Obvious colourful residue on cleaning pads after very gentle film cleaning

Hi all,
I am gently running my standard8 8mm films through Webril Handi-Pads as recommended for initial " dry " cleaning. To my horror I noticed an obvious colourful residue on the pad after just a few meters of reel running through. These reels are forty and fifty years old and they have been stored carelessly. What puzzles me is that the colourful residue look similar on the top and bottom pads ( emulsion and base ). So, if somehow the image emulsion is rubbing off the film by Webril Handi-Pads with barely enough pressure to hold the pads in place, then why the same colour residue is forming on the base side?
Am I doing something wrong?

@OverCranked – there has not been very much discussion here in this forum about cleaning old film stock. Maybe some members can contribute with their experiences?

Personally, I would never use dry cotton-pads on old film stock. I would at least add some 99% isopropyl alcohol, even so other people are warning that this could dry out a film. On old Agfa Moviechrome film stock which had developed mold on both sides of the film I used destilled water to get rid of the mold.

There are specialized film cleaning fluids on the market, some quite expensive. Also, nowadays advanced post-processing techniques can aliviate the need for cleaing before scanning. Again, maybe other members could add here their expertize.

A nice overview about various film cleaning approaches can be found here at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. Your technique can be found under the “Dry Dust Back” section, with the remark “… and requires great care not to scratch the film”.

Finally: if your residues are “colorful” – what specific color are they? That might give a hint to what they are…

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Yes, in fact I decided to dry clean these specific standard8 films after reading about the method on the website you linked. There are a lot of heated debates on the subject going back many moons. I had gathered the materials for both wet and dry methods of film cleaning according to the suggestions of the gurus. Yet, I didn’t dare using any kinds of liquids on these very old ( although badly abused ) films.
As recommended by archivists for the initial master copy, I just held the lint free cloth(es ) with no perceptible pressure against the slowly passing film. The idea was removing the skeletal remains of bugs and animal fir and cigaret tobacco debris. I am not exaggerating about those … pollutants.
I made sure to change the contact spot frequently to prevent any possible scratches. That’s how I noticed the colourful spots. Those smudges of colour correspond with the content. Greens ( 1950’s Golf Game ), Brown ( dark interiors ), Blue ( blue sky scenes ). I stoped after those few first meters of cleaning.
I will generate the first master copy without any cleaning. After a thorough research and collecting the necessary information, I will proceed taking educated risks.


Water absorbs very quickly into the emulsion and will cause all kinds of problems. Wiping the edge of the film with 99% Isopropyl Alcohol will have the same effect but without any of the potential damage.

Back to the original problem, it sounds like some degree of emulsion shedding. I wouldn’t worry too much about because gently using a dry cotton wipe shouldn’t be causing that. The only problem you can run into is catching a damaged edge or sprocket of the film with the cloth and tearing the film.

The years of abuse to the film is what most likely caused that and you’re just wiping away what has already accumulated. Are the colours coming off on both sides of the film? Is the film scratched and damaged? That would tell you that it’s not new damage but what has stuck to the film over many runs through projectors. Generally though, if you are scanning the film, its better to clean dust off digitally. Most of what will be on your film has become embedded in the film and no cleaning method will be able to get rid of it.

As to other cleaning methods I only really spot clean films while I inspect them. For that I mostly use Pec-Pads and very occasionally I’ll use a cotton swab. And I’ll use those with 99% Isopropyl Alcohol, it’s perfectly safe for film. I’ve found alcohol will remove pretty much anything that gets on the film, although bug remains are not one of them! Other chemicals usually aren’t that much better at cleaning and are much worse for you health wise so I don’t bother with them. I also find one of the best tools to remove old, sticky tape residue is a piece of white artist tape.


Another source for reference is the National Film Preservation Foundation. In regards to handling/cleaning, this link to the section of the Film Preservation Guide that includes cleaning.
Hope it helps.


I agree about the effect of water. Unless of course we are discussing a " complete " process of emersion and systematically controlled wash to dry. So, for quick an ready spot cleaning, as you mentioned 99% alcohol won’t do a significant damage and it’s far from being carcinogenic.
Yes, the colourful stains are on both, emulsion and base sides cleaning pads. That fact supports the idea of the natural wear and tear and deteriorating film material.
I brought the sample generated digital file in DaVinci Resolve. After a quick camera RAW process I don’t see any effect on fidelity of colours or densities of film that I gently dry cleaned. But film is significantly cleaner.

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We use 99.9% isopropyl to clean film, with Pec Pads (you can buy these from Amazon. Better than Webril wipes because they don’t snag on sharp edges like broken perfs as easily, and that can leave behind fibers on the film). We use isopropyl for hand cleaning as well as in our film cleaner (a Lipsner Smith Excel 1100, which is a non-immersion, non-ultrasonic film cleaner). Works great in both.

I would never dry-clean the film because it’s much more likely to scratch it. Even with wet cleaning, you have to change the part of the pad you’re using as soon as you see it getting dirty, to avoid scratching.

In school we used to use black velvet to run the film between, but you apply no pressure to the film at all when you do this, and like the wipes, you have to keep using different parts of the velvet. This is just to get loose dust off of the film, and won’t do anything if it’s caked on. This was done dry. I never felt comfortable doing this though, so rarely used this method.

If your film is in really bad shape (curling, etc), I wouldn’t be so worried about cleaning at all unless you’re trying to remove mold or tenite residue. Instead try putting it in a sealed container for about 6-8 months with some 100% camphor extract tablets (again, you can buy these on amazon). If the film can be unspooled but it’s beginning to become brittle, the camphor can help to soften it up a bit and it really does work (*sometimes - depends on the film). But it took decades to get into that state, so don’t expect overnight miracles. Literally months for this to have an effect sometimes.


This video just came up on youtube, interesting cleaning machine.

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