Save Your Photos

Natural Disasters and Your Photographs

Natural Disasters and Your PhotographsHurricanes Harvey and Irma have unfortunately reminded us that our own photographs are at risk, and unfortunately has shown us what can happen to our possessions and our photos during a natural disaster.  In this post, I will discuss how to store your photos to prevent water damage, as well as what to do if your photos are damaged by water.

Flooded home

Water Damage and Your Photographs

With tornadoes, and recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma, we are reminded that some of our most precious possessions are at risk.   Here are a number of things that we can do to mitigate risk to our photo collections and save our photos when they do get wet or damaged.

Protect – and Prevent 

  • Do not store your printed photos and albums in attics or basements.   It is just asking for trouble as they are the hottest and most flood-prone areas of your house.
  • You should store your albums in an interior closet or bookshelf out of direct sunlight.  They should be accessible, in case you need to access them quickly.
  • If a flood or other disaster is predicted you can store photos and albums in large zip-top bags.  Store them in larger plastic tubs if possible and tape the openings closed.  Mark all bins with their contents, and your name and address.
  • For digital photos, having a back up to the cloud or an external hard drive of your photos is a great option here.  If you are not backing up your photos to one of these devices, consider starting now.  In case of disaster, if your photos are in the cloud you do nothing, if they are backed up to an external hard drive, you can grab that and go.  
Storm damaged photo album
Photo Credit: Jim Burnham, Washington, IL Tornado Damage 2013


  • If photos, albums or documents are water damaged take action immediately.  Mold can start forming in about 48 hours. Wear a mask and gloves to handle photos in case the water that damaged your photos had been contaminated.
  • If possible, take photos of your wet albums before and scans of your photos stuck to glass before you disassemble them.  
  • Dispose of wet album covers and photo envelopes.
  • FREEZE THEM:  If you have electricity and do not have the time or the space to clean and dry out all of your photos at once, put your wet photos and albums in plastic bags and freeze them.   If possible, layer wax paper between individual photos or between album pages. When you are ready to work with them, defrost at room temperature.
  • If you don’t have electricity or access to a freezer, put photos and albums in sealed plastic bags to try and keep them from drying out completely.  Make sure to clean them within 48 hours, as mold will begin to grow.
  • Start with photos that you know have no digital backup or negatives and photos that have the least damage first.
  • If you have truly precious photos you may want to contact a Photo Organizer or a professional photo conservator to recover your photo.
  • Don’t try to pry photos out of albums or force pictures stuck together apart.  You may need to soak them in clean water to make removal easier.  
  • When cleaning photos try swishing them in a clean tub of water, if necessary use a soft brush to remove debris. If you are able, do a final rinse in clean, room temperature distilled water.
  • Spread the water damaged photographs out to dry, face up, laying them flat on an absorbent material such as blotters, unprinted newsprint, paper towels, or a clean cloth.  You can also hang try using craft clothespins on lines to increase the number of pictures you can dry at once. Some say this may reduce curling.  See Flip-Pal resource for more information.
  • Keep the air around the drying materials moving at all times. Fans will speed up the drying process and minimize the risk of mold growth.  If you have a dehumidifier consider running that as well.

After they are Dry

  • Photos will probably curl.  After completely dry you can stack heavy items on them to help flatten them out.  
  • Scan any photos that do not have a backup and save in a safe location.
  • Store photos in archival photo boxes or in albums with PVC free pages.

More Resources:
Flip-Pal DIY Photo Drying Techniques
Emergency Salvage of Wet Photos
Farmers Insurance