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With proper care, waterlogged books and papers can be salvaged from flooded homes.

How to salvage waterlogged documents and books

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Much of Oklahoma has experienced record-breaking rainfall, leaving much of the state under water. Many homes and businesses have been flooded or torn apart by tornados, leaving a wake of destruction and homeowners and business owners scrambling to recover important paper documents.

Cindy Clampet, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension family resource management assistant specialist, said it is possible to save important papers and books that have been damaged by flooding or rainwater.

“Despite living in a digital age, most all of us have important papers at home. Birth certificates, marriage licenses and titles for vehicles are just a few of the examples of important documents. Some may have a treasured book from their youth or even a family bible that has been handed down through the generations,” Clampet said. “For the best results, slowly dry papers and books. Wipe book covers with a solution of equal parts of rubbing/denatured alcohol and water.”

If you do not have time to clean and dry your papers and book immediately, put the papers and books in a plastic zipper bag in the freezer. This will help prevent mold and mildew. Place wax paper between the layers of papers or books so they can easily be separated when you are ready to clean them.

When working on waterlogged books, place them on end with the pages separated. When partially dry, pile and press the books to help keep the pages from crumpling.

“Alternate drying and pressing the books until they’re thoroughly dry. This will help prevent mildew from growing,” she said. “You also may use a fan during this process to help the books dry faster.”

Important documents damaged by flood water can be sprinkled with cornstarch or talcum powder to absorb moisture. Leave the powder there for several hours and then brush it off.

If you happen to have valuable books that are nearly dry, consider ironing the pages with an electric iron set on low. Clampet said this may be a tedious process, but depending on the value of the book, can be worth the effort. When completely dried, close them and use C-clamps to help them retain their shape. Vinyl and leather book covers can be wiped with a light coating of petroleum jelly or leather dressing.

“Keep in mind that even if your recovered papers appear to have dried successfully, they may disintegrate rapidly because of substances that were in the floodwater or rainwater,” she said. “In the event the documents start to fall apart, you may want to contact official agencies and start the process of replacing Social Security cards, marriage licenses, birth certificates and other important documents.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Trisha Gedon | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-3625 |

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