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Cleaning Tips before Digitizing Slides and Photos

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By Christian Roemer

As you’ve been preparing your photos and slides for Kodak digitization, you may have learned an unfortunate fact: they’re filthy. Turns out that storing a bunch of pictures in a box isn’t exactly hermetic, and despite that fact that you taped the seams, there’s still tons of dust, mold, and other nasty things all over them. Don’t worry. You can clean them.


In fact, cleaning your photos is something we highly recommend before sending them to us. When we digitize your photos and slides, we basically run them through a high-tech scanner. Because of that, anything that’s on the surface of the image might show up on the digital version.

You don’t want that, so here’s a quick guide on how to safely and effectively clean your photos and slides before you send them to us.

How to Clean Photos Safely


Step 1: Put on gloves. Photos can smudge very easily. Also, the oils on your hands can degrade the pictures, so the less you handle them with bare skin the better. Whether you choose latex or rubber, it doesn’t make too much of a difference. Just make sure you use something that you’re not allergic to!


Step 2: Blow off debris. The best way to do this step is to buy a couple of cans of compressed air. Hold the blowing straw far away enough from the pictures so that you don’t accidentally freeze their surface. In this step, you’re aiming to remove larger chunks of dust and other small particles in a non-invasive way.


Step 3: Wipe off the photos. You can buy specially made wipes for photos that won’t damage the surface. Here are some with pretty good reviews on Amazon.


Step 4: Dry them off. Using a hair dryer, put it on the low (no heat) setting and dry off your photos. You don’t want any chemicals lingering on them.


**Special Note** Don’t use this cleaning method on really old pictures, Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, or other rare pictures. Those are delicate and are better left for professionals.


How to Clean Slides Safely


Step 1: Put on gloves. Slides are delicate, just like photos. The best way to go about protecting them is by being proactive. Gloves will ensure that you don’t smudge, oil up, or otherwise slime up the surface of your slides. Again, latex or rubber doesn’t matter.


Step 2: Blow them off. It turns out that cleaning slides is remarkably similar to cleaning photos! Again, canned air is probably the best way to do this step. Hold the can around 10 inches away from the slides and blow off all of the dust and random debris.


Step 3: Wipe them down. Once you’ve gotten your slides clear of nasty particulates, it’ll be time to give them a good wipe. Get a microfiber cloth and gently wipe the surface until it’s spick and span. Don’t push too hard, but be firm enough to give them a good wipe.


Optional Step 4: If your slides have mold on them, you’re in for a bit more work. You’ll have to gently remove the slides from their casing and wipe them with isopropyl alcohol. After you wipe them down, you’ll want to leave them in a room with low humidity to dry out. Once they’ve been dried for about 24 hours, you can re-mount them into the housing.


The important thing to keep in mind when cleaning both slides and photos is that you should be very careful. If you don’t have any kind of backup--and that’s probably why you’re getting them digitized in the first place--you’ll want to handle them with extreme caution. If you have any concerns about the condition of the photos, think they might be rare, or are generally afraid of scuffing them up, pay a professional to clean them. You’ll be happy that you spent the money, especially if you’re talking about family heirlooms.

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