old handwritten letters

Tips to Preserve Historic Documents

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One of paper’s biggest enemies is acid. It makes paper weak and brittle and can lead to discoloration, deterioration, and irreversible damage. Other factors that affect the life of paper materials include the manufacturing process, paper components, and inks that are applied to the paper. It’s important to create a safe environment for your paper documents to keep these elements from destroying them. To protect and preserve your historical and family documents, there are steps you can take to ensure their safety and longevity.

woman washing her hands

Wash and dry your hands.
Make sure your hands are clean and dry before handling a historic document. Oils in your skin can leave stains or weaken the paper, thus permanently damaging the document. For valuable pieces, be sure to wear gloves.

paperclips

Don’t use fasteners or adhesives.
Never use paper clips, staples, rubber bands, tape, or glue on important or valuable documents. These basic office supplies can stain, tear, and ruin paper materials. Also, avoid using pressure-sensitive tapes to repair tears. Even archival tape can cause irreversible damage, such as stains, ink alteration, or brittle paper. Remember, “archival” doesn’t always mean acid-free!

Avoid lamination.
Above all, never laminate an important document. The process is irreversible and can decrease the value of the document.

Carefully monitor light exposure.
Ideally, documents should have limited exposure to light. However, if you have a valuable piece that you’d like to frame and display in a particular room, then you should opt for UV-filtering glass over the document and place UV filters on the windows and light bulbs in that room. Hang the frame in a spot that’s out of direct sunlight.

wooden photo storage

(photo credit: flickr)

Properly store your documents.
Store documents flat in a cool, dry, and dark area. Papers should always be stored in acid-free, alkaline materials (like boxes, folders, or mats) or in polyester film folders. Never keep your documents in a damp or humid areas, such as basements, attics, or bathrooms. These storage locations can lead to mold growth and foxing (brown stains on the surface of the paper). The Library of Congress states that the ideal temperature for storing and preserving documents is below 72 degrees Fahrenheit with a relative humidity of 35%.

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