Sometimes after all we’ve done to properly store our ephemera, much to our dismay, it can still become damaged by causes beyond our control. The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to restore your ephemera to the state you’d like it to be in. Find out if you can repair some of your items below!

How we store our items can actually be at the root of our problems. To make sure you’re properly preserving your ephemera take a look at How Should I Store Ephemera for helpful tips. The easiest way to prevent the need to restore items is to keep them properly stored in the first place.

Different Types of Damage

First things first, it’s important to identify the exact type of damage you’re dealing with, so you can properly treat it. Here’s a list of possible types of damage that your works may have sustained:

  • Mold (this can be a severe health hazard to people, so make sure you handle any moldy items with careful protection)
  • Water damage
  • Damaged Binding
  • Ripped page
  • Staining or foxing (spotty brown stains)
  • Rolled ephemera that tears when unrolling
  • Insect infestation
  • Folds or creases
  • Dust, dirt or other debris
  • Tape
  • Acid Burn
  • Smoke damage
  • Wrinkles
  • Ink bleeding

For a more complete list of damages, check out Paper Restoration by

To view clear pictures of each type of damage, take a look at What’s the Damage? on the Graphic Conservation Co.’s website. You might be able to narrow down the type of damage that you’re dealing with when comparing your items to the pictures given.

Once you’ve figured out the type of damage that you’re dealing with, you can move forward with the restoration process.

5 Techniques to Repair Damaged Ephemera

Disclaimer: If the damage to your ephemera is such that you cannot safely restore it at home, it’s highly recommended that you take your article into a professional conservator. Find a Conservator is a helpful tool to find a local professional near you. The type of damage that would warrant a professional would include extremely moldy or pest-infested ephemera that needs quick attention so that the damage does not further destroy the article. Use your best judgment when deciding whether or not you should have it professionally examined. When in doubt, the Graphic Conservation Co. has complimentary examinations that can further direct you with the restoration of your items.

The following techniques are suggestions for what can be done at home, but could possibly lead to further damage if not done correctly. Take careful steps to make sure you handle, store, and restore your ephemera properly.

Before getting started, reminds us, “Restoration techniques should be tested on an inconspicuous area before being used, and their safety and efficacy varies depending on the material being treated.” (Retrieved from For those extra sentimental, valuable, or fragile items take them directly to a professional conservator.

With that being said, the following 5 descriptions are examples of how to repair some of the most common paper damages.

Restoring water damaged paper or books.

Before mold has a chance to grow, it’s important that you dry the items quickly and efficiently. If the water happens to be dirty which leaked into your works, make sure to first rinse the items in clean water. Be careful not to scrub the dirt out, rather lightly rinse or brush it out, so as not to add further damage to your ephemera. Once you’ve determined that the items are clean, lay them out on Heavyweight Blotting Paper. Purchasing this type of paper will help absorb the water. Let the items air dry with a light fan blowing on them. Recovering water-damaged books and paper- is it possible? has more information on the recovery of books or paper. Just be patient with the drying process and know that there may be a slight distortion of the ephemera after the water damage. Again, taking it to a professional may be necessary for full recovery.

To prevent further water damage, make sure that you work with your ephemera away from drinks or other food. Store your ephemera off the ground in case of flooding. Make sure the room they are in isn’t prone to humidity.

Getting rid of insect infestation in books.

If you have a freezer in your home, you’re in luck! To fully eliminate insects, you can put your books into Ziploc Freezer Bags and then place them in your freezer for 72 hours. The proper way to do this is as follows:

  1. Empty out your freezer of everything.
  2. Then, carefully place each book into its own bag and seal them shut.
  3. Next, place the bags into the freezer for 72 hours.
  4. Once the time has passed, unplug your freezer and let the books thaw inside the freezer. Repeat the process if needed to fully remove the pests.
  5. Gently brush off any remaining dust or dirt once you treat the bugs.

Reversing the effects of mold or mildew.

To get rid of mold in your paper items, it’s important to first get rid of the water causing the mold. Make sure there are no leaks or other humid circumstances causing the mold. Next, it’s time to dry out the moldy items. Again, placing your paper or books on Heavyweight Blotting Paper is a great way to absorb the moisture. White paper towels also work well in absorbing water in between the pages of books. Let the items dry up completely before moving onto the next step. Once dry, take a cotton ball or gentle brush to wipe away the dried mold. Since mold is harmful to people, make sure you protect your mouth, nose, and eyes with protective equipment. Just like that, the mold or mildew should be cleared from your items. For really stubborn mold, take your items to a professional. Make sure to store your items in safe places away from water and humidity!

Surface cleaning to remove dust, dirt, or other light buildups.

Before surface cleaning begins, the Northeast Document Conservation Center advises you to ask these three questions:

  1. “Will any [historical] evidence be removed in surface cleaning such as fingerprints or smudges on the artwork?
  2. Is the item brittle, photographic, or a piece of fine art that can be damaged with even light cleaning?
  3. Do bound volumes need to be supported during surface cleaning with a cradle or foam book wedges to avoid stressing the binding?”

If the answer is yes to any of these, then take your item to a professional to be cleaned. These type of items are fragile and require a conservator’s expertise.

On the other hand, if you’re working with stable items then you can proceed with the cleaning on your own.

Make sure to clear a large area to clean your items. Laying down some newsprint will contain the mess, and will make sure that your items don’t pick up any other foreign materials. Start by using a very soft brush to remove the dust or other particles that are on the top layer. When brushing over tears, stamps, or other raised surfaces, it’s important to use especially soft brush strokes. Dry Cleaning Soot Remover Sponges or Vinyl Erasers are then needed to wipe the paper. It’s important to start from the middle of the document and then move toward the edges. In this way, you’ll be less likely to snag the paper or bend a corner. Be gentle so that you don’t tear the paper. Make sure not to overclean one spot more than another so as to make the clean spot stick out in contrast to the rest of the document. To decide which cleaner you should use on the type of material you’re dealing with, read Surface Cleaning of Paper for a more detailed explanation.

This is a simple way to preserve your documents and bring them back to life. Just be sure to practice on something that isn’t as important before you move on to your more valuable items.

Repairing tears.

Before repairing a tear you’ll need to purchase a few materials, starting with a special kind of tape. Do not try to use masking or clear tape. The tape needed is called Japanese hinging tape and is found at various paper supply stores. Blotting Paper, wax paper, and Wheat Starch is also needed. First, begin by laying out the Blotting Paper underneath where you’ll be working. Then lay the torn piece of paper on that, aligning the tear together. Place weights on the paper to make sure that the tear is lined together. Next, mix the wheat starch with water, per directions on the box, and brush some of the mixtures on the hinging tape. Place the hinging tape over the tear, cover with some wax paper, and layer a weight on top. In this way, the starch and tear will dry properly without warping the paper. It may take up to an hour to fully dry.

To prevent future tears, place your important documents and ephemera in acid-free sheet protectors. Make sure they are out of the reach of children and animals.


These 5 techniques can help you restore your ephemera collection. Be sure to check with a professional if you have further questions and concerns. Good luck with your repairs!


Other Sources: