How to Clean an Old Photograph

Old photographs.
  • Intermediate
  • 20
What You'll Need
Photographic emulsion cleaner
Photo wipes
Canned air or soft brush
White cotton gloves

Old photographs are irreplaceable memories that will fade over time if they are not taken care of. Pictures accumulate dust and grime when stored incorrectly, handled improperly, or are exposed to moisture. Before attempting to clean your pictures, it is recommended that you make a high quality negative or scan each picture. This provides a backup if the pictures are accidentally damaged during the cleaning process. If you are hesitant to clean the photos, another option is to take your scanned images and touch them up using photographic editing software to repair imperfections. However, there may be grime or dirt obscuring facial details which are difficult to digitally fix without cleaning the picture first.

However, some old photos may not be suitable for cleaning because they are too fragile or the dirt is embedded within the picture. For these limited cases, take the photo’s to a professional and then have them digitally restored.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind before you start cleaning. If pictures are stuck together and it appears that removing the top picture will tear the second photo, consider taking it to a professional. When handling pictures; always pick them up by the edge so fingerprints are not left on the surface.

Cleaning Procedure

Old photographs.

Lay the towel on a flat surface. Put your editing gloves on and place the photographs on top of the towel.

Gently wipe off dust with a soft brush or blow it off using the canned air. If some of your pictures are damaged and have small tears, do not use the canned air because the airflow exiting at high velocities may actually make the tear worse.

To remove grime on the pictures, use the emulsion fluid. Gently wipe the photos with a cleaning pad. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the best results.

Once the old photos are cleaned, store them in a dry environment.

Tips to Consider

Only clean photos that are in good condition Using the emulsion fluid, test clean a photo of little value.

Clean small areas at a time to make sure the emulsion fluid does not damage the picture. If the fluid damages the area, stop immediately. Never use water to clean old photos.