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Preserving damaged photographs

A common question in the minds of families as they suffer through the tragic aftermath of flooding or fire and its resultant water damage is "Can I save my photos?" According to Eastman Kodak Company, there is hope if proper care is taken.

The first task is to decide if it might not be easier to replace the photos by arranging with relatives to copy their photos. Alternatively, if you have undamaged negatives, make copies of them rather than trying to salvage what remains of your collection.

If restoration is the method you choose there area several was to go about this. I also am afraid to say that even under ideal conditions there is inevitably will losses. The best we can hope for is to minimize the damage and reduce the amount of loss.

Time is of the essence: the longer the period of time between the emergency and salvage, the greater the amount of permanent damage that will occur. If you have decided to salvage your photos, foremost do not let the photos dry out. They tend to stick together and when dry will probably not come apart without irreparable damage.


Mold and Mildew

Saving Moldy Photos

Isolate moldy photos in a cool, dry location, outside if possible, with plenty of air circulation where they will not contaminate nearby items; do not return the photographs to their original location until the conditions causing the mold growth are addressed if at all possible.

Once the photo materials are removed to a less hospitable environment, the mold will become loose and powdery as the substrate dries and the mold turns dormant. It may be gently brushed off the photographs with a very soft brush: because the mold is merely dormant, if it remains on the photos or is distributed throughout the space and onto other objects, it will grow whenever environmental conditions are favorable again. Mold should, therefore, be removed either outdoors (outdoors is best) or into a vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter – regular household vacuum cleaners will merely exhaust and re circulate mold back into the room. If a vacuum is used be aware that the suction can irreparably damage photos that are brittle or already show signs of deterioration.

Although any direct light source can be damaging, and cause fading, brief exposure to sunlight can stop mold growth and aid drying. Exposure should not exceed 1 to 2 hours. There is some trade off here - the limited amount of sun may fade the photo somewhat but will cause the mold to go dormant. This slight amount of time exposed to the sun should cause little if any noticeable fading.

Clean the mold only after it is dry and inactive. Very gently wip or bush away the mold residue.

It is always – Safety First – wear rubber gloves, eye protection, an appropriate respirator and clothing you can wash in very hot water and bleach or discard. Do not proceed with any treatment if any negative health effects are observed, no matter how minor they appear.

Valuable artifacts and photographs should be handled by a professional conservator.

Monitor the affected photos for a few months after the mold clean-up. If there is any re-occurrence and the mold has again become active, there may be no other solution other than to copy the photograph and dispose of the moldy one.

Emergency Instructions for Water Damaged Photographs

In case of flood or other water damage, the following procedures should be followed immediately after a person can get to the photographs:

Keep them wet! Letting the photos dry and stick to each other or to their envelopes usually causes irreversible damage.

Don't let them stay wet so long they begin to disintegrate. Two or three days is about as long as they should stay wet. If they cannot be salvaged, washed, and dried in that length of time, then perhaps one should consider freezing them. However, freezing creates many new risks, such as cracking and emulsion damage from ice crystals.

Put the wet photos in clean plastic buckets of cold water. Immerse wrappers, envelopes, album pages, and all. Add ¼ cup of Formaldehyde for every gallon of cold water. Try to keep the water temperature at 65 degrees or lower.

As quickly as time will allow begin carefully removing the water-soaked

Prints, negatives, slides, etc. from the cold water, and pul the out of their wrappers. Wash them in running water (65 degrees) for 15 minutes or longer.

Hang the negatives and slides on a clothesline in a dust-free location to dry.

Air dry the prints in a dust-free area on fiberglass screens.

To remove the curl from the dry prints, carefully slip them (individually) between 2 pieces of acid-free paper (or other appropriate substance) and flatten them out for a day or two under heavy weight.

The following recipe was taken from Eastman Kodak pamphlet No. E-34

Recipe for Gelatin Glue

1 tablespoon gelatin (Knox Plain Gelatin or emulsion-quality gelatin).

¼ teaspoon ammonium hydroxide (concentrated).

¼ teaspoon Kodak Photo-Flo solution (1:200 dilution). *

¼ cup warm distilled water (120 degrees F).

For thinner mixture use ½ cup water. *Make up a solution of 1 part Kodak PhotoFlo solution to 200 parts distilled water, then use ¼ teaspoon of this dilution n the recipe as given above.

Dissolve gelatin in warm water, cool, then add ammonium hydroxide and diluted PhotoFlo solution. Strain warm gelatin solution through an absorbent cotton pad or cloth.

Keeps for only two or three days at room temperature. Mix fresh or keep in refrigerator. For use, warm the gel solution slightly to liquefy. Apply with new brush or cloth. This formula is very similar to the chemistry of the gelatin layer in photographic products. Remember to avoid mixing or storing this adhesive using products containing plasticizers, metals, or other substances that might be harmful to photographs. It can be used in many ways, including the following: 1) as an adhesive for mounting prints. The mounts can later be removed by soaking. 2) To adhere fractured gelatin emulsion which has lifted from dry plates. 3) To clean and "heal" abraded gelatin print surfaces.

Preserving Photos - Freezing Photographs
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