that will give you time to work on them in the future.

Here are some tips from the team at Queensland Museum on how to preserve a flood-damaged item:

Safety is priority – if it’s flooded, forget it!

Only enter a flooded site when it is safe to do so. Wear protective equipment including closed-in shoes, gloves, face masks and safety glasses.

Set up a salvage station

Set up a table or large flat surface and line it with clean, absorbent material such as a towel. Gather supplies including plastic boxes or large containers to sort items, a piece of string or a clothesline, and clothes pegs to hang light items up to drip dry.

Fans, dehumidifiers and freezers are usable if power is available and safe to use.

Start sorting

Attend to water damaged and precious or sentimental items first. Leave items that are safe and in a stable area where they are. Carefully remove items and sort them into boxes by type, condition and treatment required. Such as:

  • Items that need to be washed
  • Items that need to be dried
  • Items that require freezing.
Damaged photographs at the Family History Association for
North Queensland. Image: Annette Burns.

Recovery options

Now assess the best recovery option for each of your items. Remember wet items will be very fragile.

For wet photographs, books and paper items:

Gently separate photographs while avoiding touching the image. Remove from frames or photo albums. Carefully rinse in cold water. Lay photographs flat on top of absorbent material image side up or hang up to dry.

Stand books up while supporting the spine. Place absorbent material such as paper towel in between the cover as well as every 10 – 15 pages.

Freeze images in a plastic bag if recovery is not immediately possible.

Watch now

The links below are for different how to videos within the ‘Caring for Collections’ series – a conservation series by the State Library of Queensland in collaboration with Queensland Museum.

Dealing with disaster – Part one: how to recover a flood-damaged collection

Dealing with disaster – Part two: how to salvage your water damaged collection

Museum Development Officers

What happens to museum collections across the state after a natural disaster? Our team of Museum Development Officers often help out small communities with the conservation of objects and provide assistance to apply best practise of museum skills. Find out more about their incredible and interesting work on the Museum Revealed podcast and the MDO blog.

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