Massive NYC Flooding Led to Millions of Damaged Photographs. DON’T PANIC!

8 Ways to Fix Water Damaged Photos

When water damage from flooding due to natural disasters strikes, Don’t panic!

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Nearly 65% of all customer support questions today at ScanMyPhotos are related to the epic New York City flooding. This is far from unusual, as after each hurricane and wildfire the same questions arise. While we have digitized 600 million pictures, over the years, when disaster strikes journalists and the national media reaches out AFTERWARDS for advice on how to protect pictures. The simple answer is PLAN AHEAD.  

The questions are all related. How to restore photos to fix heavily damaged pictures due to water damage? Millions of pictures were wiped out, destroyed from the battering flash floods that hit Brooklyn and neighboring Queens, New York.

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Whether it is from a natural disaster, humidity or severe contact with water, water-damaged pictures can be cured — ScanMyPhotos is an expert on digitizing and restoration pictures


This scene from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is a reminder of why everyone must be prepared and plan ahead. After the storm hits is too late.

Tips if your house was flooded from natural disasters, a hurricane storm surge or mildew to fix your pictures

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Accuweather: Protect Cherished, Irreplaceable Photos Before Natural Disasters. Imagine if your lifetime of irreplaceable photographs, representing the window on your family history were all lost? The focus on this Accuweather profile explains why there is a 100% guarantee pictures will not be lost if digitized.

Whether your house was flooded from storm surges or caught fire from a sweeping firestorm, your prized photos have probably suffered from water damage. The first rule of handling water-damaged photos is don’t panic!  You may be able to salvage many or all of your pictures. You might want to contact a photo conservation professional or consult a book on the subject, but here are a few tips:

8 Tips for Restoring Water Damaged Photos

  • Don’t let the photos dry out! As your photographs dry, they will stick to each other and any other materials they may be in contact with. You’ll find it impossible to pull them apart without causing potentially irreparable damage.

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  • Get to work as soon as possible. Your photographs shouldn’t stay wet for more than two or three days. Now is a good time to recommend having a friend (or photo restoration expert) scan the images before you try pulling anything apart or before doing anything that will further damage the photos.


  • Prepare space to work. While you’re working on your photos, store them in a container full of cold, clean tap water; the colder the better. Don’t add chlorine to the water, but change the water every day. The chlorine in tap water is enough to prevent the growth of fungi and other biological threats.


  • Water is actually part of the restoration process. Rinse your photos in a container of cold, clear running water. Don’t run the water directly onto the photos, because that could damage the chemical emulsion, causing permanent damage. Keep rinsing them until the run-off water is clear.
  • Take your time with this archival project. Carefully remove your photographs or negatives from the water, taking the smallest quantity possible. Pull them out of their wrappers and gently separate them. DO NOT FORCE THEM APART. Separate as many as possible before returning them to the cold water and starting on another batch. Repeat the separate-soak cycle as many times as necessary. However, sometimes you may not be able to separate materials without forcing the issue. In those cases, you will probably have to just accept the corresponding damage.


  • Now, add water. Once your materials are separated, store them in water until you can wash them individually, using cold, clean running water. Use cotton balls, a soft cotton cloth or a soft foam rubber brush to remove foreign objects if needed. Rinse your photographs or negatives one more time after cleaning is complete.


  • The drying process. Hang-dry prints and negatives from a clothesline. Make sure they will not be exposed to dust. As an option, special solutions are available that facilitate uniform, spot-free drying when applied to negatives and slides.


  • Use weights to flatten the pictures. If your prints curl while drying, wet the paper side (NOT the emulsion picture side) with a moist sponge and place each one between two pieces of acid-free paper or photo blotters, and leave them under a flat, heavy object for a day or two.

Related coverage on the NYC storm

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