Repairing water damaged pictures is a complicated process. The only way to truly repair an old water-logged picture is to contact a professional skilled in photography conservation. But you can stop the damage immediately and erase some of the adverse effects by acting quickly and carefully. Cleaning and freezing your photos is one way to help salvage your memories.
Act quickly and do not allow the photographs to dry or grow mold. Prioritize your pictures and work with the ones that need to be saved the most. Consider if a relative or friend has old negatives or copies before attempting a repair.
Place your photos or pictures in a small tub or pot of lukewarm water to loosen any dirt or debris. Keep the water clean and continue to refresh as needed. Rinsing off your photos directly under a running tap could cause more damage to the photographic emulsion.
Fill up another pot of clean water and place your rinsed photos inside. If your water-damaged pictures are stuck together, leave them that way until you are completely finished rinsing your pictures. Keep your photos submerged in water until you are ready to freeze them.
Keep your pictures submerged in water and gently separate. If they are still sticking together, leave them in a clump and do not pry apart. Repeat the rinsing process a few times and try separating them again.
Handle the photos by their edges and drip dry. Leave any pictures that are still clumped together in a pile. A conservationist may be able to assist in pulling apart the photos. Do not attempt on your own.
Place your wet photos in individual freezer bags and place inside your freezer. The freezing helps delay further damage and deterioration. Freeze your photos for at least 24 hours. But you can also leave them in the freezer indefinitely without furthering the damage.
Dry out your frozen photos in a room with open windows and a running humidifier. Place your photos on a blotting paper or hang on a clothes line with plastic clothes pin. Do a test first to make sure the pins don't further damage the photos. Lay old towels on the floor to catch any water.
Monitor the progress until photos are dry; change blotting papers as needed. It make take several days for the photos to completely dry out. If they curl, you can dampen the back of the photos and place small weights on the corner edges to keep them weighed down.
Study the quality of your dried photos. Contact a photo repair service like Fixing Photos (see Resources) to electronically enhance and repair your pictures.
A conservationist specializing in damaged photos is always your best option for repair. Always handle water damaged pictures by their edges. Use tongs if available.
Freezing and drying photos should be used as a last resort and may not repair your pictures.