film has vinegar smell

Old film, particularly cellulose acetate film, can develop a distinct vinegar smell over time. This phenomenon, known as “vinegar syndrome,” is a sign of film degradation and is technically referred to as cellulose acetate decomposition.

What Types of Film Are Susceptible to Vinegar Syndrome

Cellulose acetate film, commonly used from the 1920s to the 1980s, is particularly prone to developing vinegar syndrome. This type of film was popular due to its flexibility and relative safety compared to its predecessor, nitrate film, which was highly flammable. However, cellulose acetate film is chemically unstable and, over time, can begin to decompose.

Specific types of cellulose acetate film include:

  • 35mm Motion Picture Film: Widely used in the movie industry for feature films.
  • 16mm and 8mm Film: Commonly used for home movies and educational films.
  • Microfilm: Used for archiving documents, newspapers, and records.
  • Photographic Film: Used in still photography for capturing images.
  • X-ray Film: Used in medical imaging before the advent of digital radiography.

These films are all vulnerable to vinegar syndrome due to their acetate base, which breaks down over time, leading to the release of acetic acid and the characteristic vinegar smell.

What Causes of the Vinegar Smell

The vinegar smell arises from the release of acetic acid as the acetate base of the film deteriorates. This process is triggered by the film’s exposure to moisture and heat, which accelerate the chemical reaction. As the acetic acid builds up, it creates the characteristic vinegar odor.

Is Vinegar Smelling Toxic?

The acetic acid released by degrading film is not highly toxic to humans in small amounts. However, prolonged exposure to concentrated acetic acid fumes in an unventilated area can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. It is advisable to handle vinegar-smelling film in a well-ventilated area or wear protective gear if working with large quantities.

How To Prevent and Mitigate Vinegar Syndrome

While vinegar syndrome is irreversible and the decomposition process cannot be stopped entirely, there are several steps you can take to slow down the degradation and preserve your films:

  1. Remove from Airtight Containers: Sealed metal or plastic film canisters can trap the acetic acid vapors, accelerating the decomposition process. Remove the film from these containers to allow it to breathe.
  2. Cold Storage: Store the film in a freezer or a cool environment with temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold temperatures can significantly slow down the chemical reactions causing the film to degrade.
  3. Separate Containers: Place each film reel in a separate container to prevent cross-contamination and further damage.
  4. Digitization: The best way to preserve the content of your deteriorating film is to have it digitized. Professional services, like AWV Production, can convert your film to a digital format, preserving the images before the film becomes too damaged.

How to Remove Vinegar Smell from Old Movies

Although it is not possible to completely remove the vinegar smell from film affected by vinegar syndrome, taking the following steps can help manage the odor and slow further degradation:

  1. Ventilation: Store the film in a well-ventilated area to dissipate acetic acid vapors.
  2. Desiccants: Use desiccants to control moisture levels in the storage area, as humidity accelerates the degradation process.
    • Place silica gel packets or activated clay desiccants in the storage area with your film. These materials absorb moisture, helping to control humidity levels. You can find silica gel packets in various sizes, and they are often used in packaging electronics and other moisture-sensitive items. Make sure to replace the desiccants periodically to maintain their effectiveness.
  3. Regular Monitoring: Periodically check the condition of your film to monitor the progress of the vinegar syndrome and take action if the smell intensifies.

Is the Film Degrading When There is a Vinegar Smell?

Yes, the film degrades when there is a vinegar smell. The vinegar smell indicates the presence of acetic acid, which is a byproduct of the decomposition of cellulose acetate film. This degradation, known as vinegar syndrome, is irreversible and signifies that the film is undergoing chemical breakdown, leading to further deterioration over time.

Vinegar syndrome is a major issue for preserving old cellulose acetate films. Though the process can’t be reversed, knowing the causes and taking action can reduce damage and prolong the film’s life. The best way to save the film’s content is through digitization. This method keeps the images and memories intact even as the film itself continues to deteriorate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *