Apologies if this is covered in another answer, but I'm struggling to find something which is this specific.

I have a single strip of film which has come back from processing, and I've been somewhat careless with it.

I placed the strip on the desk, but hadn't spotted a small amount of water from a glass was on the desk, which has ended up on the gelatine side of the strip.

Without thinking, I ran a microfibre cloth over the strip, and I now have some dust stuck to the gelatine layer. The strip has dried out, and it looks like some of the gelatine has run slightly, and there are a number of dust particle stuck to the gelatine.

Can somebody advise the safest way to clean the dust from the layer without damaging the strip further, or point me to a resource which explains a safe process please?

We live in a hard water area, but I have at my disposal some 99% isopropyl alcohol.

I realise I only have myself to blame in this case - had I been more thorough I would not have made such a stupid mistake, but I'm very keen to save the strip as it has some beautiful pictures of my kids on which I would be incredibly sad to lose.


2 Answers 2


As you have discovered, photographic film is easy damaged and difficult to salvage when damaged. The emulsion that holds the image to the transparent film base primarily gelatin. Gelatin is chosen because it is transparent, flexible, and swells when wet. The swelling opens up the structure so the chemicals of the process can infuse and do their deed. If the gelatin is patterned with water, when it dries, the wetted areas will shrank down prompting an unevenness that is generally called “water spots”.

You should try to re-wash the film in running water for a few minutes. Then, soak in a bowl of water to which has been added two or three drops of dishwashing detergent. While submerged, you can rub the film delicately between your fingers or rub with a soft sponge. When finished, hang up to air dry. If this does not work, make a 25% solution of glycerine (from the drug store). Use this as your final rinse.

Another way, scrub the film using a well washed “Tee” shirt dipped in cine film cleaner available on line or at a camera store.

Again, once the gelatin has been damaged, nothing much can be done to repair. However, an old trick, was to print damaged film wet using an enlarger. You can likely scan wet film. Try just plain water, if this does not work, try the glycerine solution.

  • \$\begingroup\$ what is glisten? You don't mean glycerine, do you? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 23:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry my spell checker failed -- glycerin is the correct spelling. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 3:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've marked this as the correct answer, although the answer put forward by Jim is also correct, but you elaborated on the water spots which is something I was concerned about when I initially spotted the water not he negative at the point I damaged it - some of the gelatine swelled yet shrank down when it dried. The negative is now sorted, and I'm going to take a new set of scans later today. Once again, thanks for a detailed answer Alan. You keep saving my photography!!! \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 12:40

You could try to wash the film strip in running water. The water should be at a constant temperature (no significant changes). Gently-running water would be best, as it will tend to eject the dust particles out of itself as it drains.

You may need to use a little wetting agent (e.g. Kodak Photo-Flo) when done to prevent water streaking on the film after the wash.

If you're careful, these particles should come right out. Hopefully nothing abrasive was on the film, as this would have caused scratches during your attempted cleaning with the cloth.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't believe there was anything abrasive on the cloth, and it doesn't look like the surface of the gelatine is scratched when I hold it edge on to a light source. I will try to get in touch with a friend who does his own developing to see if he has any photo-flo he can send me. I don't know if he has any darkroom supplies in at the moment, but there is a photography shop about an hour from me who might be getting a visit soon. I'm not going to rush this as I really do want to save the photos if at all possible. I actually exposed them perfectly for once! \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 18:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is it color or black and white film? If color, you may need to think about adding a stabilizer step after washing in order to -er- stabilize the neg and keep it from degrading. \$\endgroup\$
    – BobT
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 20:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ideal temperature would be 20°C / 68°F for the water bath. Use a clean, dry, soft brush (such as camel hair) to dust negatives/film stock rather than any kind of cloth. Some prefer to copy their originals before subjecting them to anything further such as rewashing. \$\endgroup\$
    – Stan
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 20:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ 20 degrees won't matter too much. It's a good temperature for black-and-white processing, but as long as the water isn't stupidly cold or hot, it will be fine. Anywhere between 15 and 35 degrees will be fine. Keeping it consistent is most important, to avoid emulsion reticulation. If the cold water tap pours out at 15 or higher and is consistent, I'd just use that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 20:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BobT A stabilizer shouldn't be necessary. Stabilizer isn't used with C41 or E6 films after washing during processing. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 20:32

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