How to Clean Negatives for Scanning

Written by thomas ferraioli
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How to Clean Negatives for Scanning
Cleaning negatives allows for sharper images when scanned. (negative image by Marek Kosmal from

Clean up your boxes of old photographic memories from the last century by going digital. A negative scanner will allow you to scan your 35mm film negatives into a digital format for use on your computer, cell phone or to order fresh prints online.

The quality of your digital scan will only be as good as the condition of the original negative. To maximise the clarity of your scan, take time to clean each negative to remove dirt and smudges from the film.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Compressed air
  • Lint-free microfiber cloth
  • Water-free film-cleaning solution

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  1. 1

    Spray the negative with a blast of compressed air to remove dust, sand and other abrasive particles from the film surface. Even if using the softest cloth, a grain of sand will permanently scratch and gouge a negative when rubbed.

  2. 2

    Wipe the negative with a photo-safe cloth moistened with a water-free photographic cleaner, such as PEC-12 Photographic Emulsion Cleaner manufactured by Photographic Solutions Incorporated. Eastman Kodak provides a list of approved cleaning chemicals on its website. See the References section for links.

  3. 3

    Buff gently with a dry, lint-free, photo-safe cloth, such as a microfiber towel. Do not aggressively scrub, as this can remove the emulsion from the film. Allow any remaining solution to evaporate.

Tips and warnings

  • Repeat the process until the negative is clean. Avoid the temptation to use extra elbow grease to force the negative clean, as this may damage the negative. Let the cleaner liquid do the work.

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