[Editor’s note: Mary V. Danielsen of documentedlegacy.com provides techniques for drying photos based on her experience with Superstorm Sandy.]
In disaster recovery you have to move fast to recover any possessions before mold sets in. Imagine if the worst case scenario happened to your home. The first things you reach for are your forgotten valuables and your photos, which are now covered in water, mud and housing materials.
Don’t throw out your photos and family documents. They may look like a muddy wet mess when you retrieve them, but there is plenty of hope for restoring them. Your first priority, however, should be to thoroughly dry them.
If you have the financial means to send your photos to a professional conservator, by all means, do it. If not, then ignore the traditional rules of photo conservation and focus instead on doing the best you can at the moment with the resources you have.
You can rescue your family history, but don’t expect to clean, dry and restore the actual images to their original locations in frames or albums. You have to expect to clean your images enough to get some restored and the remainder reprinted. Otherwise your original photos will continue to deteriorate at a faster rate than undamaged photos.
Consider these quick photo drying techniques that can used anywhere with possessions you may already own or that can be bought inexpensively at most stores. The techniques below assume most households may be without electricity for a period of time following a disaster.
Put it on ice
If you have electricity, however, put your wet photos in plastic bags in cold storage, such as a freezer, until you can work on them. Allow adequate time for photos to defrost before you start drying and restoring them.
Grab some containers
Separate your photos into small batches. If possible, position them vertically in buckets or paint trays. Recycle anything you have to create drying containers. This assists drying and helps to loosen dirt.
Always dry photos vertically
If you lay your photos on a flat surface it may exacerbate the prevalence of mold growth on the back. Vertical drying is faster.
String inexpensive clothes lines or twine across a room and use spring-loaded plastic clothes pins to hang them to dry. Clip the corner of a photo and hang it on a diagonal. An inexpensive clothes line can help dry thousands of photos quickly.
Folding clothes rack
Loop rubber bands and paper clips or binder clips over the rods of a folding clothes rack to hang images. Clothes racks can be placed outside in the sun and wind to dry photos quickly. A standard size folding rack can hold several dozen images.
Create space-saving photo drying racks by tying shoe laces to hangers like streamers and attaching photos with paper clips. With room to move and dry, you can fit 10-20 photos on a hanger with four strings.
Bath Tub Drying
Use magnets and your car to dry images outside. This is a neat trick and prevents curling of the photos.
Use duct tape and string to create a clothes line across your tub. Hang the photos to dry using paper clips, plastic clothes pins or binder clips on the corners. On the standard size tub you can dry about 100 photos.
You’re not cooking today
If you’re not using your oven while you’re working on your house, take out your oven racks and create a homemade drying rack. Clean the rack first to remove any food splatters. Position them between two chairs in the open air. Loop rubber bands or string over the edges and clip photos to dry. You can easily create another drying space for 30 photos.