Restoring Your Home After a Disaster

How to Restore Documents & Books After a Flood

If you experience a flood or water damage your home, then you probably want to save as many of your belongings as possible. If some of these belongings are books and important documents, then you will need to clean them and dry them off. This requires a careful process, so follow the tips below.

Before You Begin

Before you start collecting your books to save them, you should understand that the flood waters that enter your home may contain a number of potentially dangerous materials. Fecal matter is one of these things. The material comes from the animal waste left outside your home and the water easily picks it up. This material often contains certain types of bacteria that can make you ill such as Streptococci and E. coli.

Along with potentially dangerous bacteria, flood water may also contain agricultural runoff that is full of pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides. These materials are likely to contain a great deal of harmful chemicals, nitrates, phosphorous, salts, and metals. Industrial runoff that contains byproducts from the manufacturing process may enter flood waters too. 

This means that you need to protect yourself properly before you start drying out or cleaning your books and documents. A pair of rubber gloves and some rubber goggles will work well for protection. You can also wear a respirator or dust mask if you feel like your lungs need protection as well.

Start the Cleaning Process

Freeze Items

Once you have fully protected yourself will safety gear, start by figuring out which items need to be dried out in a timely manner. Important documents like birth certificates, home insurance documents, house deeds, legal documents, tax returns, and recent pay stubs are a few items that should be saved right away. The rest of the paperwork and the books should be wrapped in clean towels, placed in plastic freezer bags, and set in the freezer.

The water will move to the exterior of the book or document. Some of the water will sublimate if your freezer is cold enough. Much of the fluid will move to the absorbent towel though and freeze the fabric. You can remove the document or book two or three weeks later. At this time, place it in a 150 to 200 degree Fahrenheit oven on a foil covered baking sheet. Check the book or document every 15 or 20 minutes to see if it is dry.

Rinsing Techniques

Once you have separated your books and documents, rinse the items you want to save right away. If an item is delicate, like one placed on drafting, tissue, rice, newspaper or another thin type of paper, then set it on a towel and lightly spray it with water to clean it off. Writing, sketching, and stock computer papers are a bit sturdier and can be dipped in a bucket of cool water to clean them. You can use water from your faucet for this purpose as well.

If you are concerned about the presence of fecal bacteria or other microorganisms on the paper, then consider adding about one-eighth of a cup of bleach to a five gallon bucket filled with water. Allow the papers or books to sit in the bleach solution for about a minute before you rinse them with cool water. The bleach should not damage the paper documents, because pulp is bleached during the paper creation process as well. Chlorine free bleach is usually used, but the household cleaner should still be safe for the paper.

Drying the Documents

One of the easiest ways to remove excess water from documents and books is to utilize blotting paper. Blotting paper is a highly absorbent type of paper that has traditionally been used to blot ink when foundation pens were used. The paper can be found at stationary and art supply stores. Place one piece of blotting paper under each of your documents to absorb water for one or two hours, and replace the paper once it is saturated. Once the paper is mostly dry, use a fan to help the rest of the fluid evaporate.

If you want to dry out your books, then add a piece of blotting paper every 15 to 20  pages and close the book. Replace the paper every few hours until the blotting paper no longer absorbs the fluid. Place the book in a 150 or 200 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15 or 20 minutes at a time until it is dry.