What is a proper way to clean a 35mm negative film stripe before scanning?

What chemicals can remove fingerprints, dust that does not come off by blowing, or strains of glue? What type of cloth does minimal damage when rubbing off dirt?

  • 1
    Try PEC-12 emulsion cleaner from Photographic Solutions. I've had good luck with it.
    – Blrfl
    Apr 1 '13 at 14:26

For fingerprints and light dust you can use a microfibre cloth. If you have stubborn dirt, dust (or glue!) then you may scratch the emulsion if you rub with a cloth.

In that case you could try film emulsion cleaners, but I would just soak them in lukewarm water, perhaps with a single drop of dishwashing detergent to prevent streaking, then use a soft squeegee and hang to dry.

  • 1
    In the end I used lukewarm water + microfibre and that solved 95% of my problems. The glue (leftovers from postit-like sheets that where attached by the developer for ordering duplicate prints) also got soft enough that it could carefully wiped away.
    – TeXter
    Apr 6 '13 at 6:06

If there are photography stores in your area that still sell darkroom supplies, there are chemicals and tools specifically designed for cleaning film. You can see a sample of what I mean at B&H Photo which can help you find sources in Austria. If you have lots of film to process, you might be willing to pay for a machine dedicated to it.


Never underestimate the cleaning characteristics of clear water. Handwarm for your convenience.

User your fingers (within the water) for rubbing things off. By doning so you can best control whether it works fine or damages the emulsion.

Some drops of wetting agent are quite unexpensive, better than dishwashing detergent although both share the main ingedient.

Using demineralized water (calcium free) reduces the risk of water (calcium) spots while trying. Then you may not need any wetting agent at all.

  • Hum. I do not like much the idea of normal water. Try distilled water perhaphs, but there are better liquids for that.
    – Rafael
    Dec 14 '15 at 20:44
  • 1
    Too simple? Really it does not matter how you demineralize it. Can be done by destillation or filtering. The calcium is the key. Dec 15 '15 at 8:56

Ugh... NEVER clean film negatives with water. Use dry microfiber cleaning cloths, or - if you must use a liquid - try the PEC-pads, which are disposable microfiber wipes with the PEC-12 solution already on them. B&H has 100 packs of the PEC-12 4''x 4'' (10cm x 10cm) wipes for ~$8, as do many other photo-supply shops (and amazon, et al).

  • 3
    Why would water be problematic?
    – null
    Jun 17 '15 at 5:33
  • 1
    Tap-water by itself will tend to leave mineral stains on the film and will leave the emulsion susceptible to faster degradation, which is why a stabilizer is used by color film processors. According to a former Kodak photo engineer, "There are many types of stabilizer. One type is photo flo + formalin. It was used up to about 3 or so years ago for all C41 and E6 films and could be interchanged. ... Using no stabilzer or final rinse is a hazard to your pictures health."
    – digijim
    Jun 17 '15 at 16:22
  • Question: what do you think photo labs use in the rinse? As the intent here is cleaning up for scanning, the long-term effects seem irrelevant.
    – paul
    Jun 18 '15 at 23:33
  • 1
    I invite any of you to put some 35mm negative film in water and then wipe across (or even just blot) both sides using a cloth or brush of your choice and watch what happens. I think teXter (4/6/13 comment) got lucky and did not use the microfiber on both sides. At least Mr Klecker acknowledges that it will damage the emulsion.
    – Darr247
    Jun 20 '15 at 2:32

I used warm water and it worked! I would suggest warming distilled water though...no minerals to leave streaks or deposits on the negatives.

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