Best way to clean old slides?

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by durr3, Sep 19, 2009.

  1. I have some old slides from the 1960s that I would like to scan, but they are very dirty. What is the best way to clean them before scanning? thanks
  2. If you scanner has ICE (infrared detection of of defects) I would try scanning them first. Start with the least important slide, scan, attempt your cleaning method, then scan again. You do not want to plunge into a cleaning method that might leave them worse than at the outset. In my experience the best approach was just scanning them as-is and relying on ICE, coupled with manual touch-up within Photoshop.

    I tried cleaning one (unimportant) slide by simply washing in a bath of distilled water with a drop of Photo-Flo. The result was a disastrous increase in stuff. You might have better results with something like Eclipse Fluid on PEC Pads, but again, tread cautiously. The last thing you want to do is zealously clean them all, before starting scanning.
  3. There are commercial film cleaner products, see:
    However, B&H doesn't ship any "hazardous" liquids, so they aren't the place for you to buy this unless you are near New York City. You may need to find a local photography store that sells film cleaner.
    Don't use water. You'll wash out the stabilizers, and the colors will start to shift.
    Best film cleaner was 1-1-1 Trichloroethane, which used to be sold as Kodak Film Cleaner. Unfortunately, this chemical has been banned as an Ozone layer depleter.
    Mostly, blow off the dust, and use Digital ICE on your scanner.
  4. First, blow off all loose dust with "rocket"-style blower (must be a strong blast, never use canned air).
    Then get a very soft, new natural camel's hair brush, do not touch the bristles. Use this to gently work on particles that are stubbon, then blow off again.
    Finally, if the dust/etc. has actually stuck to the slide (or negative or whatever), use something like Edwal Anti-Stat Film Cleaner. This is Tetrachloroethylene, and it's still available at your local camera store or on-line (Google™ Edwal +cleaner).
    My personal experience with the "automatic" dust removers is that they are only marginally acceptable and often create digital artifacts in the resulting image. You'll get much better results by cleaning carefully and then manually "spotting" the result in Photoshop -- just like the old days when spotting pencils and the like were in every photographer's tool kit for "post-processing."
    One of the best of the "automatic" routines I've found is that in VueScan's infrared cleanup, but it's slow and not completely free of the problems of its kind.
  5. I would start as Mendel has suggested and digital ice may be all that you need. Better safe than sorry. Some molds can make the emulsion water soluble which means that a water based wetting solution could be disastrous, though this is unlikely. My experience in cleaning slide in the mount is that you end up pulling a lot of dirt that is built up between the transparency and the mount onto the image itself and end up with a bigger mess then you started with.
    For serious slide cleaning this has been my approach. Get yourself a e-6 stablizer. Mix about 3 litres of the solution using distilled water (very important) and divide that equaly into three baths. Remove the slides from their mounts. Submerge the film in bath one and gently wipe the slide with a something like a Kimwipe. A Kimwipe is similar to a very large peice of lens paper. It is lint free and a lot cheaper then lens paper. You can usually find it at a local art supply store. q-tips will work too but they are more prone to shedding. Rinse in bath 2 and then again in bath 3. Hang to dry. I have a tight wire stretched between two wall and use bent paper clips hanging from the wire to hang each piece of film. After the film has hung for about 5 minutes touch a dry kimwipe to the drip on the lower corner to wick away the excess solution. As you move through your slides keep you eye on the cleanliness of bath one. Once it begins to show some obvious signs of not being too clean anymore, dump it, move bath 2 to bath 1 position, bath 3 to bath 2 position and pour a fresh bath 3. It sounds like a big headache but once you get going you should be able to get through several hundred slides in a day.
    One other thing you should look's a pdf and I don't know how to link to it but using Dogpile (sorry...I can't find it in a Google search), type "lacquer Kodachrome" and the very first hit is an article that discusses issues with film lacquer on Kodachrome and Ektachrome films. If you are having lacquer problems your job becomes a much bigger issue. Better you read the article then I try to explain it here. The title of the article is "Coatings on Ektachrome and Kodachrome films"
    Good luck with it.
    Greg Miller
    Film Rescue International
  6. Edwal will clean off the lacquer, and yes, if the entire slide needs cleaning, and it probably will, you need to take it out of the cardboard mount.
  7. I buy 5 litres can of SDS filmcleaner and bath my slides and negs in it for a minute and wipe of with linth free clothes. but i do this only to very bad slides, since i oil mount for drumscanning and much dirt is removed when pressing the oil out when mounting the transparency on the drum.
  8. When I prepare Ektachrome slides in glass mounts, I use PEC-12 to clean the film and glass and to reduce the dust. (One needs to work fast.) The bottle label says it is an archival emulsion cleaner. It works very well for me. I don't know what's in it--label doesn't say. It is flammable. Should not be used with non-hardened gelatin emulsions. As Brooks mentioned you can get it at Adorama. I buy it locally.
  9. I'm just curious, if you used the 'blow-brush-blow' technique advised by Mr. von Weinberg, and followed that up with a gentle wiping using something like Zeiss Lens Cleaning napkins, would that dissolve, dislodge, or otherwise damage a slide? These napkins are soft, clean, sterile, lint-free napkins that are pre-dampened with an isopropyl alcohol type fluid. (I use them all the time to clean lenses, and for gentle cleaning of camera equipment). These are available at Walmart, in the eye-glasses accessories section, 50 per box, about $2.50 per box.
    I would think the napkin would remove "finger print" type oils and stains not removed by the "brush-blow-brush". Just thinking out loud............
  10. Greg Miller comments reminded me of something I was thinking to say but forgot: you may have to intervene if the damage is spreading mold. But for static, non-advancing damage (dust/scratches/dirt), use discrection: apart from blowing and gentle brushing, see what ICE/Photoshop can accomplish first.
  11. Hi Allan,
    Chemicals that safely clean lenses will may not safely clean photographic emulsions. There is a considerable chemical difference between glass and emulsion. Of course, it does not necessarily mean it will not safely clean it.
    I have used isopropyl alcohol to clean some slides, but what else is in the lens wipes and what will it do to emulsion, and over what period of time. That which appears to work now, may cause damage over time.
    Since there are substances marketed by reputable firms to specifically clean film, I would use them. The PEC products have been on the market for many years; I have not heard any complaints about ruined film. They are not that expensive, compared with ruining irreplaceable images.

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