Safely Removing Stains from Photos

Dear Donia,
How can I safely remove a stain on a photo?

MicroChamber paper


Q. Dear Donia,

I have a large 16x20 photographic portrait of my grandmother. Unfortunately, there is a large stain that appears to be animal urine across the center of the image and it's probably been there for at least a few decades. Is there a way that I can safely remove the stain from the original without destroying the image? I can probably copy the image and retouch the digital version, but I'd like to restore the original. I also do not want to use the services of a conservator, nor do I want to contaminate my scanner. Thank you, Leslie

A. Dear Leslie,

I am sorry to hear the photo of your grandmother is damaged! I wish I could say that there was something easy that you could do on your own but staining is very difficult to reduce or remove, even for professional conservators, without doing irreparable damage. The best approach would be to have the photograph scanned and digitally retouched by you or by someone else. You can then have the photo printed out (to whatever size you would like) and then safely store the original.

To safely store the original, keep it in an area of your house that has a more stable climate than a basement or an attic and is away from water. You will want to store the photo in a folder and box that are acid-free, lignin-free, and buffered. An even better option would be to interleave the photo with some MicroChamber paper. The MicroChamber paper will help absorb the odor of the urine over time and help protect the paper from any residual problems caused by the deteriorating photographic paper - helping preserve the image.

I hope this helps and if you have other questions, please don't hesitate to ask "Dear Donia"!