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Smithsonian experts demonstrate how to save water damaged keepsakes, items

Published on Thursday, November 8, 2018

Smithsonian experts demonstrate how to save water damaged keepsakes, items

Two Smithsonian preservation experts demonstrated some inexpensive ways to salvage flood-damaged photos, quilts and other keepsakes.
Miranda Summers Lowe and Nana Kaneko, with the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue initiative, met with residents on Nov. 1 in the Marlboro County FEMA Disaster Recovery Center inside of Marian Wright Edelman Public Library. 
Lowe, who works at the National Museum of American History, said she spends her days taking care of historical objects. 
She was happy to be able to pass along some tips they used to care for historic objects. 
"These are things you can do in your own home," Lowe said. "Everyday objects can make a real difference with your family heirlooms that have water exposure or flood damage."
Any restoration started with using gloves and wearing an N95 mask to protect against mold.
For photos that were stuck together, she put two inches of plain distilled water in a turkey pan. She emphasized the importance of using distilled water. 
"Even with bottled water, they put minerals in it which could settle on the photos and damage them,"  Lowe said.
Once the water is in the pan, you submerge the photos. As they sit in the water, they will start to pull apart. If they give any resistance, they can stay in the water for up to 48 hours without any damage. 
To dry, clip  the photos to window screening using binder clips and hang up for ventilation.
"It is a really cheap and easy way to dry a lot of things," she said. 
Do not touch the photos as they are drying. 
Freezing can be used as a way to recover objects. Books can be wrapped in freezer paper like a present using painters tape. 
Lowe said to wrap it as tight as possible. 
"If you put books or documents in the freezer, they will not mold or get any wetter," she said.
It was noted that regular Ziploc bags or plastic wrap will not work because moisture will be trapped inside. 
Kaneko suggested another method for books, which was air drying. If the spine of the book is steady,  you can set the book up and fan out the pages. Every so many days, flip the book upside down. She did note it was labor and time intensive. 
Kaneko also showed how to use the paper towel method.  It started by using the make-your-own-size kind with no design or ink on it. Every five to 10 pages, slip in one. Let it dry that way and the paper towel will absorb the moisture. You will have to change it a couple times a day.
A method for drying textiles involved the sandwich method. Lay down a towel. Then put the textile on the towel. You want to make sure to protect the textile by putting a layer of cheesecloth or microfiber towel on top, then a towel. 
Kaneko said to use a roller brush to roll out the moisture. 
"This is a good way of getting the moisture out without wringing out the textile," she said.
FEMA and the Smithsonian Institution co-sponsor the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a partnership of 42 national service organizations and federal agencies created to protect cultural heritage from the damaging effects of natural disasters and other emergencies.
For more information, email the Heritage Emergency National Task Force at HENTF@si.edu.

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Author: Dan McNiel

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