Salvaging Family Treasures


You can buy new furniture and carpets. But what about family photos, mementos, and other irreplaceable keepsakes? There may be ways to save them. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided the following tips after consulting with preservation experts.

On this page:

General Advice

  • Air-dry items. Do this indoors if possible. Sunlight and heat might cause splits, warping, and buckling.
  • If the object is still wet, rinse it with clear and clean water or a fine spray.
  • If the object is dry, clean off any silt and debris with a soft brush. Another option is to dab it lightly with a damp cloth.
  • Reduce humidity in the home to lower the potential for mold and mildew. To do this, increase the airflow with fans, open windows, or air conditioners and dehumidifiers.
  • Unfortunately, it may not be possible to save everything. Prioritize the items that are most significant and important.

For Photos, Documents, Books, and Artwork on Paper

  • These may be extremely fragile when wet, so handle with care.
  • Air-dry when possible. If the item is framed, remove it if possible so the edges of the item also can dry.
  • Wet photos and negatives that are stuck together should never be pulled apart. Instead, soak them in clean water until they separate on their own.
  • After they are separated, lightly rinse them in fresh, clean water. Do not touch the wet surface. Dry them on a clean, smooth surface.
  • Soaked books and papers should be air-dried or kept in a refrigerator or freezer until a professional conservator can treat them.

For Wet Paintings

  • Remove them from the frame. Do not remove the stretcher. The stretcher is the wooden frame or bar that is attached to the artwork to keep it from curling or rolling up.
  • Air-dry them face up, away from direct sunlight.

Sources of Additional Advice

There may be special situations that these tips do not cover. Or the damage may be so great that you cannot undo it yourself. In those cases, you may need to pay a professional conservator to help. The following organizations can help you find a conservator or can provide additional free advice.