Not all water damage is the same. If you live in a coastal area, flood damage to documents caused by salt water will affect the respective items differently than damage caused by fresh water. By knowing how the different types of water affect documents, you can implement the best document recovery methods until professionals arrive.
The Effects of Fresh Water on Documents
The greatest danger with cellulose-based items, such as paper and books, is mold and bacterial growth, which becomes visible in as little as 48 hours after a flood. In addition to being hazardous to health, mold can stain documents and cause them to yellow. Their waste will leave a distinct musty odor.
Because documents are absorbent, water often warps paper or causes pages to adhere together.
When water affects films and photographs, the images and materials degrade quickly. In a short amount of time, the components and chemicals within the film separate and break down.
The Effects of Salt Water
When flood-damaged paper affected by saltwater dries on its own, the salt could overly dry the documents, causing them to warp.
When saltwater affects films and photographs, the combination of salt with metal-based chemicals could increase their corrosion rate. If saltwater were to dry on the items, they’d have a coating of salt. Without careful handling, the abrasive salt crystals will scratch their surface.
Salt Water and Mold Growth
Cellulose-based documents affected by saltwater are not as vulnerable to mold growth as those affected by freshwater are. After tsunami-affected various regions in Asia, documents that soaked in seawater and remained wet for several weeks did not experience mold growth or paper adhesion, despite humid tropical conditions. Scientists believe that the concentration of salt in the seawater inhibited fungal growth.
In a 2012 report in Studies in Conservation, Kenta Higashijima and his associates reported that salt concentrations of 3.5 percent or greater in water killed various mold spores. They noted that the pH of documents and additives could influence the results.
The scientists hypothesize that using saltwater on water-damaged documents may prevent or inhibit mold growth. However, they also stated that this technique requires further study because of the damaging effect of salt crystals.
It is also important to note that it is not good to assume that your documents are safe if they’re affected by saltwater. If seawater mixes with fresh water or the water are naturally brackish, the concentration of salt might be too low to prevent mold damage.
Document Recovery for Wet Documents
The best thing to do if you have flood-damaged documents is to contact a professional document restoration service, like Polygon, especially if the water contained sewage.
If the water doesn’t contain sewage, there are steps that you can take to mitigate further damage until specialists arrive.
- Move: Move dry materials to a separate area.
- Freeze: Let the water drain from documents. If there are a small number of items, place them in plastic bags and freeze them until the professionals arrive. If you have access to a large freezer, interleave documents and book pages with paper towels or butcher paper. Place the items upright in a box or milk crate and freeze them.
- Air-dry: If you don’t have access to a freezer, move the wet documents to a dry room. Loosely place documents and books upright in a milk crate or an open container after interleaving the pages with paper towels or butcher paper. Allow a fan to run in the room as the documents dry. If you don’t have many documents, you may hang them from a line. If possible, use a desiccant dehumidifier in the same room.
- Caution with photographs and film: If wet photos and films are stuck together, you may need to re-submerge them in clean water so they are naturally separate. Interleave the items with butcher paper to prevent re-adhesion. Allow photos and films to air dry.
When saltwater affects documents, rinse the affected items with clean fresh water. Then follow the previously listed techniques.
Document Recovery Processes that Professionals Use
- Vacuum freeze-drying: Using a vacuum chamber to freeze and dry documents. The water in the documents freezes and sublimates; the ice evaporates.
- Vacuum thermal drying: Using a vacuum chamber to heat documents so the water evaporates.
- Freezer drying: Storing wet documents in a freezer so the moisture sublimates slowly.
- Air-drying: In some instances, air drying is the safest technique. Depending on the material in question, professionals might use a desiccant dehumidifier to promote drying.
The document restoration process isn’t something that you should face alone. As soon as you encounter wet documents, call Polygon immediately. The specialist will tell you the best way to stabilize the documents safely until a team arrives. Contact Polygon today to learn more.
[Photo from Jonathan via CC License 2.0]