By Larry Urbanski
Urbanski Film

Many collectors and archivists have asked for basic instructions how to clean and preserve their motion picture films.
The most common method of film cleaning is accomplished by wiping films with a cloth soaked in film cleaner while rewinding the film using hand rewinds.

The film cleaning procedure requires some equipment all film collectors/archivists should have.
You’ll need a set of hand rewinds, film cleaner, cloths, and rubber gloves if desired.

Hand rewinds are made to accept film reels. By turning a handle the film is wound from one reel to another. These are usually mounted on a board or directly on a table. For film cleaning, table mount is recommended.

Cloths required should be 100% cotton cloth.  Soft fluffy t-shirt or sweatshirt material works well and you can launder them when dirty.  Rolls of film wipes can be purchased if desired.

There are several film cleaners on the market.  We will discuss applying Filmrenew, which is a cleaner and preservative.  Other film cleaners can be applied (Solvon, Renovex, RTI, Ecco, Edwal) using this same method.  Other film cleaners are fast drying, and will dry immediately. Filmrenew is a slow drying product, taking several days to thoroughly dry.

Rubber gloves should be used if you are averse to getting chemicals on your hands.
Use all film cleaners in a well-ventilated area.

Films should be inspected and repaired before cleaning.  Loose splices, nicks, and sprocket tears can snag the cloth when cleaning, tearing the film.

We are in front of our set of hand rewinds, one on the right, and one on the left.
Put your reel with film on the left side. I like the film coming off the top of the reel.  Put your steel take up reel on the right side. The film should be wound off the top of the reel, clockwise, like this diagram.   (Left reel  0***0  Right reel)

Moisten the cotton cloth in Filmrenew. Fold the cloth over the film. I create a “jaw” that covers the film in cloth, so that your thumb and fingers put pressure on both sides of the film.  Wind the film slowly applying light pressure and evenly applying Filmrenew. Keep checking your cloth for dirt buildup.  When the cloth starts to show dirt move your cleaning cloth to another position. Built up dirt and grit may scratch film!  Re-apply more Filmrenew as necessary to keep the cloth and film moist.

Once the Filmrenew has been applied and is wound on the steel take-up, allow it to dry.  Filmrenew has a long drying period, depending on your climate (usually a couple days). Once dry, rewind back to the original reel.  Do not put the film in a can until completely dry.
If necessary, the drying process can be speeded up. You can immediately rewind back onto the original (steel) reel while buffing off excess Filmrenew with a dry cotton cloth.
If your films are on plastic reels use steel reels for the cleaning process.  When the Filmrenew is dry, wind back on the plastic reels.

In some cases Filmrenew’s penetrating capabilities may loosen tape splices.
If you are using fast drying film cleaners (Solvon, Renovex, RTI, Ecco, Edwal), these products will not affect tape splices. It is recommended when cleaning film with ANY brand of film cleaner to use steel reels. Plastic reels may be used with Filmrenew if steel reels are not available for cleaning, but expect the plastic reel to become discolored.

Plastic reels may be used with fast dry cleaners if steel reels are not available for cleaning. Caution: When using a plastic reel with a fast dry cleaner, do not apply the fast drying cleaner too quickly. If the film is still wet while winding on to the plastic take-up reel, the film could stick to the sides of a plastic reel, damaging the film.

There are film applicator units that can be mounted between your rewinds to make the film cleaning process neater. Film cleaner is put in a bottle with an adjustable flow rate that wets cloths in a spring-loaded jaw.  The film is pulled through the wet cloths by your rewinds, cleaning the film.  The Ecco Model D Applicator can be used with any brand film cleaner.

Clean your films every couple years or more often if you notice dirt, warping, or noise while projecting.  Clean films are less prone to damage.  Your collection will retain its value, and your films will project better if you clean and maintain your prints.

Filmrenew is the only film cleaner you can use for soaking.
How to soak a film print in Filmrenew: After cleaning your film wind it tightly tails out (reverse wind) on a steel reel. Fill a lab can with Filmrenew and submerge the print. Let it sit in the closed can for a few weeks. Take the print out and let it dry for several days before rewinding.  This process helps curl, shrinkage, and brittleness.

Filmrenew immediately kills mold and fungus. To remove mold and fungus soak the print for a minute or two to totally kill the mold and fungus. Immediately clean the print with a cloth moistened in Filmrenew as outlined in these instructions to remove dead fungus. If the film is on plastic reels it is recommended to replace the contaminated plastic reels. Steel reels, if not rusty, can be reused.

Filmrenew can be applied with a brush directly on the sides of a film for a quick protection application. The film may be immediately projected “wet” or allowed to dry.  Obviously dirt is not removed from the film using this method.

**FILM CLEANING TIP.  There is less chance of damage to very old archival sound film while hand cleaning with rewinds if you fold over your cloth on the sound side (not the sprocket side).  If you are using square/square reels this can easily be done. This minimizes the possibility of the rag catching on a damaged sprocket and tearing the film while cleaning.

**FILM CLEANING TIP WITH FAST DRY CLEANERS.   When using fast drying cleaners like Solvon, Renovex 2, RTI, Edwal, and Ecco care must be taken to make sure the film is completely dry when it is taken up on the rewind. If you apply a fast drying cleaner too quickly, and the film is still wet while winding on to the take-up reel, the film may stick together or the film could stick to the sides of a plastic reel, damaging the film.

**Filmrenew is safe for all film gauges and film stocks including but not limited to 8mm, Super 8mm, 16mm, 35mm, and 70mm. Filmrenew has tested safe for professionally applied magnetic soundtracks, such as Kodak sound stripe films or entertainment films sold by distributors. It is always recommended to spot clean a small section of a magnetic track if it may be an “after market” add on track.