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Water-Damaged Records

Salvage is only a small part of the overall disaster planning process: prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. 

General Information

Be extremely careful when handling wet materials—all of them are very fragile, and they can be easily damaged during packing and transport. If cardboard boxes are saturated or weak, replace them with new containers. Borderline boxes may be reinforced by packing inside plastic crates.

Pack files in order and retain documentary information. If the label is loose or lost, pencil identifying information and location on a piece of paper, and insert it in the volume or box. Don’t mark wet paper. Film and tape reels and the backs of picture frames can be marked with a grease pencil.

During removal, do not stack materials in piles or on the floor. If boxes are put on pallets, do not mix different sizes of boxes or stack more than 3 boxes high.

Air drying—Records are dried in a work space at room temperature conditions. To discourage mold growth, the temperature should be below 18°C and the RH as low as possible (at all costs, below 60%) and fans should keep the air circulating. Materials are spread out on or interleaved with absorbent papers. Air drying is suitable for drying small quantities of damp and partially wet papers from minor disasters. It can be used, on a triage basis, to dry wet materials in a major disaster when services are not available.

Damp and partially wet paper records can be dried in the following ways:

  • Spread documents out over blotters, paper towels, or unprinted newsprint. Change the absorbent materials when they become wet.
  • Interleave stacks of 25 sheets of damp papers and turn over frequently.
  • Dry damp records vertically, supported by bookends or supports through plastic crates.

After the collections have been removed, check the shelves and repair them if necessary. If mold has occurred, sterilize the shelves. Monitor the environment and inspect the area for mold. Do not return the collections until conditions have stabilized. 

Inspect the records to ensure that they are indeed dry (less than 7% moisture content), and monitor daily for mold. In an ideal situation, collections should be kept in a separate rehabilitation area for six months. If this is not possible, monitor the collections closely for mold and humidity damage.

The following checklist will guide you through initial assessment.
  • Ensure your personal safety. Electrical circuits must be shut off if there is an electrical hazard in the flood area. Do not enter the area until it has been declared safe.
  • Immediately notify your Records Manager and also your building maintenance contact to arrange for cleanup and repairs. 
  • Move the records to a dry place or cover them with plastic sheets if water is dripping on records and it is safe to do so.
  • Assess the damage. Approximately how much is wet? How long have the records been wet? What types of materials are wet (e.g. paper, photographs, magnetic media)? Are they starting to mould? Are the records vital/critical to business operations? Has original order been disrupted?
  • Record the assessed damage and track the locations and contents of boxed records.
  • Control the environment to prevent mould from growing, if possible. Lower the relative humidity and temperature to below 18°C (65° F). Circulate the air with fans.
  • Begin disaster recovery. In consultation with your Records Manager and facilities contact, arrange for packing supplies, transportation, and drying facilities required for the actions outlined above.
  • Box different media types in separate boxes. Paper, photographs, microfilm and magnetic media records require different treatment strategies.


Canadian Council of Archives, Salvage Operations for Water Damaged Archival Collections: A Second Glance and Government Records Service, Province of British Columbia (2019).