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Salvage First Steps + General Rules

First steps for salvage

  • Prepare your salvage area, and make sure it’s secure.
  • Set up floor fans, and prepare lots of tables with absorbent materials.
  • Have a supply of clean water.
  • Set your salvage priorities — wettest vs. driest, one-of-a-kind vs. prints in an edition, lightest vs. heaviest, etc.
  • Review your drying methods: freeze, air-dry, vacuum freeze-dry and/or vacuum thermal-drying.
  • Wear your protective gear and have hazards identified.

Rules for wet paper + records

  • To prevent mold growth, freeze or dry within 48 hours.
    Don’t take the time to separate stacks of papers. Freeze in bulk, separating stacks with interleaving materials. Later, when you have time and space, you can take a stack out of the freezer and air-dry it.
  • Unframe wet paper documents and artwork. If that’s not possible, at least turn them upside down and removing backing materials.
  • If items are rolled, leave them alone until they are partially dry, then try to manipulate. If they’re fragile, leave them alone.
  • Items with soluble media, running dyes or inks should be isolated from non-damaged items and frozen immediately.
  • Freeze coated papers immediately, then freeze-dry them later. If only a few pages are wet, separate them with wax paper and air-dry.

Rules for wet books

  • Along with the rules above for paper and records, add these for books
    Don’t open and close them, or dirt and grime will get inside.
  • Separate books from each other with a wax-paper or freezer-paper book cover, to prevent migration of dyes, dirt or acids from leathers.
  • Pack books — spine-side down, one layer only — into milk crates (pad out the bottom with extra layers of paper, to prevent the crate from imprinting on wet spines) or prepared boxes lined with garbage bags.
  • Books with coated papers must be frozen immediately.

Rules for sooty, muddy or dirty paper + records

  • Don’t touch! Soot, mud and dirt is easily ground into the matrix of paper fibers.
    Let mud dry before trying to remove.
  • Gently vacuum off soot, mud or dirt, using a piece of fiberglass window screening as an interleaving so the paper won’t get sucked up into the machine.
  • After vacuuming, use a “pet sponge” or “soot sponge” (available at the hardware store) to gently lift soot, mud or dirt residue from the surface.
  • Soot will go everywhere, so remember to clean the back, edges, and insides of everything!

Rules for sooty, muddy or dirty books

  • Along with following the rules above, don’t open and close books, as soot, mud or dirty will migrate easily to the inside pages.

Rules for business records

The rules above also apply to business records. Remember that air-dried papers are not going to be flat, so storing these documents will require more space in your filing cabinets. You can re-humidify air-dried papers and flatten them between dry blotters under weight, but this is quite time-consuming. If the information is all that you want and the originals are not crucial, simply air-dry or vacuum thermal-dry these documents and photocopy them.


Volunteer drying Artist + Beneficiary Adili Golnar’s letters