Got developer and fixer on hands - dangerous?

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by ryan_kim|1, Feb 28, 2016.

  1. Hello. I was working in the school darkroom today and a friend and I were rushing to finish developing our photos. Because the monitor
    was threatening to turn on the lights since it was about time the darkroom was closing, we had to develop all our photos at once, which
    meant we used our hands to agitate the photos. We got developer, fixer, and stop solution all over our hands because of that. I made
    sure to wash my hands thoroughly with soap and water after doing so, 5 times actually. I made sure to scrub the elbows too. I am pretty
    sure i cleaned my hands enough, but i'm worried i may get sick or something since i ate something after that. Was washing my hands
    with soap vigorously 5 times after the darkroom good enough to not worry about digestion problems or dying? Or do i have to get myself
    to the ER as soon as possible?
  2. If you can write such a long question it means you are still alive.
    The fixer could be very dangerous if ingested and i even avoid to touch it to much, but you washed your hands very carefully so i can't imagine anything wrong will happen to you, just make sure to look for cars before you cross the street. The chemicals aren't that dangerous on your skin, there's no need to worry.
  3. Don't short term worry. Washing hands shall be enough. B&W chemicals aren't highly toxic.
  4. Sorry about double posting but I am a slow typist (even if I don't get distracted). Developer sometimes contains Hydrochinone which is an allergen. Skin contact should be avoided for that reason, to remain able to enjoy the hobby (or handling offset inks) for a very long time. You should also wash a hand that you dunked into stop bath or fixer to not spoil your developer.
    Stop bath is a mild bathroom cleaner, surely not perfect for your skin since it is a very diluted acid but no reason to fuzz about it.
    I am not sure what fixer might contain, but it can cause nasty stains on clothes & environment, so better don't mess with it either.
  5. If you haven't already experienced an allergic reaction, I'm sure there's no need to worry. There's a very long thread about potential dangers from darkroom chemicals here:
    Most concerns are for long term exposure, over periods of decades.
  6. When I was a youth I used to check finger contamination by licking my fingers; forty years later I`m obviously alive, but I suspect with some effects.
    Many well known "classic" photographers used to handle the prints wit bare hands, up to the point of having stained fingers.
    In the other side, some developers have highly toxic, even poisonous chemicals. Very likely its not your case, I suspect you are using the cheapest and most common version, which use to be a highly diluted Metol-Hidroquinone version; it has been widely used by photographers in all ages, with no problems at all. A single exposure is nothing compared to the yellow stained fingers of a whole life working, retired photographer in the sixties.
    Darkroom chemicals are not a toy. Even if they are at very low concentrations, they are non-healthy compounds, and should be used with care. Hydroquinone is one of them.
    For hygienic reasons I use to say everyone should ALWAYS wear protection when working with chemicals. That is, gloves when using fluids, a respirator when using powders, eye protection if there is a splash risk, and ventilation if there are vapors to be inhaled. If you will be working with chemicals consider it seriously, latex or nitrile gloves are quite cheap (aprox. 4 cents each).
    Right now I`m more than forty years making a life in my lab with chemicals, and I`d not use them with latex gloves (most times nitrile), even if it is common salt. It is a routine, like wearing clogs or my watch.
    Needless to say my kids are forbidden to enter alone in the darkroom, and all chemicals are kept out of their reach.
  7. Sensitisation is what you should be careful of. It means if you keep touching these chemicals then your skin may become sensitive to it, so any further contact will cause irritation/dermatitis. Don't make a habit out of it! Wear a glove one hand (use the other hand to feel the water temperature when washing)
  8. After years of bare-hand agitation developing sheet film, I developed a sensitivity to developer so going digital with Lightroom was a boon for me. The biggest danger I found from long darkroom sessions was fumes from fixer in a poorly-ventilated darkroom. Minimize your contact with the chemicals and wash up afterward, but don't fret about it.
  9. The main issue is becoming allergic to the hydroquinone in the developer. It's a sensitizer, each exposure gives more risk of allergic reactions to it, and becoming more sensitive to other chemicals.
    Stop bath is essentially vinegar.
    Hair shampoos for swimmers have sodium thiosulfate in them, which is the active ingredient in fixer.
    Don't ingest any of them, of course.
  10. There is a system some use for print developing where you rub a spot with your fingers to warm it up, and speed up the development of that spot.
    For all the black and white chemicals, you should try to keep them off your hands, but they won't hurt if you get them on and wipe them off fairly soon. I always keep a towel nearby, which is good enough. Try to wash with water before you touch film or paper, though, and wash well at the end of the session.
    Mostly I don't have much problem with printing, but film tanks always leak just a little bit, and some gets on your hands. Some seconds won't hurt, but try not to leave it on too long. The exact chemistry of the commercial developers usually isn't listed, but the common ones won't hurt you if you wipe them off within about 10 seconds. As noted above, some might be sensitizers, which will make some people sensitive to them with repeated use.
    Color chemicals are harder on skin, so try harder to keep those off.
    Wearing glove is rare in photography, but some people do it.
    There are some chemicals used in special cases that are more poisonous. Selenium toner, and mercury intensifier you should be more careful with.
  11. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    I had "well developed" fingernails for years, finally began using tongs when my first serious girlfriend got on me about it. No harm done so far, and a lot of decades have passed. I do think tongs are better than gloves, since you can have a set for each tray and reduce chemical transport between solutions considerably. I used Honeywell / Nikkor tanks, leakage was almost nonexistent.
  12. You will be fine. I've been getting B&W chemicals on my hands for 40 years and no problems. Yes, you should wash your hands if you got chemicals on them, but once is enough, twice if you are worried.

    Like Sandy says, I had an older photographer friend who had brown fingernails from years of handling prints with bare hands. I use tongs when handling prints, mostly to keep from contaminating one chemical with the other. And years ago I learned that if you get developer on your fingers and then touch the next sheet of paper, you can end up with dark fingerprints on the print. Even a finger wet with plain water can leave a smudge on a print, so keep your hands dry as much as possible.

    Besides washing your hands before eating, be careful about not touching your eyes, nose or mouth with chemicals on your hands. If you're worried, wear gloves.
  13. I used to hear of "metol dermatitis", but that never affected me nor anyone I knew.
  14. SCL


    I've been a darkroom duffer for almost 60 years...always try to keep chemicals off my hands, but even working in organic chemical laboratories for in my early 20s it comes with the territory. You just have to know what you are working with and then minimize the exposure to skin and respiratory tissues, and understand how to neutralize the chemicals when it happens. You did fine by thoroughly washing....nevertheless, avoid licking your fingers for a few hours afterwards.
  15. Others have covered the danger level well (ie. not much danger since you washed your hands well). But, even though you may not see it now, if you were rushing and going back and forth between different chemicals with your hands, you may have contaminated your prints and they may not be as long lasting as others that were done properly. If you see fingerprints in funky colors, you'll know why. I hope you washed them all well. You also may have contaminated the chemicals, so I hope they were not kept for use by others afterwards. It's always best to be methodical.
  16. I suspect that there is silver in used developer and fixer, and that might color your nails.
    It is probably good to keep food out of the darkroom, as is true for any chemistry lab.
    My Honeywell tank leaks just a little bit, while agitating. One drop can get your hand pretty wet.
  17. Occasional contact with conventional black-and-white chemicals followed by thorough washing of hands is unlikely to do harm. Almost certainly your print developer will be a phenidone hydroquinone formula, which is safer than the older metol hydroquinone type, which can lead a small percentage of users to develop hypersensitivity and persistent skin rashes due to so-called “metol poisoning”. Ingestion of black-and-white chemicals should be avoided but is likely at worst to lead to vomiting rather than poisoning. It is good practice nowadays whenever carrying out manual work with aggressive substances to wear latex gloves, which allow the hands to be washed and dried as often as desired without skin damage. The use of print tongs can also be valuable, but it is difficult with these to pick up large prints. If you are doing any quantity of printing, it is well worth using a vertical slot-type processor, which provides secure print handling while minimising skin contact.
    It is always advisable to have good forced ventilation in a dark room, since breathing in chemical fumes without adequate ventilation may lead to chronic inflammation of the mucous membrane and rhinitis. Colour chemicals are more toxic and greater care should be taken with these. Keeping food out of the dark room is not only a good idea but absolutely essential.
    In the past, chemicals of considerable toxicity were used in photography, for example amidol print developer, caustic soda high-contrast film developer, potassium cyanide fixer, mercury sensitiser and intensifier, etc. You are unlikely to encounter these in a school darkroom.
  18. Yes, wash your hands between steps in printing and handling film, not so much because of danger to your hands, but to contaminating your prints. Otherwise, just wash your hands and don't drink any of the chemicals. I've never heard of any ill effects from anyone in the darkroom using normal developing chemicals. Just wash up and move on. If your hands get dry after doing stuff, wash and put on some lotion. However if you are bleaching prints using potassium ferricyanide you might want to be careful not to swallow or inhale the fumes, though even there I don't think there's much risk if you are at all reasonably careful. They were using the stuff in school labs.
  19. Hi Guys!

    I am hoping one of you can help me. I have been storing A LOT of photographs in my
    nightstand right next to my bed. The top drawer of the stand has always been closed but the bottom part
    doesn't have a drawer and is just open and piled high with photos.

    My daughter sleeps with me.

    My question is if photographs emit anything toxic that I should be concerned about.

    Thanks! I would appreciate any input you can give me.
  20. "It depends?"
    Sorry, please be more specific.
    In doubt I'd suspect the furniture (nightstand) to be more toxic than the photos but I am biased and not familiar with the older processes involving Mercury.

Share This Page