Rescuing Damp and Soaked Books
Have you ever been walking in the rain and someone bumped into you, knocking your bag from your hands and spilling your book into the mud? Or perhaps you like to read in the bathtub as I do and have been startled into dropping your book in the water? Book ruined right? Not necessarily. It is possible to save a book even if it’s been soaked through, but you do need to work quickly.
Even if your book is only damp you need to take care of it quickly to avoid mold. So let’s talk book rescue.
First, is the book clean or did it end up in a mud puddle? If it’s dirty try to clean it up as best you can with clean water, you can fix the wetness in a bit. Holding the book firmly closed and rinse it in a cool water bath of clean water should get rid of the worst of it.
Next you need to determine how bad off the book is so you can decide which steps need to be taken. Let’s go from worst case to best, as a book that is complete soaked will need to go through all of these steps.
If you have a large number of books to look after then you may need to freeze some of them and divide them into batches to prevent molding. If you’re only working with only of a few books then you can skip to the next section.
- Wrap the books in freezer or waxed paper to protect your books.
- Place them in a freezable container, such as one made of plastic. Avoid metal.
- Pack your books in the container spine down.
- Freeze them for later work.
Now you can begin rescuing your books. Take great care, your books are fragile when wet. Decide how bad the damage is and move to that section of the instructions. Artificial heat is bad! Hair dryers on a heat setting or heaters of any kind will distort pages and encourage mold.
The “Oh Crap” or Soaked Book:
When your book is at it’s worst here’s what you can do…
- We are going to air dry your book. Find a cool, dry place with good air circulation. You will need it.
- Find yourself a clean, dry surface. No need to make the damage any worse.
- Open your book’s covers so that your book can stand on its own. If it needs a little help then you can use bookends to keep it upright. Be careful of your binding.
- Do not do any rubbing to dry either the pages or cover. You don’t want to smudge any ink.
- Get some paper towels and place them all the way into the crease in the front and back covers of the book, on either side of the block of pages. It’s not time to mess around with the pages yet, they’re too fragile.
- Place more paper towels underneath your propped up book and turn on some fans to get the air moving.
- You’ll need to check your paper towels and change them when they become wet. Don’t leave wet ones in the book.
- Rotate the book onto its top and bottom every time you change the paper towels, this will allow all the water to drain.
- Once your book is no longer saturated you can move to the next section. Sorry, you’re in for the long haul here.
The “Still Pretty Darn Wet” or Partially Wet Book:
- Better keep those paper towels handy, you’re still going to need them. Place dry paper towels every 20 pages or so, making sure that you tuck the pieces completely into the crease of the binding. This is important as the binding needs to dry out as well. Also make sure that your pieces cover your pages completely and overlap the sides.
- Lay your book down flat.
- Do not overpack your book, you will distort the pages. Change your paper towels as often as needed to keep them dry enough to absorb the water. Many people will tell you every half hour.
- Your book will soon be “only slightly damp”. Continue to the next section! You’re getting there, never fear!
The “Oh That’s Not So Bad” or Slightly Damp Book:
- Stand the book on it’s top or bottom edge and fan out the pages. You may want to put another paper towel under the book but you can remove the rest for now. Keep dry ones handy for later.
- Move your fan so that the air may circulated in and around the book and its pages. Check that the room is still cool and dry, we don’t want mold inching its way in now.
- If your covers are wetter than the pages (which may be the case if this is your first section of steps) tuck some paper towels in to separate them.
- When your book is almost but not completely dry you may continue to the last section. Almost there, folks!
Now We Air Dry:
- Lay your book flat again. I know, there’s a lot of position changing involved.
- Put new paper towels between the covers and pages. Now you can put your roll away, if you have any left. Sorry about that.
- If at all possible reform your book into its regular, pre-damaged shape.
- Place a weight on top of your book, not too heavy but enough to help shape your pages into their normal state (your pages will probably never be perfect so don’t expect them to be like new again).
- Note: Don’t pile drying books into a stack. Weight them separately.
- Leave the book weighted until completely dry. Leave the fans on to continue air circulation and perhaps leave for a day or two.
Your book should be saved! Keep it away from the damp to discourage mold growth and check it to make sure none has snuck in. If a book becomes moldy separate it from your other books, active mold can spread. Unless the book is of great value it may be best to just replace a mold book. Moldy books are hard to fix and will attract mold easier anyway.
I hope this tutorial is helpful, I know it’s saved a few of my favorites. If you have questions or thoughts to add then you should definitely leave a comment!