How Do I Dry Wet Books?
This question heads the list of the most frequently asked questions. There are two
basic drying methods: air drying and freeze drying, and
each can be done using several techniques.
- This method is most appropriate when only a small number of books (a couple
hundred or less) are damp rather than soaking wet, and when indoor temperature,
humidity, and air circulation can be controlled.
- Open the books, fan the pages open, and place them on their heads (i.e.
with the print upside-down) on a large work table covered with paper. A book
should not be positioned on its fore-edge, because the weight of the damp
textblock might cause it to pull apart from the binding.
- Use fans to ensure good air circulation. This may take a day or more. Remember
that if the books are too wet, mold may grow, thus freezing is the better
- Coated papers pose a special problem because the clay coating on their pages
will become sticky when wet and will stick together permanently if allowed
to dry. Pages should be interleaved with paper towels, blotters, or anything
that keeps the coated surfaces from touching one another.
- See Tips for
Saving Water-Damage Items for visuals and additional description.
- Books can be kept in freezers almost indefinitely. Thus, freezing is particularly useful
when a large number of books have gotten wet--they can be taken out and treated in small
- The freezer will not "fix" the books, but if it is done soon after the items
are wet, it will prohibit insect infestation or the growth of mold. Freezing buys
you time to decide the best course of action for dealing with damaged items.
- Freeze drying can be done in a home or supermarket freezer, but not as
effectively as in a freezer specifically designed for large scale and blast freezing.
- If possible wrap the books separately with freezer paper so they will not stick to each
- If a home freezer is used, it should have an automatic defroster. Frost-free freezers
will eventually help water evaporate out of the paper. Any freezing should be done as soon
as possible after the books are damaged.
- Vacuum-freeze drying involves the use of a vacuum chamber, in which a
frozen book is placed. The temperature is raised and pressure reduced, causing water in
the book to vaporize and it is then sucked out of the chamber.
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