Whether the reason for the occurrence is a natural calamity or
manmade, water damage is one of the most unwanted situations that homeowners
would not want to face. Torrential rains, fire sprinklers going off
unexpectedly, a leaky roof, and burst pipes – such incidents can be very
destructive to the home itself in the valuables that are contained therein. And
some of the most important valuables in a home include documents and other
In this day and age where digital products and media have fast
become the norm, some documents still remain in its original form. This
includes books, certificates, licenses, contracts, photographs, maps, manuals
and other documents. Although scanned copies can be stored in electronics form,
most people still prefer to have the original physical form of the item, either
as proof of identity or ownership or because of its sentimental value. However,
such physical forms are susceptible to water damage with some older items like
contracts and old photographs extremely fragile against the damaging effects of
exposure to water.
On such occasions where water damage can occur, affecting valuable
documents and similar items, the only resort that homeowners can lean on would
be document drying and water damage restoration. Some of these methods can be
done by homeowners themselves while other items, particularly the very fragile
and expensive ones, may require the services of professional restoration
The Effects of Water Damage on Your Documents
Water has very strong destructive properties and water damage has
been known to cause structural and integral damage to a home and its components
like wood, metal, cardboard and organic fibers. If left unabated or untended,
these items can result to rot, deterioration and eventually irreparable damage.
Books for instance can be ruined, warped or deformed beyond
recognition or usability, particularly if the homeowners decided to dry them on
their own accord using improper ways of performing document drying. Damage to
water-exposed books can occur within a span of one or up to four hours after
the items have been soaked in water. Pages can swell as the materials absorb
more and more amounts of moisture. The bindings and the cardboard-based covers
are of different materials from the pages and have different water-absorption
rates. These differences would result to the pages swelling more and causing
the bindings to deform. In some cases, the pages detach themselves from the
bindings and causing further damage.
There are several methods of performing document drying for water
damaged documents and similar items. The effectiveness of such methods depends
on the extent of water damage that the item incurred, and the water absorption
characteristics of the item itself. The item's water absorption rate will
depend in its age and condition, as well as the type of materials that the
document has been produced on. Thus, such items are more susceptible to
deformation or mold infestation.
On some cases, water damage occurs not because of direct exposure
to water, but due to other reasons such as humidity. High levels of humidity in
damp places such as basements or attics, which result to higher moisture
absorption, can eventually lead to water damage. This results to the rapid
deterioration of the item and if left unattended would result to damage beyond
Document Drying: Can It Be Done?
Depending on the extent of water or moisture absorption, document
drying can be done using either state of the art technologies employed by
professional restoration companies, or through do-it-yourself methods that can
be performed by the homeowners themselves. Such methods include air-drying,
dehumidification and vacuum-freeze drying, which are effective enough to
restore water-damaged documents to almost its original conditions.
Restoration Techniques: Loose Paper Sheets and Small Compilations
Water-damaged loose paper sheets like certificates and licenses
are easier to restore using document drying techniques. Loose paper sheets can
be dried individually using the air-flow method, either through a low-powered
hand blower or through a dehumidifier.
Loose paper documents and small compilations can also be restored
in bulk through the freeze drying methods. Professional restoration companies
have sophisticated equipments particularly for the vacuum freeze drying
process. On the other hand, documents which are still wet can be frozen using
standard household freezers, and then thawing out the item at a later time.
When handling loose paper sheets extra care should be employed to
prevent further damage like tears or smudges. Dirt and grime, particularly if
the water damage were caused by floods, can be removed using clean water. Each
sheet can be layered out on paper towels to dry using an air blower. However,
it should be noted by homeowners attempting the restoration process to use only
plain paper towels and avoid using towels with ink prints on the surface.
Restoration Techniques: Books and Manuals
Books are very difficult to restore because of the bounded pages,
which often result to pages sticking or adhering to one another causing
irreversible damages. Another issue when trying to restore books is the problem
on deformation, which can render the book useless. The most effective method to
use that can recover a water-damaged book is the vacuum-freeze drying process.
However, the equipment would only be available at document restoration
companies and would entail certain costs.
In such cases, the homeowner should decide if the document or book
is worth spending dollars with a restoration company. Rare, antique or
irreplaceable books would best be restored by professionals while ordinary
books and manuals can be attempted to repair using do-it-yourself method. On
some cases, the books would not be worthy enough to spend energy and resources with
and would just be discarded.
The following are some of the methods that can be used to restore
books, documents in volumes, or manuals:
Use paper towels to remove extra water from the book surface,
however, use only plain paper towels without any ink prints. The book should be
held at both covers so the pages can be air-blown without the pages sticking to
one another as they dry out. It would also be best to sprinkle the pages with
talcum powder to prevent adherence.
Another technique that can be used for water-damaged books is to
isolate them inside an enclosed area with a dehumidifier that can remove the
moisture inside the area. Dehumidifiers can be the electromechanical type or
the desiccant air-dry distribution type. Again, pages should be sprinkled with
talcum powder to prevent them from sticking with one another.
The two methods above are effective in drying out wet books however
the problem would be on how to prevent deformation during the drying process.
The next method would be the solution to this dilemma.
* Vacuum-Freeze Drying Method
Restoration companies utilize the vacuum-freeze drying method to
effectively remove moisture from water-damaged books or documents while
preventing deformation from occurring as the moisture is drawn out. The
freeze-drying process is also known as lyophilization or cryodessication and
would need specialized machineries.
In this method, the wet item is frozen at a very fast rate to
prevent the water from creating further deterioration on the paper material. A
freezer that is set to -40deg Celsius is used for this purpose. The frozen book
is then placed inside a vacuum chamber and the temperature inside the chamber
is slowly elevated to thaw the material out. Evaporated moisture is removed
from the chamber by the vacuum as the temperature is slowly elevated further. To
prevent deformation, mechanical placeholders clamp down on the books hindering
any movements resulting to warped pages or cover.
Any of these methods are effective restoration techniques however
homeowners should expect that water-damaged books may not be fully restored to
pre-damaged conditions. Ink smears and tears prior to the recovery process will
remain permanent. Recovery though is still at a high percentage and restored
books would once again be usable. Again, the homeowners should gauge the worth
of the book or document versus the cost incurred by availing these services
from restoration companies.
Restoration Techniques: Photographs
Photo prints are some of the most endearing and most priced
possessions in a household, particularly if the photographs are old and
produced prior to digital photography has been established. Antiques and old
photographs are irreplaceable even if scans and reprints can be performed. The
sentimental or intrinsic values of these old photos can never be replaced.
When trying to restore water-damaged photographs, the sooner it is
done the better. Water damage restoration and document drying should be done
within 48 hours, otherwise molds and mildew would occur and create further
damage to the photos. The key here is to reduce the humidity and prevent the
growth of these microorganisms.
Photos should be handled carefully and on the edges only. The
photo emulsion side should not be handled directly otherwise smears and smudges
would be occur rendering the photo useless. Photos that have stuck together
should never be pulled apart otherwise the photo side would be smeared beyond
repair. These can be separated by slow rinsing in cold water until the
individual photos separate.
Each photo should be laid out flat on paper towels with the
photo-emulsion side facing up. Do not use printed paper towels as the ink may
transfer to the photo. Slowly air dry them using a low-power air blower or
place them inside an isolated room with a dehumidifier.
Digital copies can be excellent backups to these photos and other
documents should water-damage occur and affects your photos. This is excellent
particularly for newer photos and other documents. Still, this would be a pale
replacement to the original print particularly for old photos, certificates,
and other documents that have increased its worth and value throughout these