Preserving Family Photos

Is great aunt harriet looking a little pale these days?

by Patricia A. Scott, ’71, retired librarian and college archivist. Camera illustration courtesy of Penn College Archives. Photos courtesy of Scott

Published July 29, 2019

1. Hang photos on walls where they will not get direct sunlight. If possible, hang photos on an inside wall away from fireplaces or heating units.

2. For your framed photos, be sure to use a mat between the photograph and the glass. Otherwise moisture can cause the photo to stick to the glass. If you try to remove it, you’re likely to damage the photo.

3. Don’t put photos in albums that sandwich the photos between plastic sheets. Over time, the plastic will stick to the photos.

4. Don’t glue or tape photos into albums. Storing photos in storage boxes designed for photos is better.

5. If you have photo albums where the photos have been glued or taped in, you can insert sheets of acid-free paper between the pages. It will help to prevent the photos from sticking together. 

6. If you have photos that have faded, especially color photos, consider transferring them to CDs before they fade any further. Otherwise, Great Aunt Harriet may fade into oblivion. (Not a bad thing, you say?)

7. If you have color slides, try to keep them in a cool place. (But not the basement; it gets damp down there.)

8. When dusting framed photos, use only a dry cloth: no Endust, Pledge or other cleaning solvents.

9. It is best to store black-and-white photos, slides and negatives separately.

Tell your children (or whoever will inherit the photos) about the people in your photographs. If you don’t know who is in the photograph, you will be less likely to keep it. Putting a face and a name to the person in a photo will help to preserve memories along with the highly important job of preserving the physical photograph.
- Elizabeth P. Waugh, librarian