Tips for Drying Photographs, Record Albums, Film and Books

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Tips for Drying Photographs, Record Albums, Film and Books

Photographs and Negatives:

  • Prioritize drying prints before films
  • Do not allow prints or films to partially dry before setting up to air-dry; if necessary, keep waiting items in clean, cold water
  • Separate prints from frames, storage enclosures, or each other and lay out emulsion* side up; avoid touching emulsion
  • Remove films from storage enclosures and clip (along edges) to drying lines
  • If items are stuck to glass or to each other, freeze
  • If items are soiled with wet mud, gently rinse in clean, cold water, before setting up to air-dry or freeze
  • Items will curl upon drying; leave flattening to a conservator

*On negatives and color slides, the emulsion side is usually less glossy.

Note: Some photographic materials (e.g., wet collodion, ambrotypes, tintypes) are very sensitive to water damage and may not be recoverable.

Source and further information: Library of Congress

For photo prints that have been immersed in water, dirt, sand and stuck together, or album pages which are stuck together and cannot be opened

Follow the steps below without forcibly trying to peel them apart.

  • First remove any dirt, mud or sand on the surface using a soft bush. If you do not have a brush or if the photo prints are wet, proceed to Step 2. Be sure to wear thin rubber gloves. We recommend the use of medical gloves or gloves used for handling food.
  • Next, soak the lightly cleaned photo prints or album in clean room temperature (20-30°C, 68-86°F) water.
  • Take care not to damage the photo image on the surface, and slowly and gently peel away the overlapping photo prints in order, from top to bottom. In the case of an album, the surfaces of photo prints may be facing each other, so the album backing paper, etc. should be slowly and gently peeled away after being sufficiently soaked in water.
  • It is important to let water gradually seep into the spaces between parts stuck together, and take your time peeling them away. Be prepared to sacrifice the album to save the prints inside. If it does not peel away, do not forcibly try to do so. Soak for a little longer in water and wait for the edges to naturally peel apart slowly. Please be patient as this may take from 30 minutes to an hour if the pages are stuck together badly.
  • Once you have peeled away the photo prints, rinse in clean, cool water and leave to dry in the shade or in a dark place where dust will not settle on the photos. It is okay to spread photos out on newspaper, etc. or hang them to dry using clothes pins. Rapid drying using hair dryers, etc. is not recommended as it may cause the photo to curl.

Source and further information:  Fuji Film

Audio, video, and computer tapes

  • Air dry if just the outermost foot or two of tape is damp, or keep them wet until they can be sent to a professional recovery company no later than two days after salvage.

CDs and DVDs

  • Air dry in a single layer; rinse first if the water was dirty or salty.

Record Albums

  • Dry within 48 hours
  • Remove the discs from their sleeves and jackets.  If labels have separated, mark the center of the disc with a grease pencil and keep track of the label.
  • Separate shellac, acetate and vinyl discs.  If dirt has been deposited on the discs, they may be washed in a 1% solution of Kodak Photo Flo in distilled water.  Each disc media should be washed in its own container.  Rinse each disc thoroughly with distilled water
  • Air try discs vertically in a rack that allows for the free circulation of air.  Dry slowly at room temperature away from direct heat and sources of dust.
  • Jackets, sleeves, and labels may be air dried like other paper materials

Source and other information:  Minnesota Historical Society


Dry materials are often overlooked in a disaster. They must be removed from the affected area if environmental conditions are not addressed immediately. Otherwise, they too will quickly become susceptible to mold growth.
Damp materials are cool to the touch. Exposed to high humidity, they can sometimes be identified after the event by mold formation.
Slightly wet materials exhibit staining to the binding, folder, or pages no more than one-half inch in from the edges. These areas will have been in immediate contact with water.
Wet materials exhibit staining more than one-half inch in from the edges, up to saturation.

It is important to understand that no drying method restores books and papers to their pre-damage condition. However, if stabilization and recovery occur quickly, the materials can often be dried with little discernible damage.

Damp Books

  • If your book is only “damp,” stand the book upside down (top down) and fan the pages, supporting the book if necessary with bookends or unopened cans of food (take the labels off the cans just in case they are not colorfast, as the inks used to print the labels might run and stain your book).
  • Turn the book over every few hours to dry its edges, and re-fan the pages at the same time.
  • When the book starts to feel dry to the touch, place a hand towel or layers of paper towels under and on top of the book to protect its covers and place it under a piece of plastic sheeting or a covered board with evenly-distributed weight on top such as that afforded by a brick (available at larger hardware or home improvement stores) or heavy canned goods. This will reduce the risk of the book becoming totally distorted or warped as the drying process continues.
  • Place a fan in the room to keep the air circulating, but do not aim the fan directly at the book.
  •  Check the book each day to monitor progress until the dampness dissipates completely.

Wet Books

  • Any book that has been soaked more than halfway through should have a chance to “drain” before being dried any further. To accomplish this, place the top edge of the book upright on a cloth or layers of paper towels. A small piece of sponge should be placed under one end of the book’s edge to keep it tilted so that the water drains through the edge of the book and not through all of the pages. Keep the book covers open, but do not fan the pages during this step of the process.
  • Once the book has “drained” and begins to dry a bit, interleave the pages with paper towels or blotting paper (available at a number of art supply stores) that extend 1/2″ to 1″ beyond the edge of the pages (except at the edge the book is standing on). These interleaving sheets should be placed every 10-20 pages, making sure that the added thickness created does not stress the binding.
  • At this point open the covers and stand the book up on a few paper towels or a cloth and let it “rest” while the absorbent interleaving material does its thing. Change these interleaving sheets once they become wet, and place the new sheets elsewhere in the book to speed the drying process.
  • Repeat this process a few times, and turn the book over each time you change the interleaving material in order to let the edges dry.
  • When the book feels dry to the touch, remove the interleaving sheets, reshape the binding to make it “square” and, as above, cover it with a cloth or paper towels and place it under a sheet of plastic or a fabric covered board with evenly distributed weight on top.  
  • Also as mentioned above, place a fan in the room to circulate air around the book without pointing the fan directly at the book.

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