Damaged Art

Framed Prints/Watercolors, etc – First and foremost, once the pieces are out of the water, get the paper pieces (posters, prints, watercolors, etc.) OUT of the frames and away from the glass and cardboard backing and matboard so that the moisture does not stay in the enclosed framing.


Allow them to lay flat if possible and dry out on either a towel or blanket or stack of newspaper or even the front lawn – just get them out of the wet enclosure that the framing has become and allow to dry thoroughly.

Once they are dry and out of the frames, if there is active mold growing on it a light spray of Lysol helps to kill the mold until it can be treated, but bring them in quickly for proper treatment! And DO NOT WIPE the mold off, as it will simply smear and stain the paper. Mold can certainly be treated, but it’s best not to try not to let it begin as it can be a very aggressive stain and difficult to remove. We can treat things in a fungicidal chamber to kill the spores, and we can also wash all forms of paper to remove any stains and discoloration.

Wet books/documents – Use a plastic bin with a lid large enough to accommodate the books or papers. Stack books with the largest items at the bottom, considering paper items; stack so that you do not crush them. If leather, cloth or paper materials are tacky or sticky, place wax paper between items as possible.

Place bin with enclosed objects in freezer* for at least 3 months. To separate potential trace food odor from freezer seal bin with tape.

Mark on the calendar the removal date. Upon removal, rest bin outside freezer for one hour before opening, this will allow temperature to acclimate to room temperature, lessening likelihood of breaking book spines with opening. Handle carefully when opening bindings, to avid stressing week or broken cover/linings. If items remain cool/wet, place back in freezer for another month or continue process until items are dry.

Take materials to a surface outdoors and dry clean. Use rubber sponges, cotton cloths, or sort brushes to remove dirt and deactivated mold debris. Many papers in bindings and manuscripts can be carefully pulled away from each other at this point. Use a dull knife as a tool to assist release of pages.

If problems arise at any point, stop before damaging items and contact a professional conservator!

  • The freezer should be a non-cycling, non-frost free unit; residential refrigerator/freezers generally cycle and are frost free. Placing the objects in the freezer for this length of time will remove most, if not all of the moisture and deactivate any mold. Note: performing this task will not remove any staining and will not kill or remove the mold; however it will halt its growth and /or damage.

Book hints courtesy of deVille Book & Paper Conservation, llc.

Photographs – while still wet pull them apart and allow to dry! It’s very important to do this while still wet as the emulsion is like a glue and once it’s dry it’s much more difficult to do. You can try re-wetting with clear water again if they’ve already dried or if they’re dirty and full of debris. Make sure nothing touches to them until they are fully dry and they’ve had at least 24-48 hours to dry. They may curl up, but that’s ok and can be cleaned off and flattened later.

Paintings – make sure there is no water inside the framing – turn it upside down and all around to drain any sitting water behind the stretcher bars,etc. No need to remove the canvases from their frames. The paintings may become white and heavily discolored looking hopeless, but do NOT discard or give up on them. They’re surprisingly resiliant and that white is like the ring on a coffee table – it’s moisture trapped between the painting and the varnish and can be removed. Again, they’re fragile so treat them gently until they can be stabilized.

To deal with the MOLD growing the on the paintings, lightly spray (do not saturate) the canvas, front and back, with Lysol spray (not the liquid). This will help arrest the mold growth, and you may need to repeat this a few times. When the mold is dry and powdery it is now dormant. You can then take the canvas outside it and the residue can be brush with a clean dry paint brush. Remember to wear a mask so as not to inhale the airborne spores, and be sure to remove all the debris from the back and not to allow it to accumulate under the stretcher bars!

Do not wipe the mold off, do not use anything stronger than Lysol, and above all do not use BLEACH or TILEX or anything with bleach in it, as this will cause more damage than the mold will cause and is not reversible.The paintings may still need professional cleaning and conservation, but this will help stop the mold from getting any worse until that time.Frames – remember that alot of them CAN be restored. Do not discard them until they have been examined by a conservator and let us make the determination. Water is the enemy of gold leaf and the plaster covering the wood, so it’s important to allow them to dry as well and remember that it’s in a particularly fragile state so don’t be rough with it or it can completely fall apart before it’s stabilized.

Wooden artifacts – wood can expand up to 1 inch per foot when exposed to water, so they’ve likely swollen. Allow to dry slowly to stabilize. Place in a normal environment, away from water, but not devoid of humidity all together so it doesn’t create too severe a change.

Remember that it’s important for a trained conservator to perform “triage” on the artwork, even if the insurance is a long way down the road or you’re not insured – there’s alot that we can do AT NO CHARGE to help save the pieces until full restoration can be performed later on down the road.

METAL (guns, swords, candlesticks, flatware, statuary etc.)
The following steps are for an aggressive, one-time cleaning to remove tarnish from silver, not for regular maintenance.

  • For SILVER, clean with Simichrome polish or Flitz (Flitz can be purchased at a boat supply store) and a stiff toothbrush using elbow grease
  • Wipe with cotton rag or paper towel; rinse in hot water.
  • Polish with regular silver polish.
  • If this method doesn’t work, silver can be professionally cleaned.
  • Wipe IRON and STEEL with a penetrating oil like WD40. Disassemble guns being careful not to get the wood oily. Take valuable guns to a competent gunsmith or restorer if possible.
  • BRONZE statuary needs professional attention. It will need to be thoroughly cleaned and repatinated to attempt to match the original finish (A photo is helpful when trying to return a piece to its original patina).
  • Metal CHANDELIERS should be cleaned and rewired by a professional.
  • Most BRASS needs to be professionally polished.
  • To remove rust from metal FURNITURE, use a power wire brush with a surface lubricant like WD40 or mineral spirits.
  • Rinse with mineral spirits.
  • Prime and paint.
  • HANDMADE HARDWARE and FITTINGS from antiques and old buildings can be removed, professionally restored and reused.

    -Metal tips courtesy of Ellis Joubert

    TEXTILES (quilts, flags, samplers, antique clothing, rugs, curtains, etc.)

  • Drying water damaged fabrics is critical. Depending on how long a rug, for instance, was in water, dry rot may have set in. Once dried, fabrics can be assessed in terms of cleaning.
  • Large pieces should be laid flat in a ventilated area or outside.
  • Framed pieces affected by humidity should be unframed and unmounted.
  • Only vacuuming removes spores. Use a HEPA Vacuum if possible, changing the filter frequently.
  • Dry cleaning may be sufficient if the item did not get wet.
  • For pieces wet by flood water, wet cleaning is preferable for removing pollutants.
  • Large items like quilts can be washed in a bathtub using Orvus (available at a feedstore); smaller items, such as a Christening dress, can be washed in a plastic tub. Wash until water is clean.
  • Rugs should be cleaned professionally.

    -Textile hints courtesy of Jessica Hack Textile Restoration

Water Damaged Furniture – All furniture should be air-dried – allow to dry slowly, try to remove wet articles from inside of furniture; this may be difficult on case pieces with drawers. On some pieces the backs are often easier to get off allowing access to items for the circulation of air. Pieces with plinth bases need to be raised to allow the bases to dry well. Do not force open drawers. Allow drawers and doors to dry and shrink back to size.

Wash off flood water residue – wipe off and allow to dry (use detergent: Pine Sol or Murphy’s Oil soap will work) do not use solvents! Take care with loose parts and lifting veneer. Make sure all areas are cleaned. Mold and odors may be on the inside, under drawers or on the bottom.

Solid wood pieces with traditional finishes may be in surprisingly good condition. A good coat of paste wax may be all it needs. Briwax light brown wax is a good choice and will remove many white watermarks. Apply Briwax with 0000 Steel Wool and wipe off with cotton cloths. Minor light spots can be darkened with some matching spirit stains or furniture touch up markers.

A professional should look at all furniture with loose parts- poor repairs can destroy furniture, or cause irreversible damage. It is much less expensive to do it right the first time!

Loose Joints– Many pieces immersed in water will need to be re-glued; this is best done by an experienced woodworker. If you decide to tackle the re-gluing anything, check that all joints are clean. Make sure you have the correct clamps to hold the piece together until the glue dries. Veneer has to be pressed flat. If the veneer is loose, clean both sides, wet, and press veneer to re-flatten. After it is flattened over night, it can be re-glued. Use a flat board the same size as the veneer to clamp it down and use sufficient glue to form a good bond. Use paper between the board and the veneer to compensate for any unevenness. Take care the veneer does not shift when clamped down. Masking tape is useful for re-gluing loose banding.

Denatured alcohol will also remove stubborn white marks. Care should be taken not to damage the finish. Test the finish in an inconspicuous spot first to see how it reacts.

Black stains can be removed with oxalic acid. “Sherwin Williams Deckscapes Revive” will remove most black marks. Make sure it is well washed off before re-polishing.

-Furniture hints from Lower Lodge Conservation and Museum Services

Jewelry – Many precious gemstones have their own special needs and requirements that you should be aware of to ensure their longevity. Popular methods of cleaning, such as ultrasonic cleaners and steam cleaning are not appropriate for all gems.

Special Care Gems:

  • Emeralds
  • Opals
  • Tanzanite
  • Pearls
  • All Organic Gems

Amethyst, Citrine, and other members of the quartz family shouldn’t be steam cleaned because intense heat (as well as prolonged light) can permanently alter their color. Opals should always be treated with some care. Avoid impacts, chemicals, heat and extremely dry condition-all promote cracking. As for your emerald jewelry, avoid heat cleaning and chemicals that can remove the jeweler’s oil. Topaz sometimes cracks when subjected to sudden temperature changes as it would in steam cleaning. Porous gems like turquoise and amber are popular in silver jewelry, but they will become discolored by silver cleaners. Aside from these cautions, you can clean your own jewelry at home without much fuss. For most types of mounted gemstone pieces, occasional, gentle brushing with a baby toothbrush in warm, mildly soapy water and drying with a soft cloth is all you need to keep you r jewelry looking its finest every day. But, do use a bowl to clean your jewelry; don’t do it over the sink! Use this chart to remember which methods are best for different types of gemstones:

Cleaning your jewelry at home isn’t hard to do.

  • Soap and Water: A mild soap and water solution used with a soft brush is effective for many home jewelry care needs. Even the mild chemicals of commercial jewelry cleaning products may damage certain gems. Although Soap and water is the best choice for most gems and jewelry, do not use soap and water with amber, coral, emerald, jade, kunzite, lapis lazuli, opal or turquoise.
  • Commercial cleaners that are mild and ammonia based are fine for do-it-yourself cleaning. Be sure to use a bowl to put your jewelry in, or- if you really want to wash them over the sink- put a strainer or colander over the drain to prevent them from falling down the drain. For particularly quick and sparkling results, try bathing your diamond with vodka- it really works! Commercial jewelry cleaners are no more effective than the household cleaners suggested, but they are more convenient. They are normally safe for diamonds, rubies, and sapphires, but may be harmful to some gemstones.
  • Never soak gemstone jewelry in commercial cleaners for more than a few minutes. Note: Commercial cleaners are not recommended for amethyst, opal, pearl, aquamarine, and emerald. They may damage or reduce the luster (shine) on these stones.
  • A home solution of one part mild detergent, one part household ammonia, and three parts water is also effective for many jewelry cleaning needs. Dry the jewelry with a lint-free towel. This method of cleaning is especially desirable for alexandrite, amethyst, andalusite, aquamarine, citrine, diamond, garnet, iolite, moonstone, ruby, sapphire, spinel, tanzanite, topaz, tourmaline, and zircon.
  • Home ultrasonic cleaners are best used for karat gold jewelry without gemstones. The ultrasonic may also be suitable for some diamond-set jewelry. Intense vibrations may loosen stones, so a professional annual cleaning and security check is important. DO NOT use the home ultrasonic for amber, coral, emerald, kunzite, lapis lazuli, opal, pearl, ruby, or turquoise. Be sure to check with your American Gem Society jeweler prior to using a home ultrasonic cleaner. Use commercial jewelry cleaners with caution.
  • Cleaning Pearls: Lay the strand flat on a clean soft cloth or towel. Make a mild solution of soap flakes (I use Ivory soap flakes) and warm water, and apply with a new pure natural bristle complexion or manicure brush, scrubbing gently. Being careful to support the strand so as not to stretch the thread, turn the necklace over and repeat. To rinse, submerge the strand in cool water, flush with cool tap water for a minimum of five minutes. Carefully remove the strand from the water and lay it on a fresh towel to air dry. Don’t move it until it is completely dry.
  • Pearls will naturally darken slightly with age and wear. The golden or creamy tones the come with age cannot be removed.
  • Cleaning Emeralds and Opals. Emeralds and opals should be cleaned by hand, not an ultrasonic cleaner, because this harsher method can damage or destroy the gem. To clean an emerald or opal at home, use a soft toothbrush or lukewarm moist cloth; avoid soaking it.