Ahh..the smell of vinegar in the morning. I can tell right away when someone brings me in old super 8 or 8mm movie film what kind of result they will get. If the reels are clean, smooth and black we will be able to get good results. Sometimes however they will have what is called “Vinegar Syndrome” or “VS”. Just by opening the case the film is stored in, you can smell it. You can also see it. It looks like a buildup of white and brown junk. But it technical terms, VS is the breakdown of the film base that produces the smell. VS is usually caused by improper storage. Humidity levels that aren’t consistent, such as an attic or garage can cause V.S. I have also seen damage of films caused by metal containers that have rusted throughout the years and the rust has transferred to the film.
So what can we do about it? First if you have any reels that aren’t stored properly in a humid basement, garage or attic, move them today. Any steps you take now can help prevent it from spreading and getting worse.
When I get film like this there are a couple of steps I take. I separate the movies with VS from the ones without. (It is strange because sometimes I get film from the same customer, in the same box and some are fine and others are terrible). I take the film from its container, loosen the reel and let it “breath” for a couple of days. Due to the smell I usually do this in my storage room. After a couple of days I clean the reels using a film safe cleaner, a lint less towel and yes a gas mask. The odors from both the film cleaner and the film require that. I clean it several times until I feel it is the best I can get.
V.S. cannot be “cured”. The images already gone will not come back. What we can do it stop it from getting worse and to transfer it to another form of media while we still have some of the images available. You can see the results of V.S. The “lines” in the film in the picture are actually where the image is gone. Sad that the image is deteriorated but it is still images of friends and family surely worth saving!
Linda loves transferring old home movies for her customers to share. If you need help transferring your old movie film, please view our Film Transfer Page