After the Flood Recedes: Tips for Salvaging Wet Records

Many important public records and beloved personal treasures are damaged by water during disasters, whether they are floods, fires or leaky pipes.  When faced with wet records, the following tips may assist in preserving these items for the future. 

1: Keep it Cool

Confronted with wet books, documents, photographs and fabrics, you may be tempted to try to use heat to dry them. But “Keep It Cool” is the best advice. If possible, get these materials into a cool space, or, even better, into a freezer. This will provide stability and reduce the risk of mold growth, while you focus on more immediate concerns, such as:

1, Assessing insurance coverage

2. Contacting recovery vendors 

3. Buying recovery supplies

2: Air Drying

If you have wet books or paper records, it’s best to freeze them if they can’t be dried immediately. People affected by the flooding have more time-sensitive responsibilities in the immediate aftermath, so freeze your books and papers if you can’t get them dry within three days.

When you get ready to salvage your wet papers, consult the instructions prepared by the Northeast Document Conservation Center.

3: Salvage Companies

The Local Records Program (of the Missouri State Archives) maintains a list of vendors offering records- and preservation-related supplies and services. Included on this list are companies that specialize in drying books and papers, although most focus on large-scale salvage operations for libraries, businesses and local/county governments.

For instructions on drying small quantities of  books and papers and for information on drying photographs.  (Northeast Document Conservation Center)

4: Mold

When books and paper documents are wet, there is a great threat of mold developing after about 72 hours (slightly longer during cold weather). The best way to prevent mold growth is to place wet items in cool and dry conditions—Under 70 degrees and humidity Below 50%. If mold develops, you need to deal with your materials carefully, paying special attention to your health (use a respirator and surgical gloves).

Two well respected sources for ways to deal with mold are:   Sandra Nyberg’s “Invasion of the Giant Spore” and “Managing a Mold Invasion,” from the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts

5: Salvaging Wet Photographs

Saving personal photographs is a high priority for many people following a flood. A step-by-step guide for such situations is available from the Northeast Document Conservation Center.

6: Finding a Conservator

To restore books, papers, photographs, quilts and other fabrics, furniture and other family treasures, the skills of a trained conservator may be required.

The Local Records Program (of the Missouri State Archives) maintains a list of vendors offering records- and preservation-related supplies and services, including conservators with various specialties in or near the state of Missouri.

The American Institute for Conservation has a nationwide database for finding conservators in various specialties.

If you have never worked with a conservator before, you may want to consult Jan Paris’ “Choosing and Working with a Conservator.”

7: Salvaging Textiles

Fabrics such as clothing, quilts, and needlework can be severely damaged by flood water. If you cannot begin salvaging them immediately, it’s best to place them in a plastic bag or other container while they are still wet, then freeze them until you can take the proper steps.

The American Institute for Conservation has basic instructions for salvaging water-damaged textiles.

8: Furniture and Wooden Objects

Wooden objects such as furniture and picture frames require special handling when damaged by water. The National Park Service provides a straightforward online leaflet detailing how to move, dry and salvage furniture and wooden objects.


Disaster preparedness can often prevent, or limit, the consequences of most events.  In case of catastrophic disaster, preparedness plans will provide guidance on recovery.  The Missouri State Archives has created a Disaster Preparedness Best Practices Poster listing the basic steps to prepare for disasters.