low water use print washer? Darkroom questions

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I recently moved into a new house and want to build a darkroom. I only have room in the basement -- trouble is, my house is near a lake and because of that, my basement is actually lower than the sewer line. What this means is a utility sink in the room I would like to convert to my darkroom requires an electric pump to drain the waste -- the waste water can't just drain away like it does in most houses, it has to be pumped away.

In the past I've always used either the Kodak print siphon and washed my prints about an hour, or even just washed them in the bathtub for extended period with a home-made "snorkel" on the drain. I've also used one of the plexi print washers when I was at school. Sometimes I've used Heico Perma-wash for good measure. The only time I've had trouble with stained prints is when I was printing in a school darkroom (I think I got chemical stains from the drying racks). I'd like to come up with some sort of print washer system that doesn't use a lot of water so I won't have to constantly run the little electric motor that drains the basement utility sink...any suggestions?

Also -- I used to be able to drop off my spent fixer at school for reclaimation but since then I have moved out of state and no longer have access to a school lab monitor willing to look the other way as I dump my personal chemical waste in the barrel with the school's. What better (and more environmentally sound) options are there other than pouring this stuff down the drain? I'm willing to look at using different chemicals if that will help -- currently I favor Kodak fix and stopbath + Edwal LPD for print developer. Anyone used Sprint? Isn't that stuff supposed to be less toxic?

-- s. ballard (stefbp@excite.com), April 15, 2001


Why not get a big plastic tub and keep it downstairs filled with water. After fixing the prints go in that for storage. Since washing is the big water hog, when you're done printing, take the tub upstairs and wash the prints in the kitchen or wherever so the water will drain downhill? As to Perma-Wash, I started using it in high school (1969-1973) on the prints I thought were special. My working habits at the time were horrible, and I'd leave prints in the fixer for 15 to 30 minutes. No print treated with Perma-Wash has shown the slightest problem in the 30 some years since I printed them. I find the recommended wash times on the bottle amazingly short, and I always washed for 20 minutes or so after treatment just to be safe.

-- Kevin Crisp (KRCrisp@aol.com), April 15, 2001.

Just a comment on print washing. An exercise often given to physical chemistry students is to work out the most efficient way of extracting a soluble chemical using a fixed quantity of water. It turns out that the traditional photographers' bathtub method is highly inefficient, and that using the same amount of water in a series of smaller-volume baths leads to much more effective washing. A similar analysis shows that continuous flow washers are hideously inefficient unless very vigourous agitation is used.

Ilford did some research on this in the 70's and found that if you immerse the print in a shallow bath and allow it to equilibrate for 2-3 minutes, six complete changes of water are enough to ensure thorough washing. The only gotcha is that you have to be very careful to drain as much of each bath away as possible - small amounts of residual fluid have a literally exponential effect on the efficiency of the overall wash. Rather than guess, the best thing is to do a residual fixer test and determine for yourself how many changes are needed for your tray and siphon.

-- Struan Gray (struan.gray@sljus.lu.se), April 17, 2001.

With regard to the washing of fibre base prints: My partner and I use the method prescribed by Struen Gray. I remember an excellent black and white photography book which was at our library 5 or so years ago, can't remember who wrote it. But he had advice like that and many other things: practical zone-type-system- stuff for the real-world-kind-of-thing. It's something I can't seem to find much info about on the web (the book was stolen I think). We use a hypo clear as well (for fibre and films). Residual water and chemical residue are left to oxidise. We also are on a septic tank, and so, have to live with what we dispose. We also use tubes (the kind normally used in amatuer colour) for their minimal chemical use and high dilution developers (Rodinol and Edwal TST). We are working our way towards the Vitamin C devs (Neutol plus and Xtol) - slowly... Compared with commercial darkrooms "us" home-bodies aren't so bad. The guy at our photo-lab dumps 20 litres of full strength chemicals a day, stabiliser included. All the same, worth a website (I'm saying this to myself) I reckon. Any references to limited water and chemical use black and white fibre printing are appreciated. Thanks in advance.

-- nicholas twist (nt@fastmail.co.nz), August 12, 2001.

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