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    RINKER ON COLLECTIBLES — Column #676 Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 1999 

    Dealing with Water Damage with Special Emphasis on Flood Damage – Part IV

    This column is the fourth of a four-part series on dealing with water damage with special emphasis on flood damage. Part I presented information about Heritage Preservation(www.heritagepreservation.org), “The Emergency Response and Salvage Wheel,” planning ahead, and weathering the immediate emergency. Part II focused on the actions required to clean up a site and the initial steps in recovering water-damaged property. Part III dealt specifically with water damage recovery techniques relating to paper, everything from books to family photographs. Part IV, the final installment in this series, examines the steps necessary to recover water-damaged ceramics, furniture, glass, metal, and textiles.

    Ceramics and Glass 

    When recovering ceramic and glass objects, watch for pieces that have been broken off or become detached. When found, place them in a clean, transparent polyethylene bag until treatment. Carefully mark the bag so that the part can be reunited with the main object. Monitor the parts’ bags for any mold. 

    Rinse with a fine spray and blot dry. This is all that is necessary for most glass, the exception being glass with enamel and painted decoration. For the latter and all ceramics, consult a ceramic or glass conservator as quickly as possible. The Heritage Preservation website contains a list of qualified individuals. Different ceramic bodies and body types, e.g., earthenware, porcelain, bisque, glazed, etc., require different drying techniques. A conservator is the person to best advise you on what procedure to follow. 

    If water damage occurs during a cold period, be extremely careful when moving a glass or ceramic object from a cold to a warm environment. If the temperature change is too sudden, some ceramics and glass will crack or shatter. I remember vividly an individual who bought several pieces of stemware at an indoor antiques mall on a well below freezing day in February. When taking the piece from the mall to her car, she heard a sharp crack. The stems on several of the stemware pieces broke. Objects can adjust to temperature extremes when the move from one extreme to the other is gradual. 


    Begin by rinsing with a fine hose spray or sponging furniture surfaces. Be gentle. Dirt is an abrasive. Once the surface is clean, blot with a cloth or paper towels. 

    If the piece is painted, check immediately for blistered or flaking paint. If encountered, air dry the piece first before attempting to remove dirt or moisture. 

    If the piece is veneered, try to keep the veneer in place by using weights or clamps. Make certain to separate the weight or clamp from the piece with a protective layer of waxed paper. 

    The key is to control the drying process. The ideal approach is to build a large, temporary wood frame enclosure covered with thick plastic sheets. If possible, this enclosure should be located inside a garage or large warehouse in order to control the outside temperature and light exposure. 

    The goal is to lower the humidity gradually during the drying process. As a result, it may be necessary to use humidifiers to maintain a higher than normal humidity during the initial drying stages. Fans are a must to keep air circulating. Try to avoid placing furniture pieces too close to each other or on top of each other. 

    Take hollow pieces apart. Remove drawers and shelves. Mark them with chalk so they can be returned to their proper position. 

    No matter how carefully controlled the drying process is, joints will become loose, thus weakening support elements such as legs. If necessary, use string or other material to reinforce support. Also be alert to veneer and other attached pieces that may come loose and fall to the ground. Place them on a sheet of clean paper near the object from which they have fallen and label the sheet. Do not put them in a plastic bag or drawer. 

    Water damage often causes the finish to develop a white haze. Do not be concerned. This does not require immediate attention. It can be corrected later. 

    Upholstered furniture presents some difficult choices. Begin by rinsing off the mud. Remove cushions and any other lift-out pieces. If the upholstery is not period, you may want to remove it and focus your efforts on saving the frame. In many cases, value rests primarily in the frame. If the upholstery is period, you still may wish to remove it and provide textile treatment. If you are going to leave it in place, wrap the upholstered surface in sheets or towels. As they become wet during the drying process, remove and replace them with dry ones. Continue to blot any exposed wood elements 


    While you should wear gloves when handling any water-damaged object, it is critical when dealing with metal objects. Rinse or sponge and then blot dry. Allow to air dry slowly. 

    If dealing with a large metal object, it may be wiser to allow heavy mud deposits to dry first. Caked mud can be removed later. 

    If a metal object has a rough surface or applied finish, do not blot. Air dry on a plastic screen or clean towel and keep flaking surfaces horizontal. 

    As with ceramics, a conservator should be consulted early in the recovery process for extremely valuable metal objects, e.g., sculpture.


    Wet textiles are heavy. You need to provide adequate physical support when moving them. Carefully place them on a large piece of canvas or plastic (non-rusting) screen. 

    Avoid the temptation to unfold wet fabric, especially if it is delicate. Never stack wet textiles on top of each other. 

    Carefully press on the textile to try to remove some of the water. Next blot the textile with dry towels or cotton sheets in order to transfer the water from the soaked textile to the dry material. Remove and replace the dry material as it becomes wet. Never, never roll up the textile in the dry material and squeeze. Once dry and if the textile is not too large, rinse it in clean water and repeat the process. 

    Support shaped objects, e.g., baskets or purses, with towels or uncoated paper padding. When the padding becomes water saturated, remove and replace. Block and shape damp textiles when possible. 

    Air dry indoors using fans and air conditioning to control the drying process. When the textile is drying, examine it carefully. If there are no tears or noticeable deterioration, launder or dry clean as you normally would. 

    If the textile preservation process cannot be completed in forty-eight hours, wrap each textile individually in freezer or waxed paper. This prevents dye transfer. Pack flat and freeze. 

    Final Thoughts 

    It is my earnest hope that the information in this four column series will help mitigate the potential destruction of water-damaged antiques and collectibles. I have made the four columns a permanent part of my Internet website, www.rinker.com. 

    The steps necessary to preserve water-damaged antiques and collectibles require quick action and tremendous personal effort. It is virtually impossible to achieve this alone. When disaster strikes, I urge those who can to volunteer to help those in need. 

    No matter how many volunteers answer the call, it is not going to be possible to save every water-damaged object. However, each object saved is a victory. Remember this when measuring the success of your recovery effort. 

    Finally, my renewed thanks to Heritage Preservation (1730 K Street, NW, Suite 566, Washington, D.C. 20006) who willingly allowed me to draw heavily on their material in the preparation of this series.
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