Best Practices for Preserving and Treating a Loved One's Old Photos

When we lose loved ones, we treasure and find comfort in old photos that capture their memory. However, if we don't properly take care of these photos, they can be damaged. Not properly storing them can lead to deterioration, fading, brittleness, and other damages. No one wants their photos ruined, so we researched how archival experts store and treat them.


Where to Store Old Photos


Many people store old photos in their basement, garage, or attic- but these can be the worst places for storage. You shouldn't store them in basements, attics, garages, or other areas where they are exposed to the elements.


When choosing a storage location, follow these tips:

  • The lower the temperature, the better to slow the chemical decay rate and keep insects away. Be sure to stay below 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Relative humidity below 65% prevents mold growth and keeps insects away. But they should be kept in no lower than 15% humidity because this can cause brittleness. 
  • Off-ground storage, like a closet shelf or cabinet, is better to prevent flood damage.
  • Avoid areas with windows, pipes, and possible roof leaks to prevent water damage and fading from light exposure. Also, avoid areas with food and water that can attract insects and rodents.


According to archivist and curator Bonnie Wilson, photo albums and archival boxes are the best photo storage methods. With archival boxes, you can easily file and organize your photos. However, photo albums are better for displaying your photos- just don't overfill them. And make sure to use acid-free materials, because the acids in paper products can damage photos.


Storage Preparation


When preparing old photos for storage, you should have a clean and clear preparation space. Avoid eating, drinking, and smoking near photos and always wear gloves to prevent fingerprint stains. 


You also should label your photos with a brief description and the name(s) of people in them. If you don't know everyone's full name, ask a family member who may know. If you're writing on the back of photos, use a pencil or an archival felt-tipped pen.


Another option is to write a descriptions on cards rather than directly on photos. You can store them together, but avoid using metal paper clips, rubber bands, tape, glue, or other methods that can damage photos. Plastic paper clips may be an option, just be sture they are not bending the photos.


How to Treat Photos


If damage occurs, there are a few ways that you can try to repair photos. For example, if there's mold damage, find and remove whatever caused the mold growth, such as a water source. Remove the photos from the area and set them out to dry on a flat surface, but not in direct sunlight. Once they're dry and the mold is powdery, brush it off with a paintbrush or cloth.


Note, if your photos have suffered severe damage, you may want to seek help from a photo restoration specialist. 


Create Digital Copies


Another convenient way to preserve photos is by scanning them to create digital copies. This way, you can store them on your computer and a flash drive or external hard drive in case of damage to the originals. It also provides you with more personalization options, such as creating a photo collage or video.

Also, with digital copies, you can easily share them with your loved ones. Then everyone has photos to remind them of their loved one. If you have a lot of photos, just choose the most special ones to scan and create digital copies. 


Have you ever repaired damaged photos? Share your tips with us in the comments!

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