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***We compiled and updated our best advice on how to rescue your antiques and collectibles (including furniture, rugs and everything else) and are making it available to our readers as a free PDF download here.***

With Hurricane Florence taking aim at North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, the first concern for those in its path is LEAVE the danger zone. Nothing is more valuable than your life.

Once officials have declared it is safe to return – and with Florence predicted to linger for days, that could be awhile – THAT is the time to assess damage. Flood damage to antiques and collectibles requires special immediate attention. Time is critical. Here are 10 tips from the Kovels to help answer the question, “What do I do first?”

1. Be sure your house is safe to re-enter. Do not walk into water until you are sure the power is off. Follow all safety rules and get permission to enter from the police, electric company or another professional. Write down the date and names of everyone who tells you what you can do.

2. Take photos or video of absolutely everything. Go into your home armed with your cell phone or a camera, pen, paper, flashlight, and plastic bags. Go room by room and list, photograph or video the floor, window coverings, furniture, pictures, decorative items, photos—anything that you can see. Look in closets and open cabinets and drawers. Keep each room separate. Make notes on description and condition. Small items, like cups and saucers or napkin rings, should be carefully recorded, one at a time if possible.

To this listing you will later add actual cost, replacement cost, and any notes to prove ownership and value. It can be worth money in a settlement with the insurance company or on a claim of losses with the Internal Revenue Service.

3. Think like a thief. Call the insurance company. Get permission to remove the most valuable items in the house. This probably means all silver, jewelry, guns, coin collections, paintings, valuable rugs and other art and antiques, etc. You may have to wait until the insurance adjuster arrives.

Rescue undamaged items first. Wear boots and rubber gloves, wash hands frequently, and cover open cuts so contaminated water doesn’t cause infections.

Write down everything you are taking out of the house. Put important papers in zip-lock bags and put them in a freezer.

Secure the house before leaving.

4. Mold is a priority. Dry everything as quickly as you can. If you take items to air out at the home of a friend, relative, or a storage locker write down where it is. With all that’s going on, you may forget!

5. Wipe wood dry ASAP. Wipe it and other hard surfaces with a rag soaked in a mixture of Borax and hot water. Remove drawers from wood furniture. Let them dry to reduce sticking and warping. Don’t dry wood in the sun. Check wood pieces for damage—warped or missing veneer or hardware. Save any bits and pieces and store them in a bag in a drawer so they can be part of the restoration.

Later, if the wood develops white spots or a film, rub the surface with a clean cloth soaked in a solution of half ammonia, half water.

If your wooden chair frame is valuable, save it. But sadly, you should remove and discard the upholstery. It can’t be disinfected or cleaned enough to avoid mold or diseases.

6. If your collectibles were in muddy water, just rinse off the dirt with clean running water, one piece at a time. Do not scrub. It will embed the dirt or scratch glass or ceramics. Dry with a soft cloth.

Dinner dishes and glassware must be disinfected. No matter how clean the dishes look, you must sanitize them if they were in or near flood waters. The easiest way is to wash them in a dishwasher. Don’t worry about the regular rules about never putting dishes with overglaze decoration and gilding in the dishwasher. One wash won’t do noticeable damage.

7. Shake silver-plated silverware with hollow handles, like those on knives and teapots, to see if there is water inside the handle. If you hear swishing, you need a professional restorer. If there is a wooden handle or other porous parts, clean the silver with hand sanitizer before polishing.

Sterling silver should also be sterilized. It can be put in almost-boiling water, a short cycle in the dishwasher without detergent, or cleaned with hand sanitizer.

8. Carpeting must be discarded. Oriental rugs can be saved but require a specialist. Throw rugs can be cleaned in a washing machine. Place plastic under furniture legs to prevent colors (or rust from metal legs) from bleeding from furniture to floor.

9. Save pieces of broken ceramic and glass items. You may repair them later or claim the loss. Put loose pieces in a plastic bag. Mark it with the identity and where you found it. Watch out for mold growth in the bag.

10. Wrap soaked books and paper in plastic and store them in a freezer until you can decide what you can restore. Books and paper may look wrinkled and free of mold if they had little water damage. But check carefully. Sometimes the inside of a book may still be damp or slightly moldy. Put them in a warm, dry place like a sunny window. After a day or two, take the paper outside and vacuum or brush away any mold with a soft-bristled brush.

Be sure to keep all bills connected with clean-up, restoration, and moving back. Many will be covered by homeowners, flood, or fine arts insurance. It will take time and a lot of effort, but keep a record of every letter, every visit and every call about the disaster. You may be asked for the same information several times.

Any more flood related tips? Please share your comments with our readers.

Article originally ran on August 29, 2017. Updated on September 12, 2018.




#3 Funny storyDM1 2018-09-15 07:26
When my Mom experienced their flood in Nevada she was in her late 70's at that time. The Church came in and volunteered to help pack up her precious items to get them out of the water & mud. They moved everything to storage for her. She had so many beautiful antiques some of which were destroyed.
What was so funny to me was whoever packed them up had not a clue about antiques & collectibles. They carefully wrapped the newer everyday crystal in several layers of paper yet they barely used any paper at all to wrap her very large RS Prussia bowls from Grandma! I guess they thought these were old things not worth anything but the crystal had to be expensive and valuable!! While my stomach was in a knot and anxiety level skyrocketed as I unwrapped each one my smile came back with each one that had no damage! Most were trashed. So while the "help" was very much appreciated, there should have been some direction or education as to what was valuable....Oh Well!!!
#2 Ignoring what you can't seesuetue 2018-09-13 19:22
A few years after a flood in the mid 90s, dry rot developed in the frame of the floor under the house. Fortunately most of the things that I had in the family collection were spared, but I didn't find this until a lot later.

You can prevent it with any garden mold and mildew preventative or treatment mixed into a tank spray and used. I personally used Bonide powdery mildew preventative and have used it since on places prone to mold. After five years, each one is still clear of it.

If you have furniture or other wood products stored in an outbuilding, spray every surface and saturate it. You can always wipe off what you don't want to bother later and it doesn't seem to bother finishes.
#1 Great resource re flood damagecmdviola 2018-09-12 19:56
This article; starting with the PHOTOS is spot on.
After superstorm sandy.. the flood damage 2'of water in the basement- our basement was full of papers
We were pumped out very soon afterwards, and could have been much dirtier water and much worse.
I thought I took A LOT OF PHOTOS and it was barely enough. Later on, I wanted to see the actual flooded scene, and muddy mess and the details of items that went directly to the dumpster, and I wished for MORE PHOTOS.
I think we are still (years later) noticing damage to certain items that were affected by the SALT WATER. Salt really does corrode; and the initial rinse is not enough. any motor or electrical item is surely a gonner.
Another caveat is the SPACE you need in a freezer and later, any dry area to lay out papers to dry. Takes up a ton of room. In the initial stage of saving my advice is don't waste time with anything iffy. You will want the effort and space devoted to your special things

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