Recently Film Photography Podcast listener Martin send us an e-mail asking about his negs. He asked:
“After that lengthy introduction I was wondering if the FPP team could offer
me some advice on how to clean my negatives / transparencies. After storing
my negs in my damp house for too long a few have gotten a little mucky /
moldy, and I want to fix this before it too late! I was taught in college
that you can use lighter fluid, but find this can leave a little residue. Any
tips or advice would be greatly appreciated.”
When storing negatives that you wish to keep a long time, it’s always a good idea to preserve them in either archival negative sleeves, or between interleaving negative sheets (thin paper), in an acid-free museum quality storage box. Both solutions cost pennies compared to the cost of cleaning your negatives and maintaining them as a result of environmental disruption.
For the negatives that have already succumbed to the moist environment, fear not, there is hope. If you feel the B&W negatives aren’t too old, you can get rid of most of the mold by rewashing in room temperature water, with a quick dip in photoflo/soap/surfactant after the wash. Should this prove ineffective, there used to be a product on the market called Film Kleen. I believe the modern iteration of it is Pec 12, a non-residue cleaning spray. Here’s a quick link to Freestyle Photographic’s offerings:
Other than that, I’ve heard of folks getting good results using Isopropyl alcohol 98%+ and using a soft, anti static cloth to wipe the negatives clean; use this on dry negatives, as prolonged exposure with soften the emulsion and be more susceptible to scratches. For the slide film, more often than not, these can be cleaned easily with a soft, clean wipe and a steady stream from canned air. If you’re wanting to be extra careful, I’ve heard using a soft sable brush to clean the film is even more effective, albeit much more tedious.
Should the problems persist after trying out the aforementioned methods, please be sure to let us here at the Film Photography Project know. There are a few “last resort” options, but I don’t typically mention them as they involve nasty chemistry, and will probably degrade the original image in favor of a cleaner one.
I hope cleaning and archiving will go well from now on, remember that if you’re storing in a moldy environment, you can always drop in an indicating blue silica gel packet to ensure safe keeping in your storage box. Blue silica packets are nice as they’ll turn pink should there be too much moisture present. If/when this happens, you can simply “renew” the crystals by baking them in the oven for a few hours at 250-300 degrees F.
All the best, and long live film!
Top BW image by Image by Kimi Wright – “negs” (yashica fx-d + carl zeiss 50mm 1.7 – using jessops everyday 400)
Middle Image by Henry Tremain