How to clean Negative film strips and Slides?

If you have seen transparencies, you belong to a different millennium. I am serious, with the advent of digital photography, the responsibility of a photographer has declined drastically, for, there can be more trials in digital photography.

But in the previous millennium, there were genuine photographers who have preserved the memories of their times in a way that this generation can never imagine.

So, how important it is to preserve them as digital copies before you lose them. Let us understand the steps of cleaning them before getting them digitized, as the digitization of these transparencies without cleaning them might be disastrous and dissatisfying.

The first question that might occur to you is:

Why do we have to clean them?

We have preserved them intact keeping them inside a strip that does not allow any kind of dust. What we at ScanJunction have experienced is that the negatives are first of all small in size, mostly 35mm. When it is hard for us to even figure out what the picture within the negative is, how can we even think that it could be dust-free?

However, it is not just the dust, it will in most cases come with small scratches that our naked eyes will certainly miss out on. You can have a look at the number of small scratches that the below-uncleaned image contains.

So, let us read further about removing dust from such negatives and slides.

How do you remove dust from a negative film strip or a slide?

The first step in cleaning a negative strip or a slide is the dust that gets collected over it over a period of time. Again this is invisible to the naked eye. Always make sure that you hold the negatives in such a way that you are touching them as minimal as possible. Slides anyway are easier to hold for the fact that they are wrapped by a solid cover.

The first thing you need to do to clean a film or slide is to:

Air them out Method

Hold them as told above. These dust particles can be loosened by compressed air that can also remove dust particles from in between the keys of a keyboard. While doing it, don’t forget to be gentle in your actions, as the old reels and strips are pretty much fragile.

  • If the air is extremely dry, you can add some humidity, making the dust reduce.
  • While blowing dust, make sure that you don’t blow them to another negative. Take one negative at a time and clean them.

Microfiber cloth Method

As a second step, it is better to clean using a Microfiber cloth.

Even if you carefully hold the strips or slides by their side and avoid touching the transparent part of them, there are all chances that somebody sometimes back might have held them the wrong way.

To come over this, clean them using a clean microfiber cloth. This will remove light dust that are lightly glued to them. In addition, fingerprints will disappear too.

Lukewarm water Method

In most cases, the negatives and slides might have some stubborn dirt in the form of glue. In such cases, the last two steps are not enough. You might have to use some liquid cleaners.

If you are not sure as to what emulsions or liquid to use, the best way is to soak them in lukewarm water. You can, in addition, add a single drop of detergent to prevent streaking. After a while, clean it with a soft squeegee to avoid water spots after drying and let it dry by handing it.

By soaking it in lukewarm water, the negatives will get soft enough that, most of the stubborn dust can be wiped away. But don’t use cotton balls, as they might leave fibers behind and create more problems for you.

If you think you need a more aggressive cleaning for water based stains, you can move on to the next step.

Alcohol Method

No, don’t use any other alcohol that is available in the market. You might spoil your own old memories instead of cleaning them. Then what should you do? Use 98% isopropyl alcohol that will be useful in cleaning the dirt and strains.

This percentage of alcohol dries fast and won’t leave any stains, streaks, or spots after its application. Any lesser percentage of alcohol than this, you will be ending up with more streaks, spots, and strains than how you started the process.

Another important thing while following this process is that the films should not be dipped into the alcohol directly. You will be burning the negatives if you do this. Instead, just dab a tiny amount of your isopropyl alcohol and gently wipe them with a lint-free cloth or the cloth that we mentioned earlier, a microfiber cloth.

PEC Method

Dip a part of the fine cloth in the solution and then clean. This is when the marks are too stubborn and cannot be cleaned using just lukewarm water. Moreover, it removes all non-water-based stains that are glued to the films, both slides, and negatives.

In addition, PEC removes the following marks:

  • Grease pencil
  • Adhesive residue
  • Finger Oils
  • Ball-point pen
  • Fungus
  • Smoke and Soot damage
  • Laser separation oil and
  • Most permanent ink marks

Photo Flo Method

There is one more method followed back in times, in the darkroom times. This is mostly known to the people who spent more time in dirty, sub-optimal darkrooms.

This is the method of using Photo Flo, a surfactant liquid that removes the following dust and dirt.

  • Spots
  • Fingerprints
  • Dust

In this type of cleaning the film is rinsed, bathed in the aforementioned type of chemical, after which it is squeegeed dry before the dust could settle. This works like magic.

Scratch Removal

Until now, we have understood the various methods of cleaning spots and stains. In this section let us discuss how to remove small scratches that would be the outcome of removal and insertion of negative strips from the sheets.

This damage is inevitable, as they leave scratches of different magnitude when the negatives are removed and placed back. However, it is not that difficult but time-consuming to remove. The concept is simple. But this is a facility that has to come with the scanner.

Oil Mount Method

The negatives are placed in the oil-mounted holder. Then, this concept fills the scratches and generally improves the scan. Though we don’t use this method, it is a method followed by the old-school. This as already said uses the wet-mount using lighter fluids.

Digital ICE Technology

We use this on a day-to-day basis. This is an extraordinary feature added in Epson Scanners of photo grade. Right from when we purchased our first Epson V-800 scanner, this feature has come in handy. All you need to do is to place the negatives on the holder and start scanning.

The rest of it is taken care of by the scanner. The only disadvantage of this is that it takes time. For around 15 negatives at 1200 dpi resolution, it takes a whopping 45 mins to 1 hour to scan with Digital ICE technology as opposed to its regular scanning speed.

Well, let’s now get into the technical details of it. Digital ICE stands for Image Correction and Enhancement, which is a set of technologies that results in an altered image in various spectra of frequency. Unlike the software solutions, this is a built-in technology within the scanner.

This technology uses infrared rays and cleans the images without altering the underlying details of the image. The scanner containing this technology uses the following to do this:

  • Light sources
  • Normal RGB Lamp
  • Infrared Lamp

The infrared ray lights detect scratches and dust during the time of scanning and try to automatically apply in-painting based on the surrounding data. The general concept is locating the scratches and dust, and mask them.

Now you know why negative scanning is expensive. While scanning the films, it takes a lot of time for it to automatically find scratches and in-paint them. If you look at the image done with and without the ICE technology, you will be surprised to see the results.

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