Reversing Water and Moisture Damage in Traditional Photographs

Photographs are the most common way to hold onto memories. However, water damage can both distort your photos and cause them to adhere to one another.

archival method for separating stuck photosThe gelatinous emulsion of a photograph acts like an adhesive when it becomes moist. As a result, pictures may adhere to one another when they are exposed to moisture or high levels of humidity. Trying to separate them can result in tearing and loss of portions of the image.

A photographic conservator will be able to separate most photos without damage. However, there is a technique that can be used to separate most photographs that doesn’t require a professional conservator. There is risk of further damage involved in the process, so it should only be used as a last resort – and never with any one-of-a-kind, valuable, or irreplaceable photos.

Place the stuck photographs image side up in a bath of room temperature distilled water (which can be purchased at most grocery stores or pharmacies) for a period of 15 to 30 minutes (longer exposure to water can result in distortion).

Remove and gently pull apart the photos with your fingers. A thin, silicone coated spatula inserted between may be required for stubborn cases.

Finally, shake off any excess water and place the photos image side up on paper towels or blotting paper to dry. Weight down the edges to minimize curling as they dry. This process can also be effective for photos that become stuck to glass while framed.

Though there are several ways to repair water-damaged photographs, the Image Permanence Institute recommends both blotting and air-drying in a very comprehensive guide on the subject. Blotting is the most widely recommended practice in drying wet photographs. Placing the wet prints in between sheets of blotting paper, while also applying constant pressure, ensures drying and consistent flattening of the photos. Air-drying can also be used, but be aware that this method has the potential to show cockling, wrinkling, and distortion.

For stuck photographs of high historical, sentimental, or monetary value, it is highly recommended that a photographic conservator be consulted.

University Products offers a wide variety of photo products that are sure to help you with your photo restoration and preservation projects.