Slides are one of the best ways to store photos – they can be used to produce top-quality digital and physical images while remaining in good condition for decades.
However, in order to produce uninhibited images, you must use slides that are clean – otherwise, the quality can be greatly diminished.
And unfortunately, slides collect dust and dirt quite easily – when kept in a box or a carousel, they are likely to become dirty over the years, which can even result in permanent damage if you don’t take the necessary steps to prevent it.
So how can you clean your slides without damaging them?
Well, to give yourself the best chance of succeeding and make the process as easy as possible, here are a few steps you need to follow.
Organize Your Slides
The first step of cleaning your slides is getting them organized – if you don’t know what you want to clean, the entire process can become chaotic, and you may end up doing more work than necessary.
One thing to remember when going through your slides is that you must handle them with care – before starting the cleaning project, get a pair of anti-static gloves, ideally made out of microfiber.
Usually, you can find these specialized gloves in your local photography store, but if not, they’re widely available to order online.
Inspect the Level of Damage
Before you can choose the best strategy for cleaning each slide, you must assess the damage and the type of dirt that is present. There are multiple methods for cleaning slides, and each of them is suited for a different situation, so you should evaluate each slide and then group them according to the type and severity of dirtiness.
Some of the common types of dirt that may be present include dust, dried liquids, ink, mold, or even some types of fungus. If your slides have been around for decades, it’s almost inevitable that they have become a breeding ground for microorganisms, even if the slides are kept in the right conditions.
But how should you sort your slides?
Well, first off, separate the least dirty slides and put them in a single group – these will require the least effort, and some may not even need cleaning at all. If you’re planning to scan your slides after cleaning them, a professional service might be able to scan them with dust particles present using scanners and correct imperfections using the Digital ICE scanning technology.
For those slides that are moderately or severely dirty, you will have to put in a little bit more effort – let’s explore some of the best methods for cleaning slides without damaging them.
Remove All the Dust
The first step of cleaning your slides is removing dust and other debris that has likely accumulated over the years.
If your slides are mounted in plastic, you should first remove them because otherwise, the debris is likely to get stuck inside the edges and become even more difficult to clean.
After removing the slides from the cardboard, you can use two methods for cleaning dust and other debris that isn’t stuck – you can either use your hands and an anti-static wipe or blow compressed air if you want a safer method.
When cleaning by hand, you should first start with a very soft natural brush to gently remove the particles, and if that doesn’t remove all the particles, you can use a microfiber cloth.
Remember to clean both sides thoroughly, and take your time – it’s better to be more careful and be as gentle as possible because if not, you can end up with smudges which will require more effort to clean.
In fact, the smudges may not even be observable to the naked eye, but might only become visible through the scanner if you decide to convert slides to digital.
What’s more, when you’re cleaning by hand, there’s always the risk of accidentally scratching the slides, so if possible, using compressed air is almost always the safer approach.
Remove Stubborn Debris
In some instances, the debris on your slides will be impossible to clean by hand or by using compressed air. However, keep in mind that if the dirt is stuck to the slides, the process of removing it is very dangerous and can cause permanent damage, so it’s not recommended to take on the task if you don’t have prior experience doing it.
However, if you’re confident in your ability to remove debris that is stuck safely, there are liquid film cleaners available that will be suitable for helping to soften the debris and allowing you to remove it safely.
Most often, these cleaners will be alcohol-based and will need to be carefully applied using a cotton pad, and then dried using compressed air. However, you should read the instructions of the specific brand of cleaner that you use to ensure that you apply it correctly.
If you’re ever unsure about how to clean a particular slide, you should be cautious and consult an expert. The damage that you cause if you make a wrong call can be irreversible, so it’s safer to consult with your local slide scanning service provider as he can help you figure out the safest way to restore the slide.
Get to Scanning Your Slides
While cleaning the slides can help you restore them, that’s only a temporary solution – they will get dirty again, and sooner or later it won’t be possible to clean them again without causing damage.
Therefore, the only permanent solution is to have your slides digitized and ensure that your precious photographs remain in mint shape forever.
It is possible to try to scan the slides yourself, but without specialized scanning equipment and advanced software, the results aren’t likely to be satisfactory.
Therefore, the most reliable option is to use the services of a slide scanning service provider who can ensure that every slide is restored, digitized, and delivered to you in a timely manner.
As mentioned before, if your slides only contain a bit of dust, it may be possible to scan them without the need to clean them – most professional-grade scanners use Digital ICE technology that’s able to detect dust particles and minor scratches before scanning and correct them.
Brandon Harris is the owner of Smooth Photo Scanning Services, headquartered in Lodi, NJ. Prior to that he owned and operated a small bakery. He is passionate about helping individuals protect, preserve and share their family history and takes pride in the many high quality yet affordable slide scanning services which his company provides.