Restoring Flood-Damaged Books and Papers

Jeanette A. Tucker  |  7/16/2008 9:04:11 PM

Books and papers that have been damaged by floodwaters are very fragile. They are also very likely to mold and may be difficult to dry successfully. It is important to wear gloves when dealing with damaged books and papers as they may be a health hazard. For best results, dry the documents slowly. Make copies of valuable papers as a precautionary measure as the floodwater may cause rapid deterioration. Please be aware that it is nearly impossible to restore a flood-damaged book or document to its original condition.

Tips to Restoring Books and Papers

  • Carefully remove the papers from the water.
  • If the damage is from dirty floodwater, gently rinse the papers in a container of clear, cold water. If papers are especially fragile, try laying the papers on a flat surface and rinsing with a gentle spray of water.
  • For damp and slightly wet items, air drying is suitable. Spread the document out on a flat surface protected by paper towels. Replace the paper towels when they become saturated.
  • Sprinkle corn starch or talcum powder between pages to absorb the moisture. Leave the powder on for several hours and then brush it off.
  • Place books on end with the pages separated.
  • When pages are partially dry, pile and press books to keep pages from wrinkling and crumpling. Alternate drying and pressing until the books are thoroughly dry. This will help prevent mold. Use a fan to hasten drying.
  • Covers of books can be wiped with a solution of one part rubbing alcohol and one part water.
  • Vinyl and leather book covers can be lightly coated with petroleum jelly or leather or vinyl dressing.
  • For valuable books that are nearly dry, consider pressing the pages with an electric iron set on low. Separate the pages to prevent musty odors.
  • When books are thoroughly dry, close them and use C-clamps to help them retain their shape.
  • Keep in mind that even if papers appear to have dried successfully, they may disintegrate because of substances contained in the floodwaters. As a precautionary measure, photocopy important papers and keep them in a moisture-proof container or have them digitally scanned.
  • Restoring and drying books and papers can be a very tedious process. If you don’t have time to clean and dry them, place them in zipper-type bags and freeze them to prevent mildew. You can come back later to clean and restore them if they are kept in a freezer. Place wax paper between the bags when placing them in the freezer. This will help when it is time to remove the important books and documents that need to be cleaned.
  • Remember that books and papers do not have to be in water to suffer damage. Extra humidity from water in the area is enough to trigger mold growth. Remove books and papers from the wet location as soon as possible. Place them in an area with fans to speed air circulation and lower humidity.
  • After your documents and books are completely dry, they may still have a musty smell. To combat this, place the papers in a cool, dry place for a few days. If the musty smell lingers, place the books or papers in an open box and put that box inside a larger closed container with an open box of baking soda. Be careful to prevent the baking soda from touching the documents and check the box daily for mold.

References

Caring for Important papers after a flood. Extension in Espanol.

Caring for Important Papers – Steps to Take Before and After a Flood. NASD.

Drying Books and Family Papers: University of Florida.

Drying Flood-Damaged Books and Family Papers: University of Minnesota Extension Service.

Emergency Response Tips for Wet and Damaged Objects: State of Georgia Archives.

Tips for Saving Water Damaged Papers and Books. http://genealogy.about.com

Prepared by:
Jeanette A. Tucker, Ph.D., Professor
Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service

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