The Quick and Dirty of Preserving Your Photographs

House on 62 and Garfield in the Village of Richfield. 1956.

The quick and dirty rules for keeping your photographs or diaries longer is to keep them in a stable, clean, and dark environment. 

Let me break it down even more. Stable, as in cool 65 degrees and dry as in 30-50% relative humidity. How can you tell what the humidity level is? Get a digital thermo hygrometer from amazon for between $20 and $30, stick it in the room where you will be storing your precious memories and BOOM. You’ll know what the temp and RH is and adjust as needed.

Clean. Why should that space be clean? Hmm.. let’s think on this one. Ok, state-the-obvious aside, some ways to keep your materials clean is to keep them covered. In shoe boxes with covers, lined with tissue paper works great. If you want something a bit more fancy but inexpensive, purchase manila file folders and interleaf the photographs with archival paper. Handle your goods the way you do with food. Wash your hands before digging in and reminiscing. This keeps the oils and dirt on your hands from soiling photographs, which will then speed up the deterioration process. Food and liquids should always be kept far from your storage space. These attract our crawling friends.

Darkroom. Light, from any source, is the worst kind of exposure. The sun, of course, emits the most damaging rays. (That’s why we wear sunblock.) Keep the lights off as much as possible in your storage area. Or keep your materials covered or in boxes. If you’re displaying a photo of grandma, don’t place it on a wall with direct sunlight. Change out your photos so that they don’t stay in any light for a long period of time.

OK, so you’ve done all this and still want more tips?

Here is one free reference from the NE Document Conservation Center that I recently discovered that has absolutely everything a professional, hobbyist, historian, genealogist, retired person or anyone, should ever need to preserve their archival history.

The Minnesota Historical Society, of course, has some of the best resources.

And the Library of Congress

Hey, and if you want some first-hand experience before trying it out on your own, we’re always looking for volunteers!

The photo above is part of our photographic collection of inventory of homes in Richfield in the late 50s.