We tend to acquire a lot of things over the course of our lives, one of which is old photographs. Maybe you inherited a whole collection from your great-grandfather after he passed away, or perhaps you’ve picked up photos here and there from relatives.
Of course, your old photographs are beautiful mementos meant to be treasured. But that involves properly storing and preserving them. After all, old photographs tend to deteriorate if you don’t give them the TLC they deserve.
Because photograph care isn’t exactly considered common knowledge, we’ve done the hard work for you, digging up all the proper techniques for keeping old photos in good condition. Follow our tips below for the best advice on how to store your photos!
Tip #1: Take Inventory of Your Photographs
Before storing your old photos, take inventory of them first. Maybe you have a bunch of boxes scattered around your home, or perhaps you’re looking to consolidate your collection of old photographs with your siblings’ collection. Knowing how many photographs you’re dealing with (and their condition) will help you determine how much space you need to store them.
Tip #2: Handle with Care
The oils in your hands are your photographs’ worst enemies. These oils can damage your photographs—and your fingers can also leave fingerprints behind on the images.
One of the best ways to preserve old photos is to wear nitrile gloves or finger cots while handling them. If you don’t have those available, hold the photograph so that the tips of its corners rest in between the cushion of your index finger and thumb. This will help you avoid transferring anything from your fingers to the face of the photo.
Tip #3: Prepare Your Photos
If you’re wondering how to preserve old photos, you should know that a lot comes down to how you store them. Photos thrown into an old shoebox aren’t going to fare as well as those properly placed in PVC-free sleeves (more on that later).
Contrary to popular belief, storing old pictures in photo albums from years ago isn’t always the best route—especially if you’re using one of those peel-and-stick albums. This is because these photo albums often include glue, cardboard, and plastic that can eventually damage or deteriorate your images.
Carefully remove your photographs from those old albums and set them aside for a more resilient form of storage. When going through your collection, remove any rubber bands, paperclips, or staples that could further destroy your pictures.
Tip #4: Organize Your Collection
Next, don’t just throw all your photographs together and call it a day. Whether you’re preserving them for your own amusement or for future generations to enjoy, it helps to find a way to organize them. You might arrange them by date, or you might find it easier to separate them by different sides of your family, like your maternal and paternal relatives.
While you’re organizing, take this opportunity to label the backs of your photographs. Include the names of people, dates, locations, and any other information you have about the image. The best way is to use a soft lead pencil; take care not to press too hard. Avoid using ballpoints or markers that might bleed.
Bonus tip: If you feel like going above and beyond when organizing and storing your images, consider making digital copies of them. This is an especially good idea if some of your photographs are in particularly bad condition already. When you scan them and save them on your computer, you can preserve their current condition and more easily share them with your loved ones.
Tip #5: Place Photographs in Sleeves
Plastic sleeves that don’t contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are perhaps the best way to store old photos. PVC, also known as vinyl, is an unstable plastic that releases hydrogen-chloride gas that can deteriorate your images. Therefore, you don’t want any materials with PVC near your photos. These PVC-free sleeves provide an excellent place for your photos because you can easily view your photographs inside.
Now, we previously advised against storing your old photographs in photo albums, but there is one exception: acid-free albums. Like PVC, materials made with acid can harm your photographs. If you prefer the photo album method, purchase an acid-free archival photo album designed for preserving old photos. And whatever you do, don’t use any types of glues or adhesives when adding your images to the albums.
Tip #6: Pick a Proper Storage Container
Now that you have organized and labeled your old pictures, you’re ready to find a proper storage container for housing them.
Your best option is to choose an enclosed, water-proof container. In fact, you can even find fire-proof containers. You’ll also want to look for a container that is specifically labeled “acid-free.” This may include some kinds of cardboard boxes and plastic storage bins. Above all, avoid using shoeboxes; these often contain additional dyes and materials that will not serve your photos well.
If you placed your photos in sleeves, you might want to invest in some non-acidic paper dividers to separate your images before putting them into a storage container.
Tip #7: Choose Your Storage Space Wisely
Location, location, location. When it comes to preserving old photos, your storage location matters. Photographs don’t do well in direct sunlight, dampness, or fluctuating temperatures, as these elements can cause your photos to crack, fade, or deteriorate. Finding a well-ventilated area is also key because circulating air can help prevent the growth of mold and mildew.
Because photographs can be sensitive to a wide range of conditions, it’s important to put a lot of thought into where you plan to store them.
At-Home Storage Options
If you want to keep your photographs in your home, be mindful about where you store them. For instance, if your attic reaches temperatures well into the 100-degree F range in the summer, you’ll likely want to find a cooler location. And in the same vein, if your basement is prone to flooding, again, you’ll want to choose another spot.
It’s best to find a location that’s off the ground and not near any cooling or heating vents. Closet or cabinet space is a great option!
A storage unit is another prime place for storing old photographs if you don’t want them in your home. The good news is a lot of storage facilities offer climate-controlled storage options, which provide a set temperature and humidity range in the unit to help ward off extreme conditions. This helps give you more peace of mind, knowing that your photographs won’t be exposed to unfavorable elements like high humidity or excessive heat.
If you follow these helpful tips, you (and future generations) will have the opportunity to admire and enjoy these wonderful relics for years to come.
Discover More About Stor-It Today
There’s a lot to consider when it comes down to storing your items, and we’re here to help you keep track of it all. Whether you need advice about storing your items or want to find a self-storage unit near you, allow us to assist you.
At Stor-It, we’re proud to call ourselves the oldest and largest storage facility in the great state of Idaho. We’re always on hand to answer your questions and guide you toward the best storage solutions for your needs. Contact us today to find out more!