How to remove the grime and grit off of old Kodachromes

Hi, I haven’t been around here for a while–my mother and aunt both died of COVID in February and my dad is in a nursing home, declining. In the coming months, I will likely be buried in legal bills for their extraordinarily complex situation(s)…

Anyway, to take my mind off things, I have been enjoying my Nikon ES-1, 40mm micro and D7200 rig I’ve been using to (start to) digitize my thousands of old Kodachromes (some are also Fuji and Elite Chrome) from 1989 - 2003. I am quite pleased with the results so far. However, an early set (a Seattle trip in 1997) shows many small particles (mostly dark), as well as sporadic, larger translucent yellow blotches. This particular set is not all that critical (I love Seattle, but my photos of European and Asian trips are much more valuable to me), and I will likely not make prints from this trip–at least not large ones. I see this as a kind of practice run. I have post-processed many of these in RawTherapee, just to get the feel of things.

Anyway, I use a Rocket Blower to blow off each slide for several seconds on each side, but I am really hesitant to use anything else, lest is damage the slide or subject me to carcinogens for hours on end. I see a variety of brushes, cloths, solutions, and machines for sale on BandH and elsewhere. Reading about this online, I see that there is certainly no consensus.

At this point I think the best course is simply to do nothing additional and just commit to spending the time in GIMP (or RawTherapee 5.9, whenever we get that) nuking each and every speck using a clone tool or brush tool, should I decide to make a large print. These particles are mostly a problem only in large areas of sky or water, or some other uniform, light-colored area.

Any advice on products or methods that may help with this? Thanks!

I would be very careful when trying to clean the emulsion layer part of film.

There are 2 layers, a transparent base/bearer and the emulsion layer. First one is rather tough and can be cleaned but the emulsion layer is soft and a grain of something hard embedded in it will leave a scratch/mark if removed with a (soft) cloth.

Your current approach, leave it as is and spend the time using software to fix things, is the best approach in my opinion.

If you do have a"golden" shot you want cleaned/restored I would advise you to take it to a professional (do make a good digital copy first though).

Just my 2c.

I remove those pesky small dirt specs with 3M Magic tape. Just press it on with your finger, then pull it off. Don’t rub the sticky surface across the slide or it will leave a residue. Here’s a before/after example I did on a batch of transparencies I digitized for a client.

1 Like