How to Store Old Photos (Suite 101)


Jul 1, 2009 Elaine Petrowski

Here are a dozen tips to help keep photo collections in the best possible shape for years to come.

  1. Be aware that moisture, light, heat, chemicals can all damage photos, slides and negatives, and even the latest digital images stored on CDs.
  2. CDs and DVDs were supposed to last forever. But it's recently been discovered that they, too, degrade rapidly. Store digital photos on archival quality CDs and DVDs only. Use an archival marker to label CDs and DVDs with the subject and date and slip into archival quality poly sleeves.
  3. Plan to store all photographic media in a dark, cool, dry place where temperature and humidity stay fairly constant. Never store precious photos in a garage, attic or basement.
  4. Many popular storage methods, such as "magnetic" or polyvinyl album pages, black paper albums and scrapbooks from the craft or office supply store will eventually deteriorate photographs. Instead, store black and white as well as color prints, negatives, slides and even CDs and DVDs in archival-quality boxes made of acid-free cardboard, chemically inert plastic (like polyester, polyethylene or polypropylene) or steel with a baked enamel finish.
  5. Choose only storage items that are clearly marked "archival". Two sources for a wide selection of affordable, archival quality albums, extra pages, plastic sleeves, storage shoe-boxes, glues, corners etc. are Exposures and Light Impressions.
  6. Store paper photographs interleaved with acid-free paper to prevent them from sticking to each other. It’s best for each CD,DVD, photograph, slide or negative to have its own inert plastic sleeve or acid- free paper envelope. This provides physical protection from dust dirt and scratches and isolates each medium from any damaging components of others.
  7. Avoid storing photographs that have begun to deteriorate in a box with others in good condition.
  8. Store black and white prints separately from color prints. And prints and negatives should not be in contact with each other.
  9. Wash your hands before handling negatives and hold them by the edges only. Never touch the face of the negative as oils from the skin damage it.
  10. Never eat or drink anything near a photo collection.
  11. Begin getting organized by throwing out the photos with unidentified faces and those that are out of focus etc.
  12. To preserve fragile letters and newsclippings, archivists suggest photocopying them onto acid-free paper and including the copy in your album or scrap book.

Handle with extreme care and choose archival storage products to keep treasured family photos and mementos intact so generations to come can enjoy.