Blog – Document Recovery

How Fast Will Your Documents Degrade?

When your documents get wet, time is not on your side. It’s vital to employ document drying techniques and, depending on the extent of the damage, hire a professional document recovery service. While some professionals say that you have up to 48 hours to take action, damage begins much sooner. Factors that contribute to document damage include mold, air quality around the documents, and degradation of the storage area.

Document Recovery Insight: Document Degradation Timeline

Initial 60 minutes:

  • Bacteria spread as water penetrates documents and other items while following the path of least resistance.
  • Pages swell and warp as they absorb water.
  • Water begins to affect the chemical properties in films and photographs.
  • Stains and water-soluble ink on documents (and items they touch) release and spread to other documents.

In the first few hours:

  • Water begins changing the properties of metal surfaces, such as office shelves.
  • Wood products, like bookcases, begin swelling and the finish starts to crack. Cracked finishes may stain water-damaged documents.
  • Non-colorfast dyes on fabrics, such as books with fabric covers, release and migrate toward nearby papers.
  • Sheetrock on the walls begins to break down, releasing any mold or bacteria into the environment.
  • Bacteria in the area affected become airborne, spreading to documents and other items.

24 to 72 hours:

  • Adhesives in documents, like those that bind books, begin breaking down.
  • Ferrous metal found in staples and paper clips begins oxidizing and corroding. The resulting rust may stain documents.
  • The musty smell of mold is noticeable as the spores, which are microbiological volatile organic compounds, spread and contaminate wet documents.
  • Mold colonizes on wet documents and other moist items in the space. Keep in mind that you don’t usually see mold with the naked eye until a substantial colony forms. The rate of mold growth depends on geographical area and environmental considerations, such as temperature and relative humidity.

After one week:

  • Prolonged exposure to moisture causes documents to start breaking down, sometimes making them difficult to salvage without electronic reproduction solutions. In some cases, documents may be too damaged to salvage, regardless of the technique used.
  • Mold continues to grow and spread, breaking down the physical properties of the documents in question.
  • Water-soluble inks or paints used on documents wash away or fade.

A Word Regarding Mold Growth and Document Recovery

There are thousands of species of mold. Each type has a different metabolism, growth rate and preferred environment. While you may not observe mold growth within the 48 hours or week following a water damage-related incident, there is also a chance that mold growth will not occur until several days to weeks later. Without the proper recovery and drying techniques, untreated mold could spread and cause new damage.

Document recovery companies use advanced techniques to prevent and eliminate microbiological growth on wet documents. Utilizing their services in a timely fashion can help control the presence of microbiological volatile organic compounds. In general, it’s best to contact a document drying service as soon as you discover the water damage.

Polygon is an international leader in document drying, cleaning, scanning and restoration. With solutions such as vacuum-freeze drying and desiccant drying, you’ll receive the highest quality results. Contact Polygon about your water-damaged documents right away.

[Photo from Orin Zebest via CC License 2.0]

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