In an increasingly digital world, many people are moving toward online-only banking, app-based transactions, and even bitcoin and other completely digital currencies. However, in the uncertainty that comes with pandemics, civil unrest, unpredictable governmental policies, and a shaky stock market, many people are wisely keeping an emergency supply of cash, precious metals, and other valuables as a hedge against the unforeseen.
What’s more, many important documents are often still recorded and kept on paper, like passports, deeds and mortgages, birth certificates, titles, and more. Lots of people keep physical copies of photographs, journals, letters, memorabilia, and other irreplaceable items, all of which can be easily damaged or lost in a fire, flood, theft, or other disaster. So what’s the best way to protect against this kind of loss? How should you store your paper money and other documents to help prevent damage? Let’s go over some basics.
In this article:
- What’s the right way to store paper currency?
- Storing photos and documents to prevent damage.
- How to prevent fire damage to paper valuables.
- Protecting paper documents and currency from acid, light, and insects.
- How to prevent mildew and mold on paper currency and documents.
- Doubling up your fire protection.
Make and keep digital backups of paper records where possible
Of course, keeping a photographic copy of every hundred dollar bill in your emergency cash isn’t going to help you much. However, if you have collectible, valuable currency that you need to insure in addition to its face value, you should definitely keep a photographic record of it, as detailed as possible, for your records and for insurance purposes.
You should also scan or photograph (scanning is best and easiest) all your vital paper documents and keep the digital records on multiple, redundant hard drive backups as well as cloud-based archives, to cover all your bases. Read more about options for storing your electronic devices and digital records here.
Keep any paper cash, currency, and valuable paper records locked in a quality, humidity-controlled, fire-resistant safe
If you have valuables such as paper cash or other important/sensitive documents, you absolutely need to invest in a quality safe with UL-rated security and certified fire protection. The more valuable your stash, the more expensive and higher-quality your safe should be.
However, it is unwise to keep large amounts of valuables, gold, and/or cash stored at home. It may seem strange to read an article by a safe company telling you that, but keeping your valuables (and you) safe is our priority. Storing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of paper currency or precious metals in a home safe is simply not a wise or prudent course of action. There are better ways to protect your nest egg. A good safe is far better than storing bundles of cash in your proverbial mattress, but it still is a risk.
That said, keeping smaller amounts of paper currency and/or precious metals as emergency cash, as well as storing your irreplaceable photos, documents, and other paper records in a secure, humidity-controlled safe is appropriate, particularly one of Liberty’s UL-listed, certified fire-resistant safes. Only you can determine what’s an appropriate amount of emergency cash for your unique situation, so we won’t attempt to determine that for you.
Liberty offers a wide selection of features, colors, sizes, options, and security listings, as well as fire certification levels. The top-of-the-line Presidential (as well as Liberty’s Vault Door) has a certified fire protection rating of an amazing 2.5 hours at 1200° F. Next in line are the Lincoln models, each with a certified fire protection rating of 110 minutes at 1200° F.
Liberty’s Colonial models come with very respectable 75-minute fire protection ratings respectively, and even the hot-selling, budget-friendly Centurion 24 offers up to 40 minutes of certified fire protection at 1200 degrees fahrenheit.
To extend that fire protection even further, we recommend storing irreplaceable paper valuables inside our Cool Pocket inside your safe. The Cool Pocket can keep sensitive documents contained in it up to 50 degrees cooler during a fire. Most Liberty safes come with a Cool Pocket installed in the lower part of the fire-resistant door panel, and additional Cool Pockets are available for a very low price, so you can add additional layers of heat protection for your important documents, cash, and more, while keeping them secure inside your safe. For the price, there’s nothing better for adding an additional layer of more fire protection.
If you want to double-up your document fire protection further, you might consider keeping paper, cash, and/or photographs in a “fireproof document safe” inside your main home safe. These small and portable fire-resistant containers resist water also, and some are certified to survive up to an hour at 1700 degrees F. If you go this route, make sure to take careful measurements to ensure your fireproof container will fit inside your home safe.
How hot does it need to get inside my safe for paper to burn?
According to Firefighter Insider:
“The temperature at which paper will burn can vary by material, moisture, and thickness. The average temperature at which it will ignite and burn is between 424 and 475 degrees Fahrenheit (218 and 246 degrees celsius).”
Of course even relatively low levels of heat can damage paper over time. If you’ve ever found old receipts, letters, or newspapers stored in a hot attic or garage, you know how heat can turn paper into crinkly, fragile sheets of brown patina. So it’s important to keep your safe inside your home (not in a non-temperature-controlled garage, for example) and keep it as cool and dry as possible.
What temperature and humidity is ideal for storing paper currency and documents?
For paper documents and currency, generally the lower the temperature the better. Many library caretakers and archivists recommend a stable temperature of no more than 70 degrees fahrenheit. However, keeping your safe at, say, 50 degrees inside your home is likely not possible, so just remember that temperature fluctuations and high humidity tend to do the most damage to paper valuables and documents.
Paper is hygroscopic, meaning that it readily absorbs moisture from the air. This can lead to cracking, curling, flaking, bleeding of ink, and if humidity is high enough, to mildew and mold damage.
Therefore, it’s crucial that your storage location (a safe, ideally) be humidity controlled at between 30-50% humidity, and ideally kept in a climate-controlled room between at no more than 75 degrees fahrenheit. Again, the lower the temp the better, and the lower on the range of humidity, the better.
A good dry rod safe dehumidifier from Liberty can work wonders in humid environments. Not only does it help stabilize the humidity levels for your sensitive paper valuables and documents, but if you store metal jewelry, firearms, or other other valuables in your safe they also will benefit from a stable, humidity-controlled environment that helps prevent mold, rust, and corrosion.
Light exposure and insect concerns regarding storage of paper goods
Insects or bugs like silverfish love to eat musty old books (they thrive on carbohydrates, and paper/cellulose is definitely not Keto-approved), but typically they aren’t an issue inside a clean, humidity controlled safe, in a clean, temperature-controlled home with clean air circulation. Keeping the humidity levels low and the area clean and temperature constant will go a long way toward preventing potential infestation.
You probably know that exposing photographs and paper to light, particularly sunlight, will damage them eventually. This goes for everything made of paper. So for truly valuable, irreplaceable documents or collectible currency bills, you’ll want to minimize exposure to any source of UV light/radiation.
Choose acid-free paper for storage materials, and PVC-free plastic/mylar sheets
If you store collectible paper currency or other documents in scrapbooks, three-ring binders, or other organizers, you should be sure to use acid-free paper and adhesives whenever possible, and consider sheets of PVC-free plastic or mylar to help keep the documents and bills free from contact, dust, and moisture.
Wear soft cotton or nitrile gloves when handling your most valuable/sensitive documents
We can’t stop you from rolling around in your piles of cash like Scrooge McDuck (if that’s your thing), but for your truly irreplaceable or valuable photographs, documents, or collectible currency, it’s a good idea to wear clean, soft, cotton gloves or nitrile gloves when handling it. This prevents the natural oils and acids present in your skin from being absorbed by the paper, causing damage over time.
Heat-activated expanding door seals can help protect documents and cash from water damage as well as fire
Liberty’s fire-protection rated safes come with Palusol™ heat-activated door seals that expand to several times their original size when confronted with the heat of a fire. When these seals expand, they tightly fit into any spaces around the door to help protect against smoke and heat damage. This seals up the opening and can also help prevent water from getting past the door.
You’ve heard the expression, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” right? Well when it comes to a house fire, where there’s fire, there’s a LOT of water. Oftentimes the water hosed on the fire by the fire department can cause as much damage as the fire, or even more.
You need a fire-resistant safe that comes equipped with high-quality, expanding door seals because your important documents can be ruined nearly instantly if too much water gets inside.
A liberty safe is a great way to help protect your paper money and other important documents
Whatever Liberty safe you choose, it will go a long way toward keeping your valuables, including paper records, documents, and cash, safe and secure from fire, theft, and other damage. Visit your local Liberty dealer today and see our wide selection of models, colors, sizes, and interiors.