Protecting Photos in Self Storage

By Emily Madden,

Not many people have hard copies of photos around their homes in this day and age. With the invention of the digital camera, the smartphone, the tablet, the digital photo album, and, recently, the Cloud, it’s easier than ever to keep photos in more than one place without having to physically print copies of each photo.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t people who still have hard copies of photos that they want to preserve. Wedding photos, for example, are often printed out and kept in albums around most homes. When it comes to preserving these physical prints, however, it’s harder to keep them in good shape compared to digital photos backed up on a hard drive or in an online folder, especially with the effects heat and humidity can have on photo paper.

Heat and humidity can damage lots of items, such as electronics, musical instruments, and antique furniture. Photos are no different. They will fade, crack, and ripple when exposed to too much heat or humidity, which means all of the special memories they contain can get lost in the damage.

If you have plans to store your photos in a self storage unit, whether it’s just to free up some space in a closet or because you’re moving, follow these tips to keep them safe from heat and humidity.

Make a Digital Copy 

Keep photos timeless and easily accessible by making a digital copy before you move physical copies into a storage unit. If you don’t own a scanner, your local photo-printing shop or convenience store can make copies for you.

Good places to store digital copies of your photos include the Cloud, computer hard drives, USB drives, Google Drive, online document storage sites like Dropbox, or even Facebook albums. It’s a good idea to store your digital copies in more than one of these places, too, so that you always have them in case one location crashes.

Select a Photo-Safe Container 

Once digital copies are made, protect photos by slipping them into a photo-safe container before putting them in your storage unit. Typical storage tools for photos like Ziploc bags or cheap photo albums from the drug store aren’t the best option for preserving photos.

Michelle Schmidt, owner of Michelle’s Portrait Design Studio in Plymouth, Minn., says photos are best kept in acid-free album pages or boxes in a humid-free environment.

When looking for a safe home for your pictures, keep an eye out for plastic or paper materials that pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT), which most photo-safe container manufacturers will advertise. The best type of plastic to store your pictures in should be made from uncoated polyethylene, polypropylene, or polyester. These types of plastic should be able to handle varying temperatures, keeping your pictures safe from harm.

Stay away from grouping your photos with rubber bands, tape, or paper clips, too. Rubber bands and tape can contain sulfur, which will deteriorate the paper on which your image is printed. “A common mistake that people make is to tape pictures to boards, frames, or album pages,” Schmidt says. “The acid in tape can start to destroy the photo over time.” Paper clips are a definite no as well, as they often scratch photos.

Also, when you place your images in a PAT approved folder, album, or container, make sure photos are facing away from each other. High temperatures and humidity levels will cause your images to blend if they get too cozy!

Choose the Appropriate Storage Unit 

The kind of storage unit you have can make a difference in protecting your photos from discoloring and curling as well. While a standard unit might be more appealing for your budget, these units can get hot and humid, fostering the growth of mold on your storage items. For photos, this means irreparable damage.

This is where climate-controlled storage can be useful for your photos. With this type of storage, you’re able to moderate the temperature and humidity levels in your unit, protecting your items from harm.


Justin Melendez, Property Manager at Extra Space Storage in Harlem, New York, says that climate control is essential for storing photos. “I highly recommend climate-controlled storage to anyone storing photographs. When you’re talking about something with so much sentimental value, it’s worth every penny to go with a high quality, climate-controlled storage environment,” said Melendez.

Between 65°F and 70°F is the best storing temperature for photos. Also, light from the sun can make images fade, so it’s best to keep your photo containers in a dark corner if there are any windows in your unit.  “Pictures stored in the dark and in the proper environment for keepsake purposes should last about 50 to 100 years,” Schmidt adds.

Remember: Investing in photo-safe materials now will keep your memories safe from the hot, humid temperatures while in storage!


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