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I currently store my 4x5 negatives in archival sheets with 4x5 pockets, like this one: https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/43007-REG/Print_File_PF454B100_Archival_Storage_Page_for.html

I store those sheets in a locking binder.

Today I fired up the darkroom only to find that every negative I might want to print had gotten dirty somehow and needed to be scrubbed with a pec pad and rewashed. So they're all hanging up to dry and my morning is lost. Additionally it looks like some of them have gotten slightly scratched just sitting in the binder.

I'm not sure how they got dirty inside the binder. It is stored in a fairly clean room with minimal human activity.

How should I be storing my sheet negatives to make sure they stay clean? Or is this just a hazard of the trade and I should plan on re-cleaning any negatives I want to print the night before?

  • When you say they're dirty, are we talking dust, water spots...? – Hueco Jul 14 '18 at 18:56
  • @Corey whatever it was it required scrubbing with a pec pad, so not dust. Some looked like water spots, some looked like a sticky substance was smeared on. – steel Jul 14 '18 at 20:05
  • Do you have older negs that have not had this issue? Describe your developing, fixing and washing process, perhaps there is a residual film of some sort that did not get completely washed off, wash water to cool or not washed long enough ? – Alaska Man Jul 14 '18 at 20:52
  • You're storing them just like I did. Have you tried putting the negs first inside glassine envelopes? – Frank Jul 15 '18 at 0:03
  • @Alaskaman that's interesting. These negatives were all about 10mo old and last printed 4mo ago when they were still clean (so had been clean for ~6mo in the sleeves). My newest negatives did not have any residue. Could inadequate washing have had a >6mo delay like that? – steel Jul 15 '18 at 0:21
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I have had negatives in archival sleeves made by Print File (the brand you link to) for decades. Just sitting in the sleeves will not cause scratches or produce residues.

Scratches

Scratches are created when a hard substance scrapes across the surface of the film. They can be formed in camera, during development, or when handling the film. Scratches may have been created when you "scrubbed" the negatives.

Residues

Residues may be left behind by adhesives, evaporating liquids, or degrading plastics.

It is unlikely that the material the sleeves are made from are degrading because the product you link to is of archival quality and stable. I have had negatives in sleeves produced by the same company for decades without any problems.

Degradation of plastics may be accelerated. For instance, the glycerin base of sunblocks and hand lotions can dissolve plastics, in addition to leaving their own residues.

Since you saw "water spots", it is likely that a liquid, such as juice, splashed onto the negatives and left a residue upon evaporation.

Prevention

  • Wipe away dust from all work surfaces with a damp cloth followed by a dry cloth. Alternatively, a dry dusting cloth, designed to pick up dust without throwing it into the air, may be used.

  • Also, wipe dust away from the binder and sleeves. Make sure your equipment and scanner are clean.

  • Remove foods, drinks, and other liquids from the work area.

  • Wash and dry hands before handling negatives. Avoid antibacterial soaps and "water resistant" skincare products. Do not put lotion on hands after washing.

  • Make sure negatives and sleeves are clean before replacing negatives for storage.

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I have used negative sleeves for years, and had no problem. The brand I use is Hama and not File Print, but that is because I live in Europe.

One thing I learned was to use the so called parchment sleeved and not plastic based, because plastic can get statically charged and draws dust particles. Dust is my darkroom enemy #1.

This method of storage has been tried & tested, and it works. I would look for causes elsewhere before blaming it; three possible are:

  • chemical contamination: i.e. sloppy fixing. This would show as yellowish spots that refuse to go away. I do not think this is your problem, as this issue is irreversible.

  • contamination in your last printing session: the food & drink on your working table mentioned in comments. Possible, though unlikely.

  • storage conditions: gelatin in the emulsion of your negatives is hygroscopic, i.e. capable of drawing water from humid storage. Clean water can be dried off, but damp storage will inevitably lead to mold, which leaves lasting damage.

My suggestion is to check your negative storage area. It should be some ventilated place.

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