Salvaging Collectibles after a Flood
The destruction of life and property caused by Hurricane & Tropical Storm Harvey has been nothing short of catastrophic. “The 3-to-4 day rainfall totals of greater than 40 inches are simply mind-blowing and have led to the largest flood in Houston-Galveston history,” Houston’s National Weather Service office wrote.
When the flood waters subside, Houston and its surrounding areas will be required to put forth a mammoth effort in the cleanup, demolition, and reconstruction of homes, businesses, and infrastructure. For those fortunate enough to have survived the storm and return home, some of their possessions, including collectibles, may be salvageable.
Upon return home, the focus will be ridding the residence of water, conducting a cursory cleanup, and salvaging as many items as possible.
When salvaging collectibles after a flood, follow this simple 9-step guide.
First and foremost, protect yourself during cleanup! Wear rubber gloves, boots, and other protective gear. Wash your hands frequently, and immediately clean and cover any open cuts that may be susceptible to infection from contaminated water.
After your personal safety, mold should be your first priority. As quickly as it’s practical to do so, move anything with mold out of your living space. A covered outside patio or garage will suffice for temporary storage.
If your collectibles were in muddy water, gently rinse them off with clean running water, one piece at a time. Be careful not scrub or brush items, especially glass and ceramics, as such actions may further scratch or damage the objects.
Dry everything as quickly as you can with a soft cloth and then place the items by a fan and/or in a covered area exposed to direct sunlight and open-air.
When dealing with paper collectibles, especially books, carefully examine the entire object. Oftentimes, paper may look free of mold but the inside pages may be damp and more conducive to new mold forming.
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If mold does appear on your paper collectibles, place the objects in a warm, dry place, allowing them to fully dry. Once dry, you can then gently brush away the remaining mold with a soft-bristled toothbrush. You may also want to have someone vacuum and properly dispose of the brushed-away mold.
When dealing with damp wood, quickly wipe it (and other hard surfaces) with a soft cloth soaked in a mixture of Borax and hot water, then set aside to dry. Once dry, if the wood shows signs of mold, rub the surface with a soft rag soaked in a half-and-half solution of ammonia and water.
Carefully examine pieces for additional damage, warps, missing inlays, veneer, or hardware. If such missing or damaged pieces are found, place them in a storage container, as it may be possible to reuse them during restoration.
If your wooden furniture came in contact with water, quickly remove its drawers and set them aside to thoroughly dry. This will help prevent “sticking” when the furniture has fully dried.
Glass & Ceramics
For glass and ceramics that were stored and safeguarded in newspaper, quickly remove the paper from the ceramics. Once wet, the ink will transfer to the ceramics; and overtime, stain them.
Glass and ceramics that were submerged in flood-water should be washed with a phosphate-free detergent. This will prevent future staining and will also sanitize the object for future use and handling.
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If you discover broken glass and/or ceramics, carefully place the loose or broken pieces in storage. Along with the damaged wares, include a notecard documenting where they were found. This will help with the insurance claims process. You may consider washing the pieces prior to storage. If not, check back often for mold!
Similar to glass and ceramics, sterling silver should also be sterilized. This can be done by placing the silver in near-boiling water, in the dishwasher without detergent, or simply cleaned with hand-sanitizer.
For silver objects that have hollow pockets in their construction, such as the handle of a teapot, rock the object side-to-side, listening for a swishing sound. If water is present, you should seek the help of a professional restorer.
Carefully check the wiring of any collectible that might have come in contact with flood-waters. Collectibles with electric components and wiring can be tricky, not to mention dangerous. Something like a Tiffany Lamp can easily be rewired but a vintage electric trainset may prove to be more complicated, and should only be repaired by a professional.
Unfortunately, the sad reality is that many items will be beyond repair. This is why it’s so important to document everything in great detail. Take pictures and attach those pictures to notes describing when the picture was taken, where, and what the object is in the photograph.
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Keep records of every bill, letter, call, or site-visit connected to cleanup, repairs, and restoration. And keep an open (and documented) line of communication with the insurance agent assigned to your claim.
For those collectors that use, and regularly update, their RelicRecord.com account, you will have amazing backup documentation that will greatly ease the burden of the claims process.
Lastly, to prevent future flood damage of your collectibles, consider storing your collectibles inside water-proof containers. Or at minimum, having several close by in the event of an impending flood.
When choosing a container, look for ones with “snap” lids that lock into place. While a bit more expensive, they will provide a higher-quality seal. One sealed, store the containers on shelving, not directly on the floor.
If interested in finding and donating to a trustworthy organization that’s supporting the flood victims of Hurricane Harvey, check out Charity Navigator.