Written by Amy Berge
When I started self-developing my film I had so many questions, not just about the development process (which you can read about here for b&w film and here for color film), but also about the logistics involved. Can I reuse chemicals? For how long? How do I dispose of them? How should I store them? I have been coming across others with these exact same questions; they’re just as important as understanding the development process itself! After developing my own film for a while now, I feel like, although I’m no expert, I have definitely learned a few tips. So here are your top questions answered.
How Do You Store and Dispose of Black and White chemicals? And How Many Times Can You Use It?
Developer: I use Kodak HC-110 B (find on Amazon) for my developing. HC-110 is a developer that is single-use and can be disposed of down the drain after you’re done with the developing stage.
I store my bottle of concentrate in a box in my basement, so that it’s away from light and in a cool place. By the end of the bottle the concentrate is definitely a darker amber than when first opened, but I have not noticed any changes in my developed film. I have heard this stuff lasts forever (I bought my first bottle after its expiration date because it was 50% off, but the employee assured me it lasts forever. I am on board with that as well.)
Fixer: I use Ilford Rapid Fixer (find on Amazon) for fixing my black and white film, which is a multi-use chemical. I store my working solution of fixer in a black, opaque accordion bottle so I can squeeze out any unnecessary air, and I store it in a box in my basement (which stays relatively cool).
I have most definitely gotten lazy about tracking how many uses I get out of this because it seems to last a looooong time. I have heard people in forums say they dispose of it after every use because it’s cheap, but I imagine dollar signs going down my drain if I did this. My rule of thumb has been to change it out around 6-9 months or a couple dozen rolls of film. But like I said, I’ve kind of lost track (and I’m still on my first bottle of fixer, if that tells you anything.)
I have heard people nervous about how to dispose of this because it contains silver. I did quite a bit of researching, and, afterward, I decided to dispose of it down my drain because 1. I’m not a lab, so I’m disposing very little at a time, 2. I use it for so long, the silver is not a high potency after developing so many rolls of film, and 3. The bottle tells me I can dispose of it down the drain. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Quick Reference for Black & White Film
|What Do I Use?||Kodak HC-110 B||Ilford Rapid Fixer|
|Is It Reusable?||No, it’s single use.||Yes, it’s reusable.|
|How Long Does It Last?||Forever||I change mine out every 6-9 months or couple dozen rolls.|
|How Do You Store It?||In a cool, dry, dark place.||Cool, dry, dark place in an opaque accordian bottle to squeeze out unnecessary air.|
|How Do You Dispose Of It?||Down the drain.||Down the drain if in small amounts.|
How Do You Store, Mix, and Dispose of C-41 chemicals?
I love the ease of the kits from the Film Photography Store, so I have kept with those (can you tell I’m a creature of habit?) I read a lot about people not loving blix, the bleach and fixer mixed together, but I have had no issue here. Once I shot two similar rolls using a controlled studio set-up, had one developed at a lab and self-developed the other, and the rolls turned out basically the same. Because these kits cost about $20 and I’ve learned how to work with them, I just don’t have a lot of motivation to switch it up!
From my myriad Google researching, I have learned about combating the main enemies of chemicals: heat, light, air, and time.
Protecting C-41 Chemicals from Heat
I was storing my C-41 chemicals in a box similar to my black and white chemicals, but then I allocated a dorm-sized fridge for them because we had picked one up free from our neighbors years back. It’s always a good idea to keep your chemicals separate from your food, so I like that they have their own refrigerator. I’m sure you could put your chemicals in a box and store them in a fridge, but since we had one, it seemed easier.
Protecting C-41 Chemicals from Excess Air
To combat the entry of unnecessary air into my bottles, I mix these chemicals up in black formulary bottles of nearest size to the amount of chemicals I’m mixing. (But I would like to invest in some accordion bottles at some point.) The formulary bottles fit the chemicals with just a little air on the top. I do try to squeeze out any extra air and tighten the lid, but often the bottles end up expanding a bit with air that seeps in.
Protecting C-41 Chemicals from Light
Because my chemicals are in opaque bottles in a fridge that’s shut most of the time, I don’t have to worry about light.
How Long Do C-41 Chemicals Last?
Time was my biggest question mark: how long could chemicals last? This is the variable that’s most difficult to nail down because it’s composed of two variables: number of times used and length of time since the initial mix date. For my own purposes, I now have a rule of thumb: 15 rolls is about the max I do before color shift start to set in. (I have done 17 rolls before color shifts set in, but 15 is my safe number if I don’t want to have to spend a ton of time tweaking in Photoshop.) I have yet to determine how long they last after mixing up if I don’t use it quickly, but I will say that my last batch lasted me three and a half MONTHS before I hit 15 rolls, and the last roll looked just as good! (Note: I do NOT adjust the amount of time I develop. I develop as normal.)
Mixing C-41 Chemicals
I think refrigeration helps, but to toss in yet another method, I began mixing my chemicals up a different way. First off, I use distilled water for my chemicals so that I’m not introducing anything foreign via my tap water. I also boiling my distilled water and let it cool to 110 degrees to mix up my chemicals.
Boiling it helps to degas it, but since I’m lifting the lid and introducing new air to it I’m not completely sure how effective this method is, all I know is it doesn’t hurt and possibly eliminates some of the gas contained in the water.
Disposing of C-41 Chemicals
Once these chemicals have reached 15 uses I dispose of them down a drain just like my other cashed chemicals.
How Do You Use a Sous Vide to Monitor Temperature for Developing?
The very last tip I have with developing C-41 comes in the form of a modern convenience. When I started developing my own, I just monitored the temperature of the water manually as I’d head it up to a balmy 102, but I would recommend using a sous vide to others. If you don’t know what a sous vide is, it’s basically an instrument meant to warm water up to a certain temperature for a certain length of time. I was introduced to them by a family friend who taught us you could take the cruddiest, toughest meat and through the magical powers of cooking at a low temperature for a long span of time, transform it into a melt-in-your mouth morsel of expensive-tasting meat. (Find a sous vide on Amazon)
I had since heard of other photographers using a sous vide for film development, since it can warm up the water to a specific temperature, but, honestly, I was too cheap to invest in one. My manual method worked. But after Christmas, I used some gift money to finally purchase my own sous vide, and I absolutely love it. It makes developing C-41-temperature-specific-film that much easier, and, for around $60-100, it seems like a worthwhile investment if I’m saving so much money by DIY-ing my development. But it turns out even using a sous vide demanded the answering of questions!
The Process of Using a Sous Vide
The items I purchased were the sous vide and a 12qt tub. My particular sous vide is super quiet and still so it doesn’t whirl the water around like crazy as others are known to do. And the 12qt tub fits my formulary bottles easily and gives me the depth to cover a good portion of them with water.
I start out by filling the tub with the hottest water I can from my utility sink. My chemicals are coming from the fridge so they have a long way to heat up to get to 102. I have found that starting off the tub with super hot water makes the process easier and faster.
I then place the bottles and sous vide in the water and check the height of the water at that point. Sometimes I end up adding a little more hot water to get closer to the maximum height the sous vide will allow (mine has an indicator letting me know how submerged the sous vide is allowed to be.)
The trickiest part was figuring out the perfect temperature at which to set the sous vide. The formulary bottles I use are opaque and plastic and thick, so I have found the perfect temperature for the sous vide is 106. This allows enough heat to penetrate my bottles, bringing the chemical temperature up to 102.
A lot of times I like to do this technique before I get my kids to bed and just let the system run so it’s ready for me to develop after they’re in bed. It doesn’t take long for the chemicals to warm up, but the beauty of the sous vide is that it keeps them at the constant temp until I’m ready to use them. Any time I can set it and forget it is a huge win in my book!
Does placing my bottles in a tub and running hot water over them work? Of course it does. Is it easier and more consistent to use a sous vide? You betcha. So this one is personal preference and wallet-dependent. But if you have some Christmas or birthday money burning a hole in your pocket, I highly recommend investing in one.
I hope this answers some of your burning questions about self-development, but if you still have some, drop them below!
Thank you so much, Amy! Amy is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out her other articles here, including tutorials on how to develop b&w and color film!
Leave your questions about developing film at home below in the comments, and you can also check out all of our film tutorials here!