After the flood – rescuing damaged records and photos

Media release: Thursday, 20 March 2008

Help is at hand to salvage water-damaged personal records. The National Archives of Australia has released website content that highlights practical steps to take when faced with wet personal documents.

'Important personal papers such as passports, wills or certificates can get wet from a variety of sources that range from dramatic floods to leaking pipes. These events are all termed floods, and all present the same dangers to vital personal papers,' said Ian Batterham, National Archives Specialist Conservator.

Advice on the website includes what should be retrieved first and how to dry out material. There are also sections on how to salvage paper documents, colour and black and white photographs, CDs, videos, tapes, books and magazines. Tips for recovering precious items include methods for removing the dirt and debris that often accompanies flood water.

'When it comes to saving personal memories after the devastation of flood the key is to act quickly and on good advice. Natural disasters cannot be prevented, but their effect on personal collections can be significantly minimised.'

'While it may appear that they simply need a 'good dry out' or 'can be dealt with later', without proper care items will deteriorate rapidly and extensively and may not be recoverable. The new advice is an easily accessible and authoritative source for anyone needing to rescue damaged documents,' he said.

Apart from fire, water is the most destructive element that can affect personal archives. If left wet, paper quickly weakens and water soluble inks will run. Mould often creates irreversible damage as it grows, staining and digesting the paper. Photos and books or pamphlets that are water damaged can become permanently stuck together.

Read the full advice on salvaging flood-damaged records.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017