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Audiovisual Archiving Guidelines

Tips for Storing your Film Collection at Home

How do I store my film at home?

If you wish to store your film collection at home, you will need a secure location, with a cool and dry climate. Fluctuations in temperature and humidity will increase the rate of deterioration. The film cans should be in good condition, free of rust, and the film should fit comfortably inside, naked in the can, with no plastic bag or wrapping inside. Keep the film horizontal, and off the floor – where there is greater risk of damage from flooding or pest infestation.

How long will my film last?

Stored correctly and handled carefully film can last for more than 100 years. Any damage to film reduces its lifespan.

There are three main sorts of damage to film:

  • physical damage, caused by rough handling or malfunctioning machinery
  • chemical damage, such as vinegar syndrome
  • biological damage, like mould

What do I do if my film smells of vinegar?

When kept in warm humid climates, film may begin to break down and become twisted and limp, with a sharp vinegar smell. The best way to prevent this is to store film in cool, dry conditions.

If you detect a sharp vinegar smell you should seek specialist advice immediately. The films will need to be copied, as the acetic acid will be destroying the picture.

What do I do if I find mould on my film?

Mould often grows on film that is kept in humid climates. The best way to prevent this is to store film in cool, dry conditions.

If you do find mould on your film, you can very carefully clean it off the top and bottom surfaces of the film reel with isopropyl alcohol (available in a pharmacy) and cotton buds. Be careful not to soak the film in alcohol. It may take a few attempts to remove the mould entirely. Then you need to seek specialist advice about having the film copied, as the enzymes may already be eating into the film and destroying the picture.

What should I do with my film after I have a DVD / digital copy?

You should always keep your original film. Ideally you should also save an extra copy on a hard drive, and ensure the hard drive is run and checked periodically.

DVDs can be easily damaged, and it is important to keep them in cases in a lidded box as daylight can damage them.

Digital technology becomes obsolete very quickly. We know that physical film can last over 100 years, but no-one can predict how long digital technologies will be around.

What do I do if my film has been damaged in a disaster?

If your film material has been damaged by fire, flood or earthquake please contact us for advice.

For more information about caring for film, we recommend the FilmCare.org resources.