Restoring Water-damaged Prints

Dear Donia,
How can I restore water-damaged prints?

water-damaged print

Q. Dear Donia,

I have several prints from the 20s that I have some water spots, on and I'm curious as to how to remove them. Although I have an art background, I'm unsure if I can do this myself. By the way they are mounted it looks like it might be an acidity problem due to the poor backing. Some things I’ve looked up have said bleach or hydrogen peroxide, but I don’t want to just jump into that. I figured now is the time for me to tackle this project as there is no where I can take them. If you have any answers I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you, Ashley

A. Dear Ashley,

Removing stains from works of art on paper is an extremely complex process and how you do it depends on the paper, the ink, the printing process, the mounting, and so much more. The best thing to do is to leave the prints alone if you do not want to do serious damage to them. Bleach or hydrogen peroxide will deteriorate the paper if they are not used at the correct dilution and then washed out thoroughly. Washing requires extensive testing to ensure the paper and the ink will not be changed by the process and this testing requires training not just in art but in conservation and chemistry.

If it is at all possible, can you judiciously mat the prints so you don't see the water stains? To help you see all the complexities, see the Paper Conservation Wiki hosted by the American Institute for Conservation. It will show you all the variables you would need to know about before starting to reduce the staining.