How to Save a Wet Book

Wet book sitting on the ground

Mike Linksvayer / Flickr / Public Domain

Hint: Use one of your kitchen appliances.

Did you know that it’s possible to save wet books by putting them in the freezer? As weird as it sounds, this simple trick can go a long way toward preserving beloved reading material that may be damaged from something as significant as flood waters or as silly as knocking over a glass of water. Here’s how it works.

Make Sure the Water Is Clean

The water has to be clean, for the most part. If a book has been soaked in dirty water or a colored liquid, i.e. coffee or red wine, it may be difficult to salvage the book. Realize, too, that the pages will never again be perfectly flat, only legible, if all goes well.

Freeze the Book Immediately

Do not try to separate wet pages, as they may stick and tear. Pop the book in the freezer as soon as possible. Leave it there for at least 24 hours to solidify. This serves a few purposes:

(1) It prevents mold from setting in within the first 48 hours of water damage.
(2) It deactivates active mold growth and changes its consistency, making it easier to remove.
(3) It buys you some time to figure out an air-drying arrangement.
(4) Once frozen, it allows you to open the book and spread the pages without them sticking together.

Freezing is especially effective for glossy magazine-type papers, as well as leather-bound or old parchment books (you know, if you happen to have any of those kicking around). I’ve used this technique many times for children’s books, too.

Keep the Freezer on Its Lowest Setting

The Library of Congress advises turning the freezer down to its lowest setting to avoid the formation of large ice crystals in items, which can cause damage, but this may be unavoidable in some household freezers. Also, if a freezer has a ‘frost-free’ setting, this can replace the air-drying part of the process by drying items over the course of several months.

Air-Dry the Book

Next, depending on the level of saturation, determine the best approach to air-drying. Cornell University Library offers the following advice:

If the book was thoroughly soaked prior to freezing: Do not try to separate pages. Stand upright on absorbent paper towel so water can drain down. If possible, put a sheet of towel between the covers and text body.

Partially soaked: Spread paper towel throughout the pages of the book (every 20 or so). After an hour of drying, change the towels until most moisture has been absorbed.

Damp: Stand upright, fan the leaves slightly, and let the book air-dry.

If there are coated illustrated pages inside the book, or if you’re dealing with wet photographs, layer wax paper to isolate each one and prevent sticking. Freeze immediately.