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Why are Your Films Moldy?

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By Katy Sommerfield

Imagine this: You head down to your basement to find that old side table or lamp when you spot it - a box filled with homemade films from the ‘80s. There they are in their vintage glory, each reel encased in a metal container. You go over to the box to check out the artifacts from your earlier days, but the nostalgia is ruined once you open one of the reel canisters. You are shocked to find greenish-white fuzz all over the film. How could mold have possibly infiltrated your home movies?

The answer is simple: mold grows wherever it is wet.
Areas such as crawl spaces and basements are the perfect breeding grounds for mold spores due to the high humidity and the dank environment. Similarly, mold grows easily on camera film. Movie film is made of plastic and has a gelatin emulsion coating that mold spores love, allowing them to grow easily along film reels. Because of this, films are particularly susceptible to mold growth when stored in wet or humid environments.

 

Mold growth is dangerous for film reels because of the enzymes mold spores produce which can eat away at the gelatin and cellulose in the film. This can cause great damage to the footage on your films. 


Mold happens. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost! While finding mold in your films can be disappointing, there are ways to clean films that have been exposed to mold growth. With just a few supplies, you can help reduce the amount of damage done to your films by those pesky spores. 


Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Film viewer with two take-up reels.
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Film cleaner
  • Cotton gloves

Step One

Put on your cotton gloves. Place the moldy film reel on one take-up reel on the film viewer. Carefully unwind a bit of the film and wind it onto the empty take-up reel. 


Step Two

Pour a small amount of the film cleaner solution onto your microfiber cloth. Wrap the cloth around the section of film between the two take-up reels and steadily hold the cloth in place with your thumb and index finger as you wind the film onto the other take-up reel. This way, every inch of the film will become coated with the cleaning solution, killing all the mold spores. 


Step Three

Clean the ends of the film reels by winding all of the film onto one take-up reel and cleaning that end, then winding the film onto the other take-up reel and cleaning the other end. Make sure you also clean the film reel canister that the film was stored in.


After you clean the film, let it air dry for a moment before placing it back into its clean container. Store the film in a cool, dry place such as a closet on the main level of your home to prevent future mold growth. 


Now that you’ve cleaned your films, its a great idea to get them digitized through KODAK Digitizing. The only way to truly preserve your films is to create digital copies of them to save onto your computer and other devices. No amount of cleaning or perfect storage techniques will preserve a film forever. The sensitive materials in film will eventually begin to deteriorate as the years go by, and the footage on your films can become lost forever. If you digitize your films, you will never have to worry about losing footage to the tests of mold or time. After digitization, you will be able to easily access your films from any device you save them onto, so you can share them with all of your friends and family in a snap. There’s no better precaution when it comes to analog media than digitization!

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