The Sea water / Wash-aid WWII Urban Myth

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by Ian Grant, May 18, 2008.

  1. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    For quite a long time there has been controversy over whether wash aids were discovered as a result of research into washing with sea water for use by the Allied Navys. That we will probably never know.

    However the research into using Sea water for photographic uses was published in 1943 by Eaton & Crabtree, in the US. I have no access to the original Research documents but I guess they'd be interesting reading.

    I came across an old article from 1961, "Water, the life blood of Photography", I'd never bothered to read it before and little bits of it are quite interesting. It mentions the use of Sea water for washing negatives & films and gives the references to a number of scientific papers and a Kodak Publication, including:

    1. Eaton & Crabtree, Amer.Phot. 37, 12-15. June 1943
    2. Eaton & Crabtree, Soc.Mot.Pict.Eng. 40, 380. 1943
    3. Kodak Data Book GN-5. "Photography in the Tropics"

    Eaton & Crabtree worked for Kodak

    Essentially washing negatives and prints in sea water is much more efficient for Hypo (thiosulphate) removal and wash times can be cut in half, but must be followed by a final 5 minute fresh water wash.

    Also Sea water can be used to make up developers, but trials should be carried out to determine any speed loss with fast films and low energy developers, like D76.

    The fact that this is war-time research around 1943, seems to indicate there's mileage in the myth.

    Ian
     
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  2. Kino

    Kino Member

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    Crabtree did a huge amount of research in to all aspects of film processing and cinematography during his lifetime; most published in the SMPE (before the "T" was added -- and it was ruined), & ASC Journals and in American Photographer, back when it was a magazine and not a "trade publication".

    Maybe one of these days, someone can convince SMPTE to put out their back issues on DVD, but I'm not holding my breath. Those guys only react to large sums of money and are not interested in much of anything else...
     
  3. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    The corollary myth is that the sodium chloride in sea water is what cleared the fixer. It is not. Sodium chloride in distilled water is a very poor hypo-clearing agent, compared to normal tap water, which contains bicarbonate ions that are much more efficient.

    http://www.apug.org/forums/forum37/38149-salt-water-wash-film-2.html#post452905

    Sea water contains so many different ions, it might be hard to know which ones come into play, so maybe it's just fish pee!
     
  4. rmolson

    rmolson Member

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    salt water washing

    Sea water for washing prints

    I was in the Navy in the 50’s and we used sea water for washing prints for a very practical reason, water conservation. At sea a ship must make fresh water from sea water with the ships evaporators or by distilling. The waste of fresh drinking water washing prints for an hour in fresh water would likely get you hung from the yardarm …if you were lucky! The fact that sea water cleared out hypo more quickly than fresh water was a bonus.
     
  5. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    I asked Ron Mowrey (another former Kodak guy) about sea water processing. As he explained it to me, the reason sea water works is because of the high sodium sulfite levels in it. And, if you look closely at photographic chemistry, sodium sulfite is the magic elixir of most processes.
     
  6. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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  7. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    Alex, despite you stating what Ron might have said, the actually composition of sea water shows that the sulphur level is below 0.1%, and the sulphate level is below O.03%.

    It's the overall level of various salts that are important, the very high Sodium ion presence at nearly 0.5% and the chlorides, sulphates, bicarbonates etc, including bromides and borates. I've never heard of sulphites being present.

    I have an immediate interest as I live very close to the sea, and water useage is a huge problem, it's metered here and we get warned if we are using too much, so using sea water would be ver advantageous and so I've been investigating.

    Ian

    Ian
     
  8. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    There was coverage of this in the US magazine Darkroom and Creative Camera Techniques. Thought I wouldn't be able to find it, but did. Jan/Feb 1995, page 2. Harold E. Ingraham, a chemical engineer, founder of Heico, makers of Perma Wash, was in the US Navy in Oahu in the late 1930's. Ingraham noticed a difference in the prints made on shore and ship-board. The ones made at the Pearl Harbor photo lab on land discolored much faster than those made at sea. The difference in procedures was the use of sea water for all but the final wash on ships. A chemical equivalent of that water became the first product of Heico.

    The MSDS for the current version of the product is here: http://www.freestylephoto.biz/pdf/msds/acufine/Heico_Perma_Wash.pdf

    I have no idea how closely related the current product is to the original.

    I should add that the information in the column was supplied by Jim Gupton, a reader and "old friend" of Ingraham's. There's a photo in the column, of Gupton working at Pearl Harbor circa 1945.

    Lee
     
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  9. Monophoto

    Monophoto Member

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    My understanding is that the US Navy instituted the shipboard practice of washing prints in salt water specifically to conserve potable water. The actual practice was to wash the prints in seawater, but with a final brief rinse in potable water.

    "Salt water may be used to wash negatives if it is followed by a fresh water rinse. Salt water removes the hypo from films in about two-thirds the time required for a fresh water wash. However, a short rinse with fresh water is required to remove the salt from the films. It is considered a safe and economical procedure to wash the films in sea water for hoe-half the usual washing time and then rinse the film in fresh water for 5 minutes with thorough agitation."

    from Photographer's Mate 3 and 2 Rate Training Manual
    NAVPERS 10355-A, 1971 edition
     
  10. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Neither Myth Nor Legend
    (just more stuff Grandpa knew than we do)

    from The British Journal Photographic Almanac, 1944
    Page 133

    Washing Films and Papers in Sea Water. – G.T. Eaton and J.I. Crabtree, in a communication (No. 910) from Kodak Research Laboratories, Rochester, show that the use of sea water for washing films or papers is not only practical, but that the materials are washed free from hypo very much faster than in fresh water. One important point must, however, be observed, and that is to give a final wash of about five minutes in fresh water. This final wash serves two necessary purposes; firstly, it removes residual salts of the sea water, which are hygroscopic, and would cause absorption of moisture if allowed to remain; and secondly, it avoids fading due to traces of hypo: for the authors have shown that a perhaps somewhat unexpected phenomenon comes into play here, in that minute residual quantities of hypo (of the order of 0.01 mg. per square inch), which would cause negligible fading had the final wash been in fresh water, cause quite serious fading when the final wash is sea water. However, if the bulk of the sea water is washed out in the final five minutes’ wash in fresh water, the minute trace of hypo is rendered harmless.

    In practice it is not necessary to wash in sea water for more than one-half the usual time in fresh water, though this curtailed washing should always be followed, as above, by the fine minutes’ wash in fresh water. Temperature, of course, plays a part in all washing operations, which are in general more rapid at higher temperatures than at low. In connection with the washing of paper prints, it is interesting to note that it required several hours’ washing in running fresh water to reduce the hypo content of double-weight prints to an average low value of 0.07 mg. per square inch, whereas sea water in 50 minutes removed the hypo completely. For such prints, then (as indeed is true also for films), even allowing for the short subsequent wash in fresh water, there is clearly a significant saving in time. – “American Photography,” June, 1943, pp. 12-15 -B.J., 1943, Sept. 10, p.333.
     
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  11. bobwysiwyg

    bobwysiwyg Subscriber

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    How many photographers have access to reasonably clean sea water? Would any of the many pollutants found near shore these days have a deleterious affect on the process?
     
  12. Jordan

    Jordan Member

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    A variation on this myth is that sea-water can actually act as a fixer -- that it will dissolve silver halide from film or paper. (I've read this on a few forums.) When challenged, those perpetuating this story claim that they've read about it from reputable sources. One poster on a Flickr forum finally tried it, and found that sea-water did indeed fix film, but the fixing time was over 24 hours (or something like that). I suspect it's simply silver halide complexation by high concentrations of chloride that works in this case.

    Sulfite wouldn't be stable in seawater, which is continually oxygenated. They would react with each other until one or the other is exhausted.
     
  13. Paul Verizzo

    Paul Verizzo Member

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    We did this topic about two months ago...

    It started with a posting of mine. I found over 400 4x5 prints that my father, a Photographers Mate in the Coast Guard 1943-1946, had taken. They were all in perfect condition, despite living in a Florida closet for the last 48 years. In fact, they were in better condition than many of his studio prints from the decade prior.

    I posed the question then, is it possible that this excellent condition could be due to the salt water primary rinse? To some degree, I was jumped on for bringing up an old topic already examined. But the difference is I have proof in my hand, not chemistry research and published papers.

    I"m going to start throwing my fixed prints into the bayou in my back yard.......
     
  14. George Collier

    George Collier Member

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    Interesting, I hadn't heard this before. What about with alkaline fixers?
     
  15. Paul Howell

    Paul Howell Member

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    In the 80's I was worked in Southern Italy, l lived on the cost, less than a block from the ocean. I just put my prints mesh bag and tossed the bag in a small cove for a couple of hours followed by a 5 mint wash in well water. The Adriatic was well know for all kinds of pollution, but 20 years latter all of the prints are holding up.
     
  16. bobwysiwyg

    bobwysiwyg Subscriber

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    Interesting, thanks.
     
  17. Kirk Keyes

    Kirk Keyes Member

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    George - thiosulfate is thiosulfate. It doesn't matter if it is from an alkaline fixer or not. The alkaline fixer will wash faster than non-alkaline.