If your old negatives need serious cleaning, now is the time to bring out that trusted can of compressed air – but be sure to wear some protective lint-free gloves first for added safety!
Canned air can help loosen any gunk that has accumulated on a film strip, helping prevent further scratches during subsequent cleaning processes.
Table of Contents
1. 98% isopropyl alcohol
Isopropyl alcohol is widely recognized for its cleaning and disinfectant properties. It is frequently employed in hospitals, pharmacies, labs and other environments as a medical-grade cleaner that offers fast drying times with residue-free surfaces left pristine after each use. Plus, with its lower flash point it may be a safer alternative; but to ensure safe storage it should always be stored away from potential sources of ignition such as fire hazards.
98% isopropyl alcohol has become a staple in photography for cleaning photo negatives prior to scanning them digitally, providing an economical, straightforward, and simple solution that helps preserve memories for generations.
To use isopropyl alcohol to clean photo negatives, put on some gloves and uncap the bottle. Next, dampen a cotton ball or static-free cloth with some of the alcohol and use this to wipe over your negatives gently – direct contact could damage their emulsion layer!
After you are finished developing the negatives, allow them to dry completely before using a lint-free cloth or cotton swab to go over them one more time and ensure they’re absolutely dry.
This step is vital because any moisture left on your film may interact with and distort its image in your negatives, especially if your film contains grease, fingerprints and oils. Without cleaning your negatives before scanning them into digital format, digital images may turn out blurry or distorted; this process should be relatively quick and straightforward – just be sure to protect your eyes while working!
2. Canned air
Film negatives are extremely fragile and vulnerable to damage. They can become dirty or moldy while in storage or when exposed to humid environments; or simply through lack of care. Scanning them also risks damage – even minor scratches can ruin an otherwise good image, so it is vital that as much cleaning takes place prior to scanning as possible.
Digitizing old photos and slides is the best way to preserve them for future generations, yet before beginning it’s essential that negatives be prepared for scanning by cleaning them of mold, fingerprints and debris; this step is especially essential if they have been stored for many years or decades.
Once your negatives are safe from light damage, place them in a dark area to reflect light away from damaging them further. Next, layer a sheet of white paper on top to reflect any sunlight back onto them – this will also prevent sunspot damage to the negative. Finally, use clean canned air to blow away any dust particles or loose dust that has collected.
Care should be taken not to soak a cloth or cotton swab with too much canned air as this could damage the negatives’ emulsion and leave fingerprints or other marks. Wear lint-free gloves so as to not leave fingerprints behind when handling negatives.
After using canned air to blast away any remaining dirt, an anti-static cleaner designed specifically for film or photo negatives should be used to further clean them. You can find such products at most photography stores; it typically contains ingredients such as heptane and 1,1,2-trichloro-1,2,2-trifluoroethane that you can apply directly onto a cotton pad to gently wipe your negatives clean.
3. Pec-12 cleaner
PEC-12 Archival Solvent effectively and safely eliminates various non-water based stains on film and prints, while also lubricating and cleaning color and B/W films and emulsions, leaving them grease, oil and ink-free. It dries instantly without leaving a residue, meeting all archival requirements as an extremely low odor solution with low VOC emissions; free from chlorinated hydrocarbons – providing photo processing with an alternative safe to using nitric acid or other chemical cleaners used commonly during photo processing processes.
At first, it is recommended to use a PEC PAD from its manufacturer as it contains anti-scratch properties. When using other applicators instead, ensure they are free of dirt or contaminants prior to wiping negatives with them; these may become more abrasive than PEC PAD when applied under pressure and may scratch the emulsions more quickly than their counterpart. It would be prudent to test any application method on an unimportant negative beforehand or seek professional photo conservator advice for anything irreplaceable.
Pour an ounce or so of the cleaner into a small tray or petrie dish. Submerge one piece of film or print in the cleaner for only a few seconds while lightly agitating. Once removed from the cleaner, use a soft, clean cloth dampened with PEC-12 to wipe down your film immediately before repeating this step until your film is completely clean.
Be careful to work on a surface which is free from paint or dye when working with PEC-12, as stray ink or paint from your work surface may transfer onto prints and films, staining prints and films with their ink or dye content. This can happen if inks and dyes used to retouch paper boxes or pens are non-water based retouching them could also stain prints with color from them.
If your old negatives and slides have been stored for some time and become dirty due to mold, dust, streaks or fingerprints they should be cleaned prior to being scanned. This is especially essential with 35mm film as dust particles can cover large portions of a slide/negative and reduce quality of scan.
Pec-Pads are one of the best tools for cleaning old negatives. Made of nonabrasive material that’s strong and lint free material, these pads can be safely used with various cleaners to take care in cleaning delicate surfaces without damage. Available online in packs of 100 for approximately $7 each, Pec-Pads should be used with PEC-12 Photographic Emulsion Cleaner or Eclipse Optic Cleaning Fluid to safely cleanse sensitive surfaces.
Both cleaners are free from chlorofluorocarbons and other hydrocarbons to protect emulsions and ensure no damage. The PEC-12 Photographic Emulsion Cleaner, introduced in 1983 and used since, has become an archival cleaner trusted by world-renowned photographers, labs and museums to remove all non water-based stains on slides, negatives and prints including grease pencil, adhesive residue, finger oils, ball-point pen damage as well as smoke/soot damage laser separation oil as well as most permanent inks.
To use the PEC-12 Photographic Emulsion Cleaner, place your negative or slide on a glass surface (such as a light table) and lightly rub its surface using the PAD pad. This is the safest way of cleaning as it prevents accidental transfers of organic material which could eventually do further damage over time. For heavily stained images like tape residue, heavy ink marks, laser separation oil smudges etc this may require multiple passes with PAD in order to avoid spreading out stains further.
5. Cotton pads
Cotton pads provide an efficient and cost-effective method of prepping old film positives for scanning. Just ensure to use 100% pure reusable cotton rounds instead of disposable ones to prevent any residual cotton fibers from leaving a mark on the films or slides and pollute the environment at the end of their lives when composted.
Gloves should always be worn when handling negatives to protect the negatives from natural oils from your hands smudging them and scratches during the cleaning process. Furthermore, wear a dust mask for added protection from particles in the air; and be sure to work in an open and well-ventilated room so the alcohol evaporates faster without leaving behind residue on your negatives.
Once your negatives and slides have been cleaned, they should be placed into an archival quality storage box or plastic film sleeves to protect from dust or damage. Cardboard or paper envelopes could trap dust inside them over time; for optimal results choose a cardboard or polypropylene box designed specifically to house negatives.
Temperature and humidity conditions often dictate that wet negatives take between 4-10 hours to dry completely, leaving them highly susceptible to dust particles and other environmental hazards. Professional labs typically let their negatives dry in air-filtered heated cabinets but in the interim you could try using an ear syringe with compressed air for any stubborn dust particles from negatives and slides that remain.