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Dust control for darkroom.

Dmitry Zhukov-Gelfand , Nov 30, 1999; 09:02 p.m.

I have a mini-lab set up in my bedroom for printing exclusively b&w photos, which I'd been engaged in for the last couple of months; and here's what i've figured out - DUST, dust everywhere. I breathe it, I bring it on me from the outside, and mostly it gets blown in through the window. I'm sure most of you have or had home darkrooms in the past. How did you control the damn dust? I have to have the window open once in a while to let the fresh air inside. Are there any filters I can install on the window, or any air purifier that I could use? What, where to buy, etc.? Should I remove the rug from the parquet floor? Please tell me it's not going to run into hundreds of $$$!!! Now, I'm not talking exclusively of the darkroom, the room is a living space for me as well. On the sidenote I'll be investing in a slide scanner soon, and that baby doesn't like dust also. Thank you in advance.


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Alan Gibson , Nov 30, 1999; 09:57 p.m.

Dust should only cause a problem on film. Anywhere else, it really doesn't matter, so long as it doesn't blow on to your film. Brush off the film before you put it in your (clean) enlarger or scanner.

If you use LF film, see that forum for tips on loading film holders. If you process B&W film, see that forum for tips on keeping your film clean as it dries.

Todd Frederick , Nov 30, 1999; 09:59 p.m.

This is a damn hard problem to solve. I too have always used a spare room or bathroom for a lab, for both B/W and Ilfochromes...dust is a problem of major proportions. I like to work at night in winter with the window open...in summer I have to have the window blocked with a fan on. Always dust. I just try to brush and air spray my neg right before putting it in the enlarger. Works most of the time, but not always. Seems I always need to do some print spotting. I'm thinking of getting a filtered air purifier for right next to the enlarger. Other than that, I don't have a clue. I'll second your question.

Conrad Hoffman , Nov 30, 1999; 10:26 p.m.

I have dust, lint, pollen, and dog hair but they don't seem to be a problem. I work in one end of a laundry room, with a carpeted floor and unfinished ceiling. It should be the worst. I'm not sure why some people are plagued with dust problems in spite of trying to keep everything clean, but the white spots on the prints are real enough. I try to keep the humidity high, which helps. Wipe down the counter with a wet cloth before starting. Also, be sure your enlarger is properly grounded. That'll help with static so it doesn't act like a dust magnet. Keep the inside of the enlarger clean and inspect the top of the neg when you put it in. If you see anything, pull it out and use the air or ear syringe on it again. Once the neg is in the enlarger and no dust lights up, I rarely see a spot on the prints. If you have an enlarger where you can't see the top of the neg by lifting the head slightly, I'll bet you can't tell if the neg is clean.

Mani Sitaraman , Nov 30, 1999; 10:56 p.m.

Some tips for darkroom dust control, based on my own experience. YMMV.

1) Humidity takes care of dust. Get a $15 steam humidifier in a drugstore and leave it running for 30 minutes in your darkroom before your session. Spoon in half a teaspoon of salt to get it really going.

2) Use a radioactive dust brush (forget what they are called) religiously on your negatives before you put them in the negative carrier. Get the 2 inch wide type.

3) Use a glassless carrier if you are doing 35mm or 6x6.

4) Check to see if your enlarger/easel area is near a ventilation grille or in the path of ventilation air stream in general.

And some obvious tips:

4) Always store your negatives in a dust tight box, and never leave them lying around.

5) When you are not working, always bag up your enlarger head with a trash can plastic bag, and bunch up the bottom end around the enlarger column with a rubber band. This forms a dust tight seal around the head.

6) And something that every clean room knows and tackles first, but the rest of us often forget- the worst offender is often dust that falls onto things from ones person.

This may sound silly, but try wearing a cap over your hair and avoid wearing a sweater or lint-y clothes when huddled over that easel in the dark !

7) And lastly, if you live anywhere close to a construction site, you'll just be doing more spotting than usual until the work-site goes away.

Wayne Crider , Nov 30, 1999; 11:51 p.m.

Being in the air conditioning industry for over 20 years has given me alot of knowledge in this area, but not necessairly for darkrooms, tho I'll impart what I know. Actually alot of the stuff you see floating in the air (about 70%) when looking in a sunbeam thru the window is dead skin. The best item for dust is a charged electrical filter. These also come as floor models or whole house a/c or furnace filters. About $200 and up + installation. It is this technology that is used in our submarine fleet. It takes +95% of EVERYTHING out of the air depending on model. But beware if you have concentrations of explosive gases as they spark. The second best filter is a HEPA filter followed by a pleated filter. These can remove large quantities of dust. If you are inventive, you could make a filter frame with a small 120volt fan behind it. A refrigeration fan motor is nice and small and uses less electricity. Of course you could always buy a professional darkroom unit. For open windows get a filter that fits the opening and spray the filter with filter spray, a filter coating that improves efficency. Since it is a darkroom, you should have an exhaust and makeup air system with a good filter in the makeup air side. If you need more ideas, contact me at my address available under my name. I'll be setting up my own darkroom soon, and will be creating something for my own use. I may have it available for others.

Doug Landrum , Dec 01, 1999; 12:30 a.m.

Thanks for the question and the good responses. Dust is a problem for most. But you have never seen the rapid build up of dust as in my part of Southern California. You can write your name on our wood furniture within five minutes of thorough dusting with treated cloths. It's not our family's own skin particles, hair from Milo the tabby cat or from Wally the shedding Shelty. Yes, it's good old dry California, we live in a desert, dirt. It's not smog, our air quality is quite good these days. Brushes, negative cleaners, a little humidity and a diachroic head on the enlarger are my best answers short of more sophisticated means. I never imagined the dust problems that are the norm in this dirty (not smoggy) air. Humidity and rain do have the benefit of reducing airborne dirt.

Hoyin Lee , Dec 01, 1999; 12:50 a.m.

Echoing Wayne's suggestion, I think an electrical air cleaner / purifier should work well enough for a confined space such as a bedroom-cum-darkroom. It's a device that you can buy from an electrical household appliances shop, and you simply have to plug it on and change the filter once in a while. A friend of mine used to develop severe allergic reaction (non-stop sneezing) to dust particles in his apartment, but sleeps OK now after he has installed an air cleaner in his bedroom.

John P , Dec 01, 1999; 04:51 a.m.

I was plagued by the same problem and found a $120 HEPA filter from Costco works pretty well for drying negs and my small darkroom. I also use canned air and a radioactive brush. Another solution that was suggested when I asked this question was to turn on the hot shower for a few minutes before drying negs in the bathroom. The humidity solution again. Good luck!


Terry Carraway , Dec 01, 1999; 10:12 a.m.

To seriously control dust, a HEPA filtered ventilation unit it is best. To be speced as HEPA the filter must filter out 99.97% of all particles 0.3 microns or larger. There is a higher purity filter called an ULPA that is speced to 99.997% of, I think, 0.1 micron particles.

The problem with both of these, and why I think Wayne recommends electrostatic air cleaners, is air flow. It takes a big filter and a lot of energy to pump a reasonable amount of air through one of these filters. Electrostatic air cleaners flow more air, easier, and do a very good job of cleaning the air.

Also the best way to set up a darkroom is to blow filtered air INTO the darkroom a higher rate than you exhaust. This way, only clean air will be entering the room. Any leakage will be outwards. The elevated humidity is also very good, it helps precipatate any particles in the air.

For background, my profession is Industrial Hygiene, and part of the profession is ventilation design to control airborne contaminants in the workplace.

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