Flood recovery

How to recover personal items or collections that have been damaged by flood water

Follow the steps below to recover items that have been damaged by flood water. These resources have been developed by our conservators at the University of Melbourne to assist you in recovering items in your home, workplace, local museum or Historical Society.

For further support, you can always contact our team of conservators directly on  03 9348 5700 or via email gcs-info@unimelb.edu.au if you have any questions.

Watch our short video featuring Principal Conservator of Paper and Photography Katy Glen as she demonstrates how you can recover items from flood damage. Video: Paul Burston.

Video duration: 3 minutes 33 seconds

For subtitles, view the video via YouTube.

You can also download our factsheet for further information.

Emergency Flood Recovery Guidelines

A summary of flood recovery steps from the video is outlined below. Remember, before disposing of precious items, ask a conservator. Many items can actually be saved.


1. Safety first!

Step 1: Ensure your recovery area is safe to enter.

Step 2: Wear gloves and a mask when handing items.

Materials and equipment

2. Materials and Equipment

Step 1: Prepare your materials.

Emergency Flood Recovery - list of materials and equipment

Step 2: Wear personal protective equipment such as clothing protection, and always wear gloves and a mask.

Step 3: Create a workspace, preferably outside or in a well ventilated space.

Supporting items2

3. Handle items carefully

Step 1: Waterlogged items can be heavy and fragile,  place them on a tray or chopping board to move.

Step 2: Avoid touching the surface of photographs.

Step 3: De-frame works to allow them to air dry completely.

Step 4: Ask a conservator before throwing away precious items, many things can actually be saved!

Sorting items

4. Prioritise your items

Step 1: Sort items and prioritise your most valuable.

Step 2: Sort dirty items from clean. Dirty items will require rinsing.


5. Rinsing muddy items

Step 1: Place flat items on a tray or flat board.

Step 2: Run clean water gently from the top edge across the surface.

Step 3: Books can be carefully rinsed while closed, or placed on a board  and rinsed.


6. Drying wet items

Step 1: Find a drying location with good airflow (but not windy).

Step 2: If you have space, place items face up on a towel, sheets or other absorbent materials. Change when the become damp.

Step 3: Some items can be dried on clothes lines or drying racks.

Step 4: Damp books can be dried fanned out or open, turning pages regularly. Do not open very wet or sodden books, instead blot all external surfaces and interleave every few pages with absorbent materials. Be careful not to over extend the spine.


7. If you need to act quickly, you can freeze some items

Step 1: If you don't have time to air dry material, you can freeze some items it to prevent mould and air dry later.

Step 2: Before freezing, rinse off mud, drain and blot off excess water.

Step 3: You can freeze items together, but make sure they are wrapped or separated with baking paper and then sealed in plastic bags. This prevents them from sticking together.

Step 4: Place items in a freezer, or if unavailable, an esky or fridge will slow mould growth.

Flood damaged items


1. Even very dirty and water-logged items can be restored in the future if they have been dried or frozen.

2. Mould and contaminated water are potential health risks, limit your exposure and wear and mask and gloves.

3. Cooler environments will slow the rate of mould growth.


We've compiled a number of resources which may assist in answering some questions you may have.

Contact us

Questions? Contact us to talk to a conservator directly.

Contact us