Some basic beginner questions about chemistry storage and reuse

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by Steve__Troyer, Sep 22, 2020.

  1. Alright, I know this is basic stuff that I guess ought to be obvious, but I've read a bunch of guides and I'm still not sure. I think it's the sort of thing where there is more than one right answer, everyone has their own way, it depends on your chemicals, etc. So forgive me if this is annoying or asked all of the time...

    I want to start developing black and white film at home. I've done it before, long, long ago, but always in a school lab so I wasn't responsible for buying or maintaining anything. Plus it was a long time ago.

    What I want to understand is how do you store your chemicals, which ones get reused and for how long, and how to know when it's time to throw them away and buy new stuff. Assume this is an occasional use type thing, so I'm more likely to need to throw things away based on time rather than usage, so storing them in a way that prolongs their shelf life is important.

    Let's start at the beginning. Developer. Suppose I want to use D76 because it's cheap and popular. The package has enough powder for 1gallon, but as soon as I mix it up the clock starts ticking. I think I read in Kodak's instructions that it's good for 16 rolls per gallon unless you use a replenisher (should I do that?). So is the idea that you get a 1 gallon jug, mix up your powder, then each time you use it you pour it back into the jug, and after 16 rolls it's time to throw it away? If you didn't want such a big jug (and you were worried about shelf life once mixed) would you just mix up half at a time, store it in a half gallon container and only use it for 8 rolls?

    Is there a different developer you would recommend instead?

    (an aside: if I have a two roll tank, but I'm only developing one roll, do I still fill it all the way up with chemicals?)

    Step 2: stop bath. I know it's optional, but it doesn't cost much and it supposedly prolongs the life of the fixer, so lets say I'm going to use it, the Kodak 200 indicator stuff. I've read this is reusable too. (right?) But I'm definitely not going to dilute the whole thing, it would make 8 gallons, that's ridiculous. So how much should I make, just like a pint or two? Use it until it changes color and then mix up some more? Or just use it one shot because it's cheap? (but I still need to keep a dilution on hand so I don't need to mix up a new one every time)

    Step 3: fixer. Ilford rapid fixer seems to be the popular choice. This one everyone seems to agree, you reuse it and test it every so often to see if it's still effective. So I guess I get a 2.5L container or something close to that so there's no air space. If I only use half of it as my working solution and save the other half for later will it last longer?

    Hypo-clear is apparently not necessary for the Ilford fixer, it doesn't have hypo...

    Step 4: wetting, Kodak photo-flo. I guess for this you just add a couple of drops to the tank filled up with water so no storage necessary and it lasts forever, no big deal.

    I'm just trying to understand what containers I need to buy, as well as what mixing apparatus, and that depends on what I'm storing and what I'm mixing. Basically I want to walk into someone's darkroom and see their shelf o' chemistry to see how they actually keep things.

    Thanks so much.
  2. AJG


    I would strongly urge you to use developer as a one shot and start with fresh developer for each roll. Putting used developer back will be a good way to get very inconsistent results. Stop bath will last a long time, and the Kodak indicator stuff will last quite a while, but don't use it until it turns purple since it isn't at all useful at that point in extending fixer life. Photo Flo is cheap--don't re use it, just mix up the little bit you need and throw it away with each batch. Hypo clear is a generic term--it helps to remove fixer and shorten washing time for both sodium thiosulphate and ammonium thiosulphate fixers. Developers in particular will oxidize and can be sensitive to light, hence brown glass bottles are the best option. You could just cover clear bottle and get the same effect.
  3. If you're not doing a lot of film and/or not doing it often, you should take a different approach. You want a developer concentrate that gets mixed when you're ready to use it, then dumped when done; a one-shot developer. In general, you never return used solutions to the stock solution bottle. Stop bath isn't optional unless you listen to people on the idiotnet. Mix what you need for the roll then dump it. I like to have three glass beakers for my film development. One for developer, one for stop and one for fix. If I mix a gallon of fixer, I have a separate bottle, maybe a quart or less, that I use a few times for a few rolls of film, then dump it and start fresh. Never add back to the stock solution bottle.

    Developer choices might include HC-110, Rodinal, T-Max or Ilfosol 3. You might consider an alkaline fixer like TF-4, and that will allow you to ditch the stop bath and use water.
  4. Not intending at all to quench your enthusiasm for getting back to developing and printing B&W. I did the same thing recently after many decades. It was a hoot really, the expenditure for equipment, parts and pieces, syringes etc isn't much really, and good enlargers now are fairly cheap. Back to brown fingernails!

    But getting results I wanted was entirely frustrating, and when in a hurry for results only one outfit, 30 miles away, offered printing at a very high price.

    Then on this forum it became impossible to avoid seeing lovely B&W images, often done with little or no post work, from a digital camera. So I bought a Fuji x100t with a fixed 23mm lens and never looked back. I can get stark, creamy, or any B&W variation with this camera and perhaps a bit of 'post' in Lightroom, and the color images are wonderful.

    I resisted going digital for a very long time, but the first day I had it out I shot nearly 100 images, and not a bummer in the lot.........Except for composition, originality, artfulness, or even lasting value - But man was it easy!!

    Good Luck -
    stuart_pratt likes this.
  5. Kodak T-Max film developer lasts a long time in its original bottle when refrigerated. Even when the bottle is only half full, it lasts for many months. Once I even used a partly filled bottle that was a few years old and still got good results, although I had to extend the development time. Mix only as much as you need for your developing tank. For a two-reel tank, you can mix only enough for one roll. I've done that routinely with no problems, but some people recommend filling the tank. Better yet, buy a one-reel tank.

    Stop bath: Kodak Indicator stop bath lasts for years in its original bottle, even when partly full. Mix only as much as you need. For a two-reel stainless-steel tank, that's about 16 fluid ounces. You can re-use it for several rolls until it starts turning dirty yellow. It turns purple when exhausted (hence "indicator") but you needn't stretch it that long. When printing, though, I discard stop bath after every session.

    After decades of using Kodak stop bath, I switched to citric acid. It's a white powder you mix before use. Unlike the Kodak stop bath (acetic acid), it's odorless. It's lasts a long time, too, but lacks an indicator when exhausted, so to be safe discard it after a dozen rolls or so. When printing, discard after each session.

    Fixer: I prefer Ilford rapid fixer but any will do. Mix only as much as you need for your tank. You can use it for several rolls.

    Hypo clear: any will do. Is Heico Perma Wash still available? When refrigerated, it lasts for years in its original bottle. Mix only a quart or gallon at a time. Discard after each use. Hypo clear can also be made with sodium sulfite. One of my photography teachers said hypo clear is unnecessary for film because it doesn't absorb hypo like paper does, but I use it anyway.

    Kodak Photo-Flo: When developing film often, I mix one gallon at a time. For occasional use, a few drops in the tank is OK. Don't use too much or you'll get streaks. I mix Photo-Flo with distilled water, not tap water.

    Final wash: If you use hypo clear, 5-10 minutes in running water is plenty. But I always finish by filling the tank with distilled water and agitating vigorously for one minute. Some tap water is gritty or "sticky," so the final rinse in distilled water washes away anything left by the tap water.

    Hang up the film in a dust-free place overnight. Don't wipe it with a sponge or squeegee -- a sure way to scratch it. I rigged up a retractable clothesline in my bath/shower stall. Closing the shower door helps deter dust. Don't run an exhaust fan, because it will stir up dust.
  6. Eric, I'm a big fan of digital and I have no plans of ditching the digital camera and going film only. This is just a side thing. Motivated in part because my teenager is interested in doing it too. So we'll see if we decide we like it or not. Definitely trying to keep the startup costs and hassles low for that reason. I'm also just planning on film development at this point, no plans (or space) to create a darkroom for traditional printmaking.

    AJG, Conrad, Tom, thank you, that's exactly the sort of info I'm looking for. Appreciate it.
  7. Hi, yeah, I would say there are a variety of ways to do things, but it largely depends on how much processing one is gonna do, as well as how finicky they are. And although it may initially seem like it ought to be obvious, it probably is not.

    Let me first say that I did not expect you to get many useful answers here, but right away a couple of guys who have a lot of knowledge and experience weighed in. I'd probably agree with just about anything either of them say.

    The approach I would suggest, assuming that you have a technical inclination, is to download the data sheet for the film you are gonna start with. These will typically give some basic instructions, including some recommended chemicals and development times. Now, for more detailed instructions on the chemicals, the manufacturers typically have more information available. For example, Kodak publication J-78 is about D-76 developer. Or, since you mentioned Ilford fixer, they have a "Fact sheet" for rapid fixer. Fwiw some of these may be outdated. For example the Kodak data sheet refers to D-76 replenisher, which has not been available for a number of years. But as a rule the basic information is still good.

    It might be easier if you were to more or less zero in on a tentative system, then ask for comments on that.
  8. +1 to that.
    HC-110 will keep for a long time as a concentrate, as will T-max developer.

    Having said that, a glass bottle of part-used D-76 still turned out to be usable after many years of forgotten storage. But strangely, it quickly went brown and stale shortly afterwards - like those horror films where the monster quickly ages and crumbles to dust after being fatally wounded!

    Fixer can be reused many times. At least 10 films per litre can go through it, and it generally gets stinky and throws a sediment before its useful life is over.

    Whether you go with single-shot or multiple-use developer is up to you. They both work if you follow the maker's instructions. All I'll add is that full-to-the-brim brown glass bottles with a good stopper are the only reliable way to store photo chemicals.

    Forget plastic bottles - accordion or otherwise - and 'inert' gas spray cans. Go to your local pharmacy and plead to have some used brown glass medicine bottles with heavy plastic screw tops. The pharmacist will usually oblige if you explain why you want them. Although you might have to pay a deposit cost.
  9. +1 on glass. I used to get 1 gallon brown glass jugs from the pharmacy for free. Bulk cough medicine came in them and they just smashed them when empty. No idea if they still use them, but really great bottles. For short term storage and fixer, clear glass is OK. I've used glass liquor bottles in all sizes for that and some are brown. Any restaurant probably dumps dozens a week. I keep some lab stoppers around because the caps are usually contaminated, especially those sweet smelling cough medicine bottles.

    Air is the enemy of developers, so you want them as full as possible.
  10. Well it'll be a fun project I'm sure. For its many qualities including long storage life, I went with HC110 at dilution formula H, shown here on this reference site. Any drugstore will supply you with free plastic syringes for mixing prior to using, and HC110 gave consistent results.

    Kodak HC-110 Developer - Unofficial Resource Page

    Best wishes -
  11. Oh wow, thanks, that page is a great source of info. I'm thinking HC-110 one shot is going to be the plan. A little more money up front but it sounds like it's the consensus choice and it will keep a lot longer than I feared.
  12. Tony Parsons

    Tony Parsons Norfolk and Good

    I have vague (very vague) memories of having read that one way to exclude air from a part-empty dev bottle is to put glass marbles in until the level rises sufficiently. Not sure how to prevent the marbles from exiting the bottle as you pour, though. Anyone else heard of this one, or has my mind slipped yet another cog ?
    rodeo_joe|1 likes this.
  13. SCL


    I use Rodinal, which like HC110 keeps forever if the exposure to oxygen is limited. After taking whatever concentrate I need out of the bottle, I drop in a couple of glass marbles to bring the remainder up to the neck of the bottle (it comes in a brown glass bottle). I stopped using commercial stop bath years ago, initially went with a mixture of white vinegar and water, but for the last 2 years have just used a straight water rinse of 30-60 seconds. I use a rapid fixer, which I test monthly with a section of film leader...always use it as a 1 shot, so discard after use. Rinse, photoflow and hang dry. Only one or 2 films I've used in the last 3 years suggested prewetting them before the development stage. Occasionally used stand development...never had a problem with it.
    Tony Parsons likes this.
  14. I learned marbles from my grandfather, and still do it some time. (50 years ago.)

    With 8 and 16 oz bottles, the marbles don't come out until you turn it pretty much straight down.
    With larger bottles, it might be possible to escape earlier.

    Glass bottles you can't squeeze at all. For plastic ones, it can stress the bottles and then
    they crack and leak.
  15. One gallon for 16 rolls is 8oz each, which is about the right amount for a 35mm tank.

    In the case of D76, best is 8oz one shot.

    The one gallon bags cost not all that much more than the quart bags.

    If you have a good scale, it is possible to divide the powder in half.
    Many (especially Kodak) don't recommend it, as it isn't easy to get the powder uniformly mixed
    before dividing. If you shake enough, and aren't needing the most repeatable results, it is
    probably fine. Even so, I have had powder oxidize unmixed.

    As others not, liquid concentrates are a good choice, where you mix only what you need.
    With careful measuring, it is possible to mix HC-110 for one roll. I usually mix for a few.

    TMax, another liquid developer, mixes with enough for a few rolls (with increasing time).
    Better economy is to mix maybe 500ml and use that for six rolls.

    Important to know is that dark brown developer is likely dead. Light tan usually fine.
    In between, depends on how important your pictures are.
  16. I agree that Kodak HC-110 is a good long-lasting film developer. I switched to Kodak T-Max developer because it yields similar results in grain and tonality but delivers more film speed, in my experience. With HC-110, I was never able to get full box speed.

    No matter what kind of bottles you use, label them boldly as POISON -- especially if you store them in a refrigerator to extend the shelf life. When reusing bottles that originally contained edibles, completely remove the original labels or completely cover them. Some people take the extra-cautious step of writing the phone number of a poison-control hotline on the label.

    I also write on the label the date when I mixed the solution. For solutions I reuse, such as fixer, I keep a tally of the number of rolls processed.

    This discussion thread brings up something I've been thinking about for a while. For those of us who mostly shoot digital but occasionally shoot film, ideally we'd have a complete workflow of one-shot chemicals mixed per session from long-lasting powders instead of liquid concentrates.

    - Film developers like D-76 come as powders, but subdividing a small enough amount for one or two rolls is unreliable.

    - For stop bath, powdered citric acid works.

    - Powdered fixers are available, but I don't know if they can be reliably subdivided for only one or two rolls. And usually they aren't rapid fixers.

    - Hypo clear can be mixed from sodium sulfite.

    - Wetting agent isn't powdered but the Kodak liquid lasts forever anyway. (I wonder if powdered dishwasher detergent would work?)

    Something to think about.
  17. Yep. I recently posted the glass marble trick in another thread. You just need to find bottles with a wide enough neck to take marble.

    There's not much problem pouring the liquid off the marbles. The marbles are heavier than water and tend to stay in the bottle unless it's completely upended. Then there are sieves!
    Tony Parsons likes this.
  18. That's not advisable at all.
    The powders aren't an homogenous mix of chemicals and simply dividing the weight could easily result in different proportions in the two halves.

    Part A contains both Metol and Hydroquinone, which need to be in the right proportions. While Part B is mainly sodium sulphite with a small quantity of borax, making it a complete gamble that you get sufficient borax in the division.

    Basically - just NO!
  19. Also, no, do not use dishwasher wetting agent or detergents. Get some Photoflo, Ilford or other purpose-designed stuff.
  20. I said possible, I didn't say good idea.

    I only have done it for print developer, where if it doesn't work I can always reprint.

    Some only come in large sizes, though those might be liquid.

    If you can find it, RA-4 only comes in large sizes, but those are liquid.
    Kodak recommends that you don't, and then tells you how to do it.

    But yes, mix up the powder as well as you can, and realize that it might not be right.

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