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Simple Emergency Salvage Techniques for Your Artwork


Freezing buys time! It will stop mold growth and other damage (e.g. swelling, color bleeding). As you have time, you can then thaw and air dry items.


  • Use a commercial (large) freezer if available, but a home freezer is okay.
  • Pack wet or moldy items in single layers in sturdy, waterproof containers (90% full).
  • Make sure to use freezer or waxed paper to separate/buffer materials.

Okay to freeze:

  • Prints or drawings (freeze soluble/delicate media ASAP)
  • Coated papers (also freeze ASAP)
  • Most photographs, transparencies, film
  • Books (pack them spine down)
  • Paper documents (separated in single sheets or as small piles up to ¼”)
  • Small wooden objects (boxes, baskets, carvings)
  • Textiles
  • Leather

Never freeze:

  • Paintings
  • Ivory
  • Bone
  • Horn
  • Magnetic tape

After a major disaster, large commercial disaster-recovery services usually set up operations at a central location. Find them through a local emergency management office; you may be able to buy supplies and/or arrange temporary freezer space.

Air Drying

Graphic of air drying with fans and table

Air drying wet, damp or moldy items requires a lot of both space and time, because most objects need to dry slowly to prevent distortion or cracking. Also it’s important to turn and flip objects often, and to replace blotting material when wet.

Air drying can be done in an indoor space with good air circulation. If using fans, do not let them blow directly on items. Never use a portable heater. You can set up a drying area outdoors, but avoid direct sunlight and make sure to bring items inside overnight.

  • Place items face up on absorbent material on a flat surface, and exchange blotting material frequently
  • Raise paintings face up off the floor or table on 3-4” sections of plastic pipe or blocks of styrofoam to let air circulate; if wet or moldy, place face down.
  • Elevate 3-D items off the floor or ground to let air circulate.
  • Keep light-sensitive materials (such as watercolors, dyes) away from sunlight.

Cleaning Procedures

Surface clean your artwork with a vacuum with a brush attachment


Items that have been in contact with salt water, mud, sewage or other contaminants should be rinsed under a gentle stream of cool, clean running water from a hose or faucet, or bathed in cool, clean water in a series of shallow tubs. Blot off mud or dirt with a sponge or soft cloth, and do not scrub muddied artwork.

Okay to rinse:

  • Unpainted wooden furniture, sculpture, objects
  • Ceramics and glass
  • Stone and metal (unpainted)
  • Photos, negatives, film and magnetic tape (can be kept in fresh, cold water for up to 36 hours)
  • Dye-fast textiles

Removing dried mud or mold

Dried mud or mold (powdery, not slimy or soft) can be removed from the surface of artwork and other materials. Best to do this outdoors or indoors in an area with a vent exhaust!

  • Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter on low suction, placing fiberglass screening between the nozzle and the object; a natural bristle brush can be used to ease the debris toward the nozzle
  • Dust/wipe objects with smooth, hard surfaces with a soft, clean dry cloth
  • Use a cotton swab with mineral spirits (test first!) to remove debris from wood
  • Use an air bulb to gently disperse the dirt (or canned air, if the piece is strong enough).


  • Attempt to remove dirt or dried mold on wood, canvas, or metallic surfaces if there is blistering, flaking or peeling paint.
  • Use an air compressor to blow off dirt.

 If you don’t have a HEPA vacuum cleaner –which prevents the mold spores from dispersing–only use a regular vacuum outdoors!