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Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Monday, March 5, 2018

When Water Strikes, It's a Freezer to the Rescue!

Unusually warm temperatures last week have caused rivers and creeks in our area to swell, flooding low-lying areas. Earlier this winter the River Seine rose to flood stage, causing the Louvre to implement emergency protocols and close its lower level.

When a water disaster strikes a textile collection or organic collection, a humble freezer can become an institution's best friend. Subjecting items to a deep freeze will halt bacterial and fungal activity and give an institution time to develop a remediation and conservation plan. Procedures for freezing textiles should be a part of any organization's disaster plan.

No natural water disaster or leak is too small or large for a freezer to be helpful.

And the faster the response time, the better.

It is important to place the textiles into the freezer as soon as possible to minimize mold growth. Ideally, items should be wrapped in plastic with minimal folds or overlaps, thus creating a larger surface area. Interleave fabric layers with freezer or waxed paper to prevent dye transfer.

Attached labels added to the packages

Items should be spaced apart from each other to promote rapid freezing, preferable in separate packages. Insure that the package are labeled with information about the artifact, including the accession number. The more information included the better since it might be a while until they can be addressed. Do not rely on your memory of what is inside.

Fabric layers are separated with freezer or waxed paper 
Previously frozen textiles await cleaning

Water damaged textiles can then be removed from a freezer and quickly wet cleaned.

In consultation with a conservator a proposal can be developed to treat the water-damaged textiles.

Additional Resources

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. "Salvaging Water Damaged Textiles."  Accessed February 15, 2018.

Connecting to Collections Care. Video, "Salvage of Water Damaged Textiles." Source: Video demonstration of salvaging wet textiles – Preservation Australia. Accessed February 15, 2018.

FEMA Fact Sheet. "Salvaging Water-Damaged Family Valuables and Heirlooms."  Accessed February 24, 2018.

National Park Service. Conserv-O-Gram, "Salvage at a Glance, Part V." 2003. Accessed February 15, 2018.