Emergency Drying Procedures for Water Damaged Books and Collections

Safety Precautions:

  • Wear protective latex gloves and long sleeves.

If mold is present, wear a respirator. Some mold species are toxic; if any health effects are observed, contact a doctor and/or mycologist. When cleaning items with dry mold, make sure the mold spores are drawn way from you, i.e. by the use of a vacuum cleaner. Wash your hands after handling materials with mold.


  • Use fans to provide maximum air circulation but do not aim fans directly at the drying materials.

Absorb excess moisture using a clean sponge, paper or bath towels, etc. Do not blot on hand-written ink or fragile surfaces. Do not use printed newsprint for blotting; ink can transfer.

Air-drying Paper Documents, Maps, Posters, etc:

  • Paper is very fragile when wet and must be handled with care, provide adequate support.
  • Blot excess water off the documents.
  • Do not attempt to separate individual items while very wet. You may leave them in stacks no higher than 1/4" to dry.

If pages can be separated safely they can be interleaved using absorbent or separating materials, such as waxed paper. Change interleaving materials until item is dry.

Clean, unrusted window-screens stacked with bricks or wood blocks between them will provide a drying surface with maximum air circulation. If drying items on a hard surface, cover area with absorbent materials and change when wet. When items are almost dry, place them between protective sheets such as unprinted newsprint and put a light weight on them to flatten.

Note: If the item is too wet when placed under weights, you may create a micro-environment for mold.

Air-drying Framed Items:

  • Place the frame glass-side down and remove the backing materials.
  • Carefully remove object and air-dry.

If the object is stuck to the glass, do not remove; instead dry frame with object inside, glass side down on a flat surface.

Air-drying Books:

  • Fan books open and stand on top or bottom edge; never stand them on the front edge.
  • Stand books on driest edge first to provide support. As the book dries turn it upside-down to the opposite edge every few hours.

Place a sheet of waxed paper larger than the pages between the front and back cover and adjacent page before standing on edges. Replace the interleaving as it becomes saturated.

When the book is no longer wet, but still cool to the touch, close and place on a solid surface with a slight weight to keep distortion to a minimum. Check frequently to ensure that no mold is growing.

Air-drying Photographic Materials:

  • Some historical photographs are very sensitive to water damage and may not be recoverable.
  • Most prints, negatives and color slides can be air-dried. The emulsion (picture or image) side should be face up.
  • Avoid touching the front surface of wet or damp photographic prints or negatives.

Note: The emulsion side often appears less glossy on negatives and color slides. To speed drying time, dry items on a clothesline using wooden or non-abrasive plastic clothespins. If the photographs or negatives are stuck together or the emulsion is damaged, contact a photographic conservator or your local historical society or museum for advice.

If photographic materials are covered with mud or dirt and are still wet, they may be gently rinsed in a bucket of cold, clean water, or a light stream of cold water, and then dried. Contact a photographic conservator. Do not freeze them unless advised to do so by a conservator.

Recovery of Water-damaged Collections with Mold:

  • Active mold looks either fuzzy or slimy.
  • Do not attempt to remove active mold.
  • Dormant mold is dry and powdery. See safety precautions above for handling mold.

Stop mold outbreaks by improving environmental conditions. Humidity levels should be as low as possible below 50%. Use a dehumidifier. Low temperatures -- below 68° Fahrenheit -- are recommended.

Short exposure to sunlight and circulating air outdoors may help to dry moldy items more rapidly.

Note: There may be light damage (fading or discoloration); use this treatment only with materials where some light damage is acceptable.

When the mold has become dormant through drying it can be removed, using a vacuum cleaner and/or a soft brush. After vacuuming, dispose of bag. Clean brushes to prevent spreading the mold spores. Safety precautions are particularly important in this stage.

Water damage to materials may be irreversible. The treatment of items of high monetary, historic or sentimental value should be referred to a conservator.

To select the professional best qualified to treat your object, contact the referral service maintained by The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC). They will provide you with a list of conservators in your area that can help you find appropriate conservation treatment:

The Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation (FAIC)
1717 K Street, NW, Suite 301
Washington, D.C. 20006
Telephone (202) 452-9545
FAX (202) 452-9328

The preservation procedures described here have been used by the Library of Congress in the care of its collections and are considered suitable by the Library as described; however, neither the owner of this website nor the Library will be responsible for damage to your collection should damage result from the use of these procedures.

[Note: This information is taken from The Library of Congress.  For more advice, see Caring for Your Book Collection.]





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