How To Properly Store Old Photographs

Using the right materials makes a huge difference

vintage polaroid photos on a table

Kathkarno/ Twenty20/Getty Images

You can store and preserve old photographs so they will last for generations to come. This means more than placing them in a photo album, as some types can actually damage the photos. You will need the right supplies and materials so you can get them into the best storage systems or display them appropriately. Most professionals advise handling old photographs as little as possible, making it even more important to do it right the first time.

Remove Photos from Old Albums

Take your photos out of "magnetic" or peel and stick albums. The materials they are made of—usually ordinary plastic, glue, and cardboard—will damage photos over time. If you do decide to use a commercially available photo album, look for one labeled "acid-free." A visit to a hobby shop or photo supply store may be in order to find the safest type of album.

Remove any glue, tape, staples, rubber bands, and paper clips that might stain, scratch or dent photographs before placing them in an acid-free album, storage box, or frame.

Photographs with postcard and pocket watch
Image Source/Getty Images

Label Old Photos Carefully

Be sure to label the back of a photo gently with a permanent marker. Include as much information as possible including the names and ages of those in the photo along with where the photograph was taken. This will help those who might inherit your photographs years from now to identify them.

Do not use a ballpoint pen to write on the back of photographs. The pressure of the pen may not only damage the photo, but the ink will very likely fade over time and your labeling efforts will be lost to future generations.

Storing Old Photos

To store photographs individually, place them in plastic sleeves void of PVC. These can be purchased at photo supply stores and some craft stores. Plastic sandwich bags are a good, inexpensive alternative to plastic sleeves if special supplies do not fit into your budget.

Store large quantities of photos by layering them between sheets of acid-free paper in metal or cardboard boxes marked acid-free. Large photo archive boxes can be easily stacked in a cabinet or closet, or even slid under a bed if storage space is at a premium.

A good rule of thumb is storing photos where you are also comfortable: not too hot, cold, wet or dry. Keep photos out of attics, garages, and basements where they'll be subject to extreme temperature fluctuations and excessive humidity.

Framing Your Old Photos

When framing, use acid-free mats to keep photos from touching the glass and acid-free backboards to avoid deterioration of the image. If you are having a photograph professionally framed, be sure to tell the framer you want acid-free materials. These will be a bit more expensive, so a framer may not use them automatically.

If you are framing a precious photograph, consider having it duplicated before placing it under glass just in case it fades over time while on display. Or, frame the copy and keep the original away from light to preserve it. 

Tips

  • Wear clean, cotton gloves when handling old photos. Touching the print side of a photo with your fingers can leave behind oils that can damage precious heirlooms and collectibles alike.
  • Support the photos properly as you're sorting and identifying them since they can sometimes be fragile.