This door from the Ivory Coast shows evidence of water damage
A flood, a leaking pipe or roof, or even rising damp can cause water damage. Its effects depend on the substance
- absorbent (porous) materials are left with tide marks, particularly from water which is heavy with
rust or silt
- organic materials, like wood, can swell
- metals corrode (eg rust)
- some substances, including some glues, dissolve or collapse in water
- objects made from many layers will sometimes delaminate (split into layers), eg ivory,
veneered wood and
- some fabrics may shrink
Treatment will vary with the material but first the
conservator needs to soak up the excess water. The rest of the
drying process needs to be as controlled as possible to avoid further damage. The speed at which materials are allowed to dry
depends on how long they have been wet - organic objects that have been wet for a very long time, eg something removed from a
sunken ship, should be dried slowly over several months or even years. The water may need to be replaced with a stable compound
to keep the shape and give the object some strength back.
The pages of wet books are separated (fanned out) while drying to stop them sticking together. Metals need to
be dried quickly and corrosion is either mechanically (physically) or chemically removed, depending on the metal and damage.
A protective film may need to be applied afterwards. It might be necessary to remove stains from objects, especially if mould has
grown and stained the material.
A lot of water damage can be prevented with basic building maintenance - reliable roofs, solid plumbing, and working
damp courses. Routing plumbing away from storage areas, providing drains in each floor, and using water-resistant cabinets also helps.
Objects should never be stored on the floor in case of floods, and should be protected in cupboards or display cases.
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