Here at Trefler’s, our team of expert conservators and restorers has put together a guide for caring for your family treasures after a natural disaster.
Follow instructions from your public safety officials and make sure to wear proper equipment before entering. Do not enter if you smell gas, see any downed electrical wires, or fear for the structural safety of the building. More here about safety and recovery from FEMA here.
Once you are in your home take as many photos and videos as you can.
It’s important to document any and all water damage for insurance purposes.
Once dry, store your items carefully for future assessment by a conservator.
Moisture creates an ideal environment for mold and mildew to flourish, which can cause further damage to your favorite wood or furniture items. To mitigate this it is recommended to get to your items within 48 hours of the disaster, but this is not always possible. In this case, the sooner you can care for your items, the better they will fare.
Find an area in which to dry your furniture and wooden items. If this is offsite from the disaster, that’s great but if not work with the space you have. Circulate the air in your space to encourage air drying. Use fans to direct air around the room, but do not point directly at your items. Set up a dehumidifier if you have the resources. If you have access to an air conditioned room where you can adjust humidity, this is even better. Keep the humidity low and the temperature even lower. This inhibits growth and allows for faster drying of water soaked furniture. Of course, these are ideal situations and real life doesn’t always allow for this. Do your best with what you have!
– Handle wet paper very carefully, with gloved hands if possible– Avoid touching the image portion of photographs or negatives – If documents or photos are covered in clay or debris, you can place them in a bath of fresh water and gingerly agitate to remove buildup, or gently rinse them in fresh water.
– Remove items from wet conditions and lay out flat on dry surface covered with paper towel or some other blotting paper.
– Layer your paper documents with blotting material – paper towel, newsprint (only use plain, as printed newspaper will transfer ink), and allow to air dry in small stacks.
– For photographs and negatives, allow to air dry face up individually atop blotting material. Change the blotting material frequently as it soaks up water.
– Items in wooden frames, remove from frames if they are not stuck to glass. If they are stuck to glass air dry with glass side down.
– Stand up and fan out wet books and photo albums to allow them to air dry.
– Blotting paper can be placed between pages to absorb moisture, as an alternative to standing/fanning.
– Clay or dirt covered wet books should be rinsed in fresh water to remove grime and then stood up/fanned out. If unable to be rinsed, or at the least separated, these pages will stick together irreversibly.
– If you have the resources, wet books can be stabilized by freezing. This stops mold from growing. You can then thaw and dry them at a later date in more controlled conditions.
Quick Tip: Try to avoid using high heat and sunlight to dry your paper items. While this is effective, it can cause fading and further damage to your documents and photos.
Every painting is a unique combination of materials, and will react to water damage in different ways. The best course of action is to consult a professional conservator. Below are some general tips for immediate action:
– Do not touch the painted surface or try to remove debris while wet, as this could cause paint removal or damage to the varnish covering your painting.
– If you have access to the back of the canvas you can attempt to gently blot moisture using paper towels. Do this only if the paint on the front is stable and not flaking or peeling off.
– Do not dry paintings with a hair dryer. Although it may sound like a quick fix, the heat can cause further damage which may be irreversible.
– If you can easily move the painting and it seems stable (not flaking, frame is not falling apart), place it face up on raised blocks to allow for air drying. Placing the painting on blocks allows for airflow below the piece to dry it from all angles.
– Rinse your pieces in clean water and dry with clean cotton towels or paper towel.
– Try not to push hard into grit or dirt when rinsing as this may cause scratches.
– Alternatively, once washed items may be put out under the sun to dry.
– If your item is porous or has a scratch/crack that is porous, it is best to remove the item from the moist situation and contact a conservator to assess the unique situation.
– If possible, remove items from moist conditions. If this is not possible put a barrier between the items and wet floor/carpet. For this you can use aluminum foil, wax paper or place it on raised blocks.
– For items that are mildly damaged, blot/wipe with towels or paper towel to remove moisture, then allow to air dry.
-For more severely waterlogged pieces, you can speed up the drying process by removing parts such as drawers, doors, panels. If the wood is too warped for this, wait until it has dried a bit further to try again.
– White mildew spots are easily wiped away with a 1:1 mixture of water and ammonia, wiping dry immediately afterwards. For other mold and fungus, consult a professional.
– Upholstered furniture often is difficult to salvage. If you must save something upholstered, it is best to consult a professional.
When salvaging delicate fabrics, lace, family quilts and the like, it is important to know that due to the variety of construction each item may react to water damage differently. Here are some basic tips;
– When moving a textile, place it onto a solid support for transport. This will help avoid stretching.
– If the fabric is extremely delicate, do not try to untangle while wet as this can lead to tearing and damage. Wait to separate delicate items when dry.
– Press your hands flat into the fabric to remove water, and use blotting paper/paper towels to absorb excess moisture. Don’t wring dry!
– Air dry your textiles laid flat, and don’t stack them. Shape them to their proper shape before allowing to dry.
If you are unable to retrieve your items, or if you have any questions about disaster aftercare, call a company specializing in conservation and disaster recovery for advice about next steps. Don’t throw out your treasures, you’d be surprised what can be saved!
Trefler’s is a furniture restoration company in Newton, MA that has the experience necessary to handle all of your furniture repair and reupholstery services. Call 617-965-3388 or contact them today for any questions about emergency flood water damage salvaging, restoration, and navigating the insurance claims process.