State Archives Offers Suggestions for Saving Storm-damaged Documents

[This blog post comes from a Dept. of Cultural Resources press release – you can find other news related to NC Cultural Resources here.]

RALEIGH –- If your special papers and photographs are not in plastic, or stored somewhere safe, there are steps that may save water-damaged treasures.

Gov. Bev Perdue requested a Disaster Declaration for 18 North Carolina counties touched by fierce thunderstorms this past weekend, and 10 have been declared disaster areas by the federal government.  This is a time for all citizens to get their emergency plans and supply kits ready for the summer storm season.

The North Carolina State Archives, Department of Cultural Resources, recommends the following suggestions from Heritage Preservation (

Safety first. There may be health risks, so wear plastic or rubber gloves for cleanup.  If there is mold, wear a protective surgical mask or respirator, goggles and coveralls.

Prevent mold.  You need to work fast, as mold can form within 48 hours.  Reduce the humidity and temperature around your treasures quickly as you clean and dry them.

Can’t do it all? Objects that can’t be dealt with immediately should be put in open, unsealed boxes or bags.  Photos, papers, books, and textiles that can’t be treated in 48 hours should be frozen.

Air Dry. Gentle air drying is best, indoors if possible. Avoid using hair dryers, irons, ovens, and prolonged exposure to sunlight.  This will do irreversible damage.  Increase good airflow with fans, air conditioners and dehumidifiers.

Handle with Care.  Use great care when handling heirlooms, which can be especially fragile when wet.  Separate damp materials by removing contents from drawers, taking photographs out of damp albums, removing paintings from frames, and placing paper towels between pages of wet books.

Clean Gently.  Loosen dirt and debris on fragile objects gently with soft brushes and cloths as rubbing can grind in dirt.

Salvage photos.  Rinse photographs carefully in clean water.  Air dry photos on a plastic screen or paper towel, or by hanging a corner with a plastic clothespin.  Don’t let the surfaces contact while drying.

Prioritize.  Focus on what’s most important if you can’t save everything.

Call in a pro.  A conservator may be able to help with a badly damaged treasure.  Set it aside in a well-ventilated room until you find professional help.  For help, contact the Guide to Conservation Services, American Institute for Conservation, (202) 452-9545,

These recommendations are for guidance only.  Neither Heritage Preservation nor the State Archives in the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources assumes responsibility or liability for damaged objects.

The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources is the state agency with the mission to enrich lives and communities, and the vision to harness the state’s cultural resources to build North Carolina’s social, cultural and economic future. Information is available 24/7 at