How to clean old photographs

Old photographs are precious and prematurely age if stored incorrectly, or if your priceless treasures are exposed to moisture and careless handling. The last thing you want is to lose your precious memories of years and, even, generations long past. Here we give you advice about how to clean old photos that show signs of early deterioration.

Photograph Cleaning Requirements

  • photographic emulsion cleaner
  • wipes or pads made specifically for cleaning photographic film
  • a towel
  • canned air or a soft brush
  • white cotton film editing gloves

Process for Cleaning Old Photographs

1. Put the towel on a flat surface.

2. Put on the editing gloves and put the old photograph on top of the towel.

3. Brush the dirt off the old photo using the soft air or use the canned air to blow it off.

4. If there is residue built up you will need to use the photographic emulsion and photo cleaning pads to remove any built up residue and adhesives. When using photographic emulsion and cleaning pads always follow the manufacturer's instruction to get the best result.

5. Once your old photos are clean, store them in a protected, dry environment.

Clean old family photos

Requirements for Cleaning Negatives (Glass Plates or Film)

  • isopropyl alcohol
  • cloths that are lint free
  • canned air
  • a soft brush

Process for Cleaning Negatives

1. Put one of the cloths on a flat surface and the negatives on the top.

2. Use the canned air to blow the dust off. Also use the soft brush but be careful you do not scratch your negatives.

3. Moisten a cloth with a little alcohol and gently wipe away any built-up grease or mildew from the negatives. Always start with an old photograph that is least important so you can check there is no damage before you clean the rest.

4. If you cannot remove the excess dirt do not use water as it will permanently damage old photographs. If you cannot clean your old photos properly or are worried about damaging them, get a professional to clean them for you.

General Tips and Advice to help Clean Old Photographs

  • Never use liquid products (e.g., window cleaner, water) as more damage is caused when it mixes with the dirt on your old photographs.
  • Scan your negatives or old photos into your computer before you clean them as a backup copy in case anything goes wrong.
  • If any of your photos have any great sentimental value and you would be heartbroken if you ruined them in the cleaning process it might be better to give the job to a professional.
  • Another option you have is to scan your photos into your computer and use a photographic editing software program to fix the imperfections and reprint onto photographic paper.
  • If your old photos have stuck together or to something else, get advice from a professional photographic restorer about how to clean the old photo without damaging it.
  • Never hold prints just any way - always use their sides so fingerprints are not left on the old photograph's surface.

Keep old photos in top condition by storing them correctly

If you are ever in doubt about damaging your photos get professional advice. It should be easy enough though to tackle the simple cleaning jobs yourself, but always follow the manufacturer's instructions for any product you use.