photo of historic documents

How many old, historic documents do you have in your home? Whether it’s birth certificates of past family members, important papers recording the history of your family, or historic documents that have been passed down through the generations, it’s important to know how to protect old paper documents from damage.

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 family and historic documents, there are steps you can take to ensure their safety and longevity, including safeguarding those valuable papers in archival-quality certificate or diploma frames.

Read on to learn more about the importance of document preservation and our best tips for how to preserve old documents in your own home.

How to Preserve Old Documents 101

Wash and dry your hands

As we said, when it comes to preserving paper, dirt and oil are the enemies. 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. This is the golden rule when it comes to how to protect paper documents, regardless of their age or current condition.

hands washing

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! While it can be tempting to use these tools when preserving old documents, it’s best to avoid them altogether.

pins and paper clips

Avoid lamination

Above all, never laminate an important document. The process is irreversible and can decrease the value of the document. You should only trust museum-quality certificate frames to preserve the integrity of your valuable family keepsakes.

Carefully monitor light exposure

It’s also important to understand how light can affect document preservation. 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. This small step will help to preserve documents in pristine condition for decades to come while still allowing them to be displayed for all to see.

document storage drawers

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%. If you are displaying your old documents in frames, it’s important to choose a room that has a fairly consistent temperature throughout the year to avoid condensation or any other damage.

The easiest way for how to preserve old documents is with a quality frame. Check out our selection of frames with UV-filtered glass that are perfect for document preservation or head over to our blog for more tips on how to protect paper documents with the proper storage and framing methods.

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