If your films have been in a flood, here are a few things you should know about their condition:

  • Films that have gotten wet can deteriorate quickly, much more quickly than many other types of material.
  • Wet film must be kept wet until it can be rewashed and dried.
  • The idea is to stabilize your films, then let people with experience do the recovery and conservation work.

You should also know:

  • Wet films are very fragile. Do not attempt to unroll a film to look at it. Unrolling a film at this point will almost certainly cause further damage.
  • Do not touch film with bare hands – wear plastic gloves and avoid touching the image area.

First, determine if film in boxes and cans is wet. If film is not wet, do not put it in water!

  • Cans that are wet on the outside may contain dry film that should be separated from wet material.
  • Wipe outsides of film cans with sponges before opening.
  • Set dry films aside for future digitizing.

Remove wet films from their boxes or cans:

  • Gently rinse off the can or box to avoid getting dirt or debris on the film.
  • Then, very gently, rinse off the outside only of the film roll.
  • Do not unwind the film. Leave the film on its reel or core.
  • Place a rubber band around the film so it forms a circle that will keep the film from unwinding. (If the film were an Oreo cookie, the rubber band would go around the filling.)
  • Keep the boxes and cans to match up with the film reels later. Often there is writing on the can or box that helps identify the film.

Until you can get to a professional, keep wet films wet. This provides the best hope of saving the film.

  • Place wet films in a plastic bag or container of water to prevent drying out.
  • You may place more than one film in the same container.
  • If using a container of water, the water level should cover all films in the container.
  • Use cool, distilled water if you can. Next best: cool tap water.
  • Make sure all of the films stay under water. Add cool, clean water to the container as needed.
  • Keep the container of films as cool as you can. Put the container in a refrigerator if one is available.

Do not keep film with mold damage wet – dry as soon as possible.

  • The emulsion of film that has had mold damage is soluble in water
  • To air dry, lay film flat, emulsion side up, on sheets of polyester web over absorbent paper, and change paper as it becomes wet.
  • Film may be hung on clotheslines with plastic or rustproof clips to dry, but do not let film strips touch each other.

What to do with films that got wet, then dried out completely:

  • Keep the films in a cool, clean, safe place.
  • Do not try to unwind the film.
  • Do not put the films in water.
  • The emulsion of film that has had mold damage is soluble in water
  • Take the films to a professional as soon as possible to see what can be salvaged.

Reference: Mick Newnham, Senior Researcher, Preservation and Technical Services Branch National Film and Sound Archive Australian Film Commission and NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION PRESERVATION PROGRAMS