Tips to help salvage flood-damaged family heirlooms

Your family heirlooms are often irreplaceable. If they're damaged in a flood, the history and heritage of your treasured items may not be lost. The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers tips to help salvage flood-damaged photos, documents, furniture and more.

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If they're wet: Gently rinse wet photos in fresh water. Do not touch or blot the surface of the photos.

If they're enclosed in paper or plastic: Cut the enclosure and peel it away from the photo (rather than pulling out the photo).

If they're stuck to glass: Air-dry the photo indoors, glass-side down.

If they're stuck together: Soak photos in clean water (for up to 48 hours) until they separate.

How to dry: Hang the photos indoors, using clips at the edges. Alternately, lay the photos flat. Put them face-up, not touching, on absorbing paper.

Books and documents

If they need to be rinsed: Hold books closed for rinsing.

If papers or book covers are sticky: Place wax paper between the pages of documents or between book covers made of leather, cloth or paper and other pages.

How to dry: Freeze books and documents to dry them. This process may take several weeks, and up to several months. Store books in a sturdy container, spine-side down in a single layer. Stack documents so they do not get crushed. Turn the freezer to the lowest possible temperature, and use the frost-free setting for the drying process.

Wooden furniture

If the surface is wood: Use a sponge and clean water to gently clean wood. Blot and let air dry.

If the surface is painted: Air-dry painted furniture slowly indoors without removing dirt or moisture.

How to dry: Air-dry furniture slowly, indoors. FEMA warns that improper drying may cause warping or cracking, and that drying in the sun may fade wood stain.

Fabric items

If they're wet: Do not stack wet fabric. Be careful when moving wet fabrics — they may be heavier and weaker when wet.

If layers are stuck together: Don't unfold delicate fabric layers that are stuck together.

If they need to be rinsed: You can rinse off mud and debris from fabrics using flowing clean water or a fine spray from a hose.

How to dry: Do not wring out or twist fabric to dry. Use the palm of your hand to gently press water from fabric. Use dry towels or un-inked paper to absorb excess water. Reshape the fabric while it is damp. Do not store flood-damaged fabrics in sealed plastic bags.

Safety tips

When you're working with flood-damaged items, remember that floodwaters may have been contaminated, so it's important to protect yourself. FEMA advises that you wear disposable gloves made of vinyl or nitrile, as well as protective clothing and goggles. If it's possible, use a respirator while you're working, too.

As you use these tips to help preserve your family's heirlooms, keep in mind that you should consult a professional any time you're unsure about the best way to recover the item. A professional conservator can give specific advice about restoring and preserving your treasured possessions.