There are very few things in life that are truly irreplaceable – family photographs are among them.
Photographs are an incredible way to help preserve your family’s memories and create a visual family history for generations to come. According to the “Save Your Photos” website, protecting your precious photos and videos could be the single most important thing you do for your children and for generations to come. Family photos represent decades of history and memories through visual aid. It would be absolutely devastating to love these keepsakes due to improper storage or wear and tear from being shuffled around your home.
In this article, we will discuss how to store old photos and preserve memories for generations to come.
Top 5 Rules for Storing Old Photos
Proper Storage Conditions
Due to the fact that photographs are developed and printed on paper, they contain both ink and pigments that can degrade overtime if they are not stored properly. For that reason, it is essential to store photos in the right conditions if you want them to last and keep their quality for decades to come.
There are three main factors related to the conditions in which you should store old photographs. They are: temperature, humidity, and light.
Temperature – Generally speaking, areas of lower temperatures are ideal for preserving old photographs. This is because the cooler air slows down degradation of both the paper and ink, it also discourages insects which can destroy your photos in storage. That said, do your best to store old photos in a space that remains 75 degrees Fahrenheit or colder at all times. A hot attic would be a bad place to store your photos.
Additionally, large temperature fluctuations are also detrimental for old photographs. With that in mind, using your garage for photo storage may also be a bad idea – as they often fluctuate from hot to cold. If possible, store photos and video footage in a temperature controlled storage space.
Humidity – According to the National Archives and Records Administration, it is best to store photos and precious documents in a place that maintains higher than 15% relative humidity, and lower than 65% relative humidity.
When stored in environments that are extremely dry, photos and documents can become brittle and fragile. That said, the biggest concern is in keeping photographs away from areas with significant levels of humidity. If you store your photos in a damp basement, for example, they can grow mold and cause pictures to stick together. The moisture makes ink in the photographs to run and fade. Additionally, areas of high humidity encourage more insects to infest, destroying your precious memories.
Light – Believe it or not, storing photos in a dark location does play a part in their preservation and overall quality overtime. This is because darkness keeps the ink and pigments within the photographs from fading. Light generally breaks down images over the course of time, particularly UV and fluorescent light.
I’m sure you’ve seen the effects of sun damage on photographs, such as those you’ve had around your home for decades on display. They begin to lose their pigments and sun damage sets in. So, if you’d like to display your older photographs, make sure you have backup copies in storage in case the one you’re displaying starts to show signs of sun damage. We will get into how you can properly display old photographs in a minute.
Choosing the Right Types of Containers for your Photos
It is important to consider the types of containers you’ll be storing and organizing your photos in. The two main types of storage containers for photos include photo boxes and photo albums.
Many people who choose to purchase cheap cardboard boxes or photo albums from department stores and end up regretting it later, as their precious photographs get ruined. Remember the self-adhesive and magnetic photo albums from decades ago? Yeah, not the best choice for saving your aging photos.
When you’re looking for photo boxes or albums, consider the quality of the containers, and that the photos will be safe from lighting, acid and are PVC free.
Never store your photos under these conditions:
- Photo albums that require tape or glue to affix photos into the album or scrapbook
- Never mount or affix photographs to anything other than archival quality paper
- Do not use rubber bands or paper clips to hold old photographs together
- Photos should never be stored in envelopes, particularly if the envelopes are not made from archival quality paper
Safe Storage Location for Photographs
As previously mentioned, due to temperature and humidity imbalances, the attic and garage are bad places to store your photos. The basement is, generally speaking, no good either. You need to think about a few other factors when determining a safe place to store your photographs.
Consider insect and rodent infestations, damages from water and other appliances. Insects and rodents both love to destroy paper they find in storage, so keep your precious picture memories away from areas that could contain these pests.
Again, avoid areas that are prone to mold growth, flooding, leaks, and other potential dangers like these. Keep your photo storage containers off the floor if at all possible, in case of a flood, they won’t be damaged.
Do’s and Don’ts of Storing Antique Photos in Your Home:
Do: Store photos in cabinets, closets, or upper shelving. Being part of your frequent living quarters, these locations are clean, dry, and climate controlled.
Don’t: Use the attic, basement, or garage to store aging photos. These places do not have climate control and often fluctuate temperature and humidity-wise with the change of seasons.
Do: Try your best to always store photos off the ground.
Don’t: Store your photographs near a cooling or heating vent.
How to Display Old Photographs
If you want to display your old photographs, always keep the original in a safe and properly stored area. Display copies of older photos whenever possible to preserve the memories associated with the original.
That said, if you must display the original, be picky when it comes to where you hang the old photo. Choose a spot in your home that does not receive direct sunlight, fluorescent light, or UV light. The location should also be one where there is no risk for a leak, flood or water damage, or the possibility for rodents or insects to infest it. As previously mentioned, the temperature and humidity should be controlled wherever you choose to hang old photographs. A good place to display old original photographs would be in a den or hallway.
Preparing Photos for Storage
Regardless of whether you store your old photographs in a temperature-controlled storage unit or within your home, the way you organize your pictures will make a significant difference in their preservation level and ability to be maintained.
Sealed, water-resistant containers are the most effective, as they help control moisture and insects or rodents from entering. These containers are often made out of plastic with paper dividers to separate the prints inside the storage box.
The experts at preservation, the National Archives recommend using materials that are made primarily of pure wood pulps or cotton, as these prevent contact with acid or other detrimental elements. Additionally, they suggest rolling larger, flexible prints and documents into tubes, using a polyester film sleeve for extra precaution.
In addition to these steps, you may want to scan photos and store them digitally by using a scanner and downloading the photos to a hard drive before you take the time to store them. There are also many free photo app downloadable you can use to safely store the photos you scan. Your photo collection
Organizing Photo Storage Containers Safely
Here are a few of the ways you can safely store photo containers:
- Flat – Ensure all of your photos are stored laying flat inside their storage containers. In addition, make sure all photo storage containers are placed on flat surfaces.
- Fill Boxes to their Capacity, not Over Capacity – Shoving too many photographs inside a storage box will damage your images. Fill boxes just to capacity, don’t over-do it.
- Fit Boxes and Photos Correctly – Purchase photo storage boxes and containers that are the right size and fit to contain your images. If the box is too large, photos will be tossed around inside every time the box is bumped or moved. If the box is too small, images will be folded and bent inside.
- Use Dividers that are Non-Acidic – Non-acidic dividers placed in between photographs prevent the chance of your images sticking to one another. It also helps preserve the photos from overheating, causing ink to melt.
If you took the time to read this article, you should be fully prepared to professionally store your old photos, preserving your family memories for generations to come just as you had always envisioned.
If you feel like you’re just not sure what to do with your old photographs, consider the tips and tricks above for safely storing them. In time, the photos may become sentimentally valuable to you. In this event, you will want to be able to access them without damage.