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I have some old photos that have smudges of dirt and other unknown stuff on them. These are the things that I have done to try to improve them:

  1. White eraser (this has worked okay).
  2. Soft cloth (sometimes this creates indentations in the photos if I use too much pressure).
  3. Nothing (cleaned it up with digital editing software).

Is there a liquid solution that I could use to help wash the gunk off?

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Some people do recommend using diluted Isopropyl alcohol (think that is how you spell it) which should be available from a good chemist, but I wouldn't personally as I think it could very likely do more damage.

You can also buy something called Pec-12 emulsion cleaner and Pec-Pads to which are specifically designed for cleaning soiled photos. They are aimed at more modern geletine hardened prints though, so if your photograph is very vintage, I would have reservations. Here is a link to the solution on

An excellent info page on the Pec-12 emulsion cleaner and pads can be found here.

My personal recommendation would be to scan the image and clean it up digitally, keep the original for prosperity, but get your nicely photoshoped version printed for general viewing.

If you are unable to take on the restoration work yourself there are quite a few people who can do it for a small fee on-line, most of which you don't need to send the original away if you can scan it yourself.

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Thanks for the informative link on Pec-12! I'm gonna try it. (Don't worry, I'll scan first and then test on a safe photo on a part of the sky or something.) Love this: "Because it contains no water, PEC-12 will not cause emulsion swelling, tackiness, water marks or other damage associated with re-washing." – Canadian Girl Scout Feb 10 '13 at 3:03
Your welcome. I've used it quite successfully on photos from the 1930-40s but never tried it on anything pre ww2. The key is to use very little and go very lightly. – AvieRose Feb 10 '13 at 3:28
I couldn't find Pec-12 in my country, However, I used the IsoPropyl Alchol with a microfiber towel. it's good for me and I recommend to anybody that won't access to Pec-12. – Tom Jun 18 at 4:49

A lot depends on what your "unknown stuff" is, what emulsion was used to create the photograph, and the substrate. I beg of you to consider that, with your deep level of inexperience, and if there is no well-preserved negative on file, that gone is gone. Consider at least getting an estimate from someone with an education in the field.

American Institute For Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works - Search page for finding a certified conservator -

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