What to do When an Old Photograph has Water Damage

Removing mold from photos

A common problem we see at The Photo Restoration Center is old photos with water damage. Sometimes the pictures have blotches, while other times mold forms leaving unsightly patterns and marks. If you’ve found a favorite family photograph altered by water, try not to despair. There are fixes, and our professional photo restorers will likely be able to help.  Read on to find out more.

What causes water damage to old photographs?

Floods, leaks, and spillages are responsible for the more devastating forms of water damage. Many types of photographic prints can withstand a certain amount of time in water. But, over a sustained period, the water will break down the emulsion of the photo. This not only damages the image, but it also causes the surface to become tacky, which is why water damaged images frequently stick together.

Perhaps a less dramatic form of water damage, although no less upsetting, occurs slowly, over time due to the photos existing in our homes. Modern housing and our lifestyles mean there is a significant amount of moisture in the air.  Factors like central heating, cooking and wet washing all contribute to creating a moist, humid environment and will ultimately lead to photographs getting damaged. Photos stored in or close to kitchens and bathrooms are especially at risk, and you may well find that those displayed in a frame get stuck to the glass.

How to dry out wet photos

If your old photos are wet for any reason, we urge you to seek expert advice from a professional conservator. There is advice online recommending soaking pictures in water to make it easier to separate sticky photographs. But, there have been many different print processes used over the years, which means your photos will respond differently depending on their age. You may inadvertently damage your photos beyond repair. The North East Document Conservation Center offers this advice for emergencies.

When in a straightforward situation with just one or two wet photographs that don’t require cleaning, there are some things you can do. Mold grows on damp photographs, so drying them out as quickly as possible is essential. Follow these steps:

  • Never force photos apart if they are stuck together – this is likely to result in irreversible damage.
  • Be extremely careful not to wipe or touch the wet photo surface. Wear gloves and handle the photograph by the edges.
  • Lay the photograph face-up on a plain paper towel. Change this towel every two hours until the photo is dry.
  • Keep the drying photograph inside and use a fan (not pointing at the photograph) to encourage the movement of air in the room.

If your water damaged photograph is stuck to its glass frame, please DON’T try to remove it. Read our advice on what to do when an old photograph is stuck to glass.

How to prevent an old photograph getting water damage

First things first, we strongly recommend taking high-quality scans of your most treasured photographs. This ensures you have backups no matter what happens. Our beginner’s guide to scanning for photo preservation and restoration will help you get started.

There are also several things you can do to stop water damage. Firstly, be sure to avoid storing your photos in an old shoe box. Instead, put them in an acid-free, professional-quality album inside a sealed box to double their protection against the elements. Generally, attics, garages and basements are not good places for photo storage. These rooms usually have variable temperatures and damp conditions – breeding grounds for water damage and mold on old photographs. We suggest keeping photos in a place where the temperature is well controlled, and away from bathrooms, windows or kitchens.

water damaged photo

Can water damaged photos be repaired?

The good news is that our photo restoration services fix a lot of photographs with water damage. We regularly receive pictures with the tell-tale signs of mold or water spots, and people are pleasantly surprised to learn how much we can do to help.

Each photo and its damage is different, and this sadly means that some water damage is irreparable when handled incorrectly. Ripping stuck photos apart or soaking some types of photos can completely ruin them. So, remember to handle your photos with care, seek expert advice and take backups of all antique photographs as soon as possible.

Does your old photograph have water damage? Our experts offer the highest quality photo restoration services to fix damaged photos. Send us a scan or snapshot of your photo for a complimentary quote.