Bad ventilation in darkroom : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

My darkroom suffers from pretty inadequate ventilation at the moment. Up till now, it hasn't really bothered me, but last week after a long session, I found myself feeling a bit giddy. I'm planning to put in a much stronger fan, but in the meantime I was thinking that wearing a mask might help. Will it? Thanks in advance

-- Yaakov Asher Sinclair (, September 03, 2001


That depends a lot on the type of mask you wear. One of those little painter particulate masks might not help too much, but one designed to filter fumes would help more. A citric acid stop bath instead of an acetic acid stop bath will help cut down some of the fumes.


-- Dave Willis (, September 03, 2001.

You need a respirator and you need to check out which particular cartridge will filter out the chemicals you'll be exposed to. Even with the respirator on, some chemicals can have toxic effects with long term exposure to your eyes, hands, and bare skin.

You need to quit working in your darkroom until the ventilation issue is resolved, and you should consider a respirator, gloves, and eye protection(some of this stuff is bad news if you splash it in your eyes). Above all, you need to research the recommended handling protocols for the chemicals you're using.

Sounds like your body is just beginning to tell you 'Hey this isn't cool'.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, September 03, 2001.

Do you have an inlet, so that air can get into your darkroom as it's removed by the fan?

-- neil poulsen (, September 03, 2001.

I would suggest that you forget the mask and concentrate on improving the air. Place the exhaust fan so that the fumes are pulled away from you and be sure to have an adequate fresh air vent. You will feel better, live longer and be more productive.

-- Merg Ross (, September 03, 2001.

Ok, get an organic vapor/acid gas respirator, and a half face mask. BUT keep in mind that these respirators exhaust after a period of time, if you get them wet, you have to replace them, they are hard to find and not cheap, I think you would be better off if you make a venting system somehow. In the end you will end up saving money!

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, September 03, 2001.

Hello, You might also consider changing the chemicals that you use. Take a look at The Film Developing Cookbook(Anchell & Troop) or The Darkroom Cookbook(Anchell). There are some formulas that will help cut down the odors. I don't even use an acidic stop bath anymore. If you don't want to mix your own stuff you can get kits from Artcraft Chemicals or Photographer's Formulary.

-- David Vickery (, September 04, 2001.

If you suited up in all the garbage that has been suggested, why would you want go into darkroom? Pat

-- pat krentz (, September 04, 2001.

Nobody has said anything about 'suiting up' in anything, but if one wanted to suit up so what. Because you deal with toxic chemicals in an area that's ventilated does not mean complete protection. A repirator is additional protection for your lungs, and the idea of wearing one, or gloves, or eye protection whether you're in a darkroom or doing something else with chemicals is neither silly nor garbage.

I would encourage anybody to wear what they want, use as many safeguards and protection as you feel comfortable with. The idea that one would belittle the use of this safety gear is ridiculous.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, September 04, 2001.

Make sure you have a fresh air inlet. An exhaust fan without a fresh air inlet can cause a partial vaccuum in the darkroom which seems to cause the fumes to be worse. Also, in my darkroom, which is relatively small, I put a large fan in the open door to fill the darkroom with fresh air before I start setting up. It helps a lot.


-- Doug Paramore (, September 04, 2001.

Yaakov, I too have a very small darkroom and as yet haven't got around to sorting out a ventilation system - but i think it would now be a wise thing to do! I manage by using odourless (almost!) chemistry and having regular breaks where I leave the door open! Can anyone comment on the portable "Filtaire"? units that I've seen advertised - are they any use? many thanks Paul

-- paul owen (, September 04, 2001.

A respirator does not replace good ventilation. I would say to work on getting your ventilation worked out and do everything you possibly can before going the respirator route...they're uncomfortable to wear, and if you don't know how to use them properly, they can actually do more harm than good. You shouldn't have to wear one for ordinary b&w work, but goggles & gloves, and proximity to a hose for an emergency eyewash are always a good idea...

-- DK Thompson (, September 04, 2001.

Maybe this is a point that I should've expanded on in a clearer fashion. Good ventilation is I think mandatory when working with chemicals, but it is not 100% protection agianst you breathing in some degree of toxic vapours.

The real danger is working in a ventilated envirement with chemicals whose exposure to you causes no immediate ill effects, which lulls you into a false sense of securtiy. These chemicals can still have long term cumulative effects on your lungs,nervous system, your heart, kidneys, liver, and so on.

Once these long term effects kick in, its too late to wear a respirator, or buy a portable purification system. Granted, wearing a respirator is difficult to get used to at first. I am used to wearing one which is second nature for me since I also use it for woodworking. You feel like you're not getting enough air at first, it can also be uncomfortable until you get used to it. You must also know how to check it fit and seal(put your hand over the exhaust vent and inhale, if you have a tight seal the respirator will draw tighter).

They have portable purification systems, which I understand do about the same thing as a respirator which might be worth looking into.

I understand that it's human nature not to want to wear something uncomfortable or use things that are troublesome, in an envirement where you breathe in and feel absolutely no ill effects. That doesn't mean that the stuff your working with isn't working on you.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, September 04, 2001.

Jonathan, let me clarify my answer comes from working in a state agency with a safety program revolving around OSHA certification for the use of any repirators or any safety equipment....our darkrooms(2) are outfitted with OSHA approved eyewash stations, dilution ventilation and one very nice, slot hood for using sulfide toners. We run E6, b&w deeptanks, and b&w processors as well. To wear a respirator requires clearance from a safety officer & labor dept. training...the respirator training essentially gives you a fit test, but of course, things like facial hair(beards etc.) are a no-no. If it were required in my job, as it is in other positions within my dept., for me to wear a respirator...I wouldn't be telling you this now.

I'm a pretty safety conscious person, doing darkroom work for a living and on my own time...believe me, I understand the value of good ventilation. It's better to trap the vapors/fumes at the source and use dilution ventilation to control the general environment, than to rely on respirators to make up for shoddy ventilation. Since I'm not a toxicologist or an environmental engineer, I won't make any widespread safety judgements here...

-- DK Thompson (, September 04, 2001.

Yes D.K., we're in agreement on everthing you've said. I learned how to wear a respirator years ago during a four year stint in a job where you were required to wear a respirator(trained per OSHA reg.).

Yes I agree on the issue of the darkroom requirements, my comments were geared for the folk who have fashioned their own darkroom. I certainly don't mean to suggest that the respirator should be your primary protect against toxic vapours, although I personally wear one in additon to all the other safeguards.

I smoked for twenty years, developed Bronchitis, and became very sensitive to things other people couldn't smell or weren't affected by. I quit smoking 8yrs ago and my lungs healed up quite a bit, but I still wear the respirator out of habit no matter how safe the circustances.

I agree with you as I've said in earliers posts about getting the ventilation/safety issues resolved as a first priority for anybody. My main point is that if you have homemade darkroom, just using the smell test, or sniff test as an indicator that everything is ok, isn't necessarily the safe thing to do.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, September 04, 2001.

Ventilation is a must but after developing asthma, as well as some fine photos, I find the best fumes are no fumes at all. Get some plastiboard, looks like plastic cardboard, and cover the trays when not in use.

-- Dan Skahan (, September 04, 2001.

Jonathan, I understand your position, but my concern is that the "home darkroom" folks reading this will believe a respirator is a magic cure-all for ventilation problems. As someone who has gone through the OSHA respirator training, surely you must understand that there is more to it than a fit test. There are also some fumes & vapors that no cartridges will filter out such as gases put off by sulfide toners etc. Check out the standard for respirators & darkroom far as odorless chemistry goes, there is no such thing. That's like saying "odorless natural gas". All chemistry has byproducts that it generates in use as well. Most regular b&w darkroom work can be controlled by good ventillation. Now, if I was standing in a spray booth using toulene to hose off a screen, you bet I'd have a respirator on, as well as the booth itself.

-- DK Thompson (, September 05, 2001.

D.K., as I've mentioned in my earlier posts anyone dealing with any chemicals should get the specs and handling protocols for those chemicals. I think I've been very clear about properly ventilating a darkroom as anyones first priority, I beleive I mentioned that three times.

I beleive I've mentioned that when you using a mask you should get the proper filtration and of course the mask is useless if you filters don't deal with the vapours you're being exposed to. I never said nor would I ever imply that a mask is a magic cure all.

I never said anything about odorless, I talked about the fact that human nature being what it is, a lot of folks, including me in the past, have dealt with chemicals and didn't feel any immediate ill effects anf figured everything is ok. That's why I did a dumb thing like smoke for twenty years. But it caught up with me.

Remember the original question? Yaakov wanted to know if wearing a mask would help until he straigtened out the darkroom problem. I'm sure if you glance over my earlier posts you see that I mentioned that he sould quit using his darkroom until he has proper ventilation. If in spite of this suggestion, Yaakov is going to work in his darkroom anyway, which I'm saying he SHOUDN'T, and there's no convincing him otherwise, then he should at least find out if there's filtration he can use in a respirator to protect himself.

Consider this, I developed Bronchitis from smoking, before this I had bleach, drano, cleanser, all the same things in my home that probably of lot of folks have under their kitchen sink and/or in the laundry room. None of this stuff affected me or my wife in any way. When I developed brochitis I got real sick from just having this stuff in the house and I had to get rid of it. I realized that all along this was in the air but we just ignored it all these years until I came down with Bronchitis.

Just like the previous poster who developed asthma who mentioned no fumes, I just couldn't tolerate any fumes. The bronchitis has cleared up, but I continue to wear my respirator as an additional safeguard on top of proper ventilation.

I know fellow woodworkers who won't wear a respirator while they saw their lumber. Sawing lumber produces a fine airborne dust which you cannot see. Without proper ventilation and a respirator, breathing in this dust over the long term will eventiually kill you. Because it takes twenty years to kill you, some woodworkers scoff at the idea of using a respirator. Breathing this stuff for a day, a week, a month, even a year might not affect you, like some of the checials you expose yourself to in a darkroom.

Odorless has nothing to do with D.K., I think that's misrepresenting my point. I think more to the point is no odor at all, if at all possible.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, September 05, 2001.

Yaakov, are you using some metol based developer? If so, switch over to phenidon based. The metol is toxic and very fast allergizing. It's more than fifteen years I used MQ developer, but still today if I come into a place where it's used, I'm beginning to feel ill. I'm making BW more seldom now, but when I do, Iuse Ilford PQ developer.

-- Jan (, September 05, 2001.

DK, a couple of comments:

Sulfide toners will not produce hydrogen sulfide (very toxic) unless they come in contact with an acid. This is the reason why they are packaged in a high pH form.

Natural gas IS odorless, the gas companies add mercaptans precisely so that people would be able to smell a gas leak.

When I recommended Yakov a combination cartridge I was thinking of a regular printing session where you have a paper developer, an acid bath and a fixer. Now if you are doing mercury intensification then sure you need another cartridge for that...and on and on...I think everybody here agrees that the best solution is to ventilate his darkroom and forget about the cartridge solution. On the other hand if you are doing salted paper prints then even with a well ventilated room it is recommended to use an ammonia cartridge. In the end I think Yakov is smart enough to use common sense and resolve his problem in an intelligent manner.

-- Jorge Gasteazoro (, September 05, 2001.

Jonathan, forgive me for mentioning the word odorless in my about I just post a bunch of little separate diatribes dealing with these issues?? Or better yet, how about none at all?

Now, the person who originally posted contacted me offline. He was using sulfide toners. I think it would have been a little irresponsible to suggest that a respirator would solve or even help him in this instance.

You suggest portable air purification equipment, like what? A full hood and oxygen tank? Or an ozone-generating air cleaner to just mask the offensive odors?

My responses were not meant as an attack upon you, or whatever safety methods you've personally adopted. I tell you what, you can be pro-respirator and I'll take the other side. Now, if we can just get an industrial hygenist to moderate.

-- DK Thompson (, September 05, 2001.

Jorge, that was my point, only not worded intelligently enough I guess. The case in point would be something like odorless RA4 chemistry, which can be pretty nasty. I'm not talking about alternative processes, but regular darkroom work. Sorry, the respirator bit has been drilled into me after 10 years of working in this gov't environment. Sepia toners, brown toners etc. can decompose in some nasty ways either in use, or by not being careful in disposing them etc. But, to just use sulfide toners even in a room with "adequate" ventilation can still bother some people. The toners will age in the tray as well.

I think it's easy to assume that everyone understands certain safety issues in the same way. You all jump on me for suggesting he avoids the use of a respirator, and yet in my environment, if a labor inspector came in here and someone was wearing a respirator without training, a fine would be levied against the workplace. The use of a respirator, or the need to use one is a signal that some better arrangement needs to be made . The answer would be to fix the problem, and if a repsirator were needed, then training would be in place, and it would just be added personal protection. The actual federal standards are rather strict on all this for the workplace, now you all are on your own, but that doesn't mean it's not good advice in general.

The natural gas analogy, no matter how poorly worded on my part, was just as you say...they put the odor in there to act as a warning. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security by using all odorless chemicals.

Okay, we have a safety officer,and it's not me, so that's my disclaimer and that's it for me as well...

-- DK Thompson (, September 05, 2001.

No need to ask for forgiveness D.K.(smile), I love the give and take on this forum because it keeps me young, keeps out the cobwebs.

Some time ago I started auditing this forum, and I've got to say it's the best forum I've ever participated in. This forum reflects a high level of know-how and respect in the discourse of what I've read.

I don't know it all, nobody does, we're all in this together to learn from each other and I've learned a lot. There are a couple of knuckleheads on this forum, but my skin is so thick that all they are to me is a break when it gets boring.

This is a great forum and I feel fortunate to be a part of it.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, September 05, 2001.

Glad we ended on a good each his own.

I have my own fond memories of lessons learned from dumb darkroom mistakes and past coworkers who should've been more careful.... It's better to learn from someone else's mistakes than your own...all I can say is that you can never be TOO careful. I did darkroom work for years and when I started doing it for a living, it wasn't long before I became addicted to tongs, vinyl gloves, and safety goggles. I keep a bottle of pHisoderm at every sink. I began to love using print & film processors as well, and even bought a small roller transport processor for my own darkroom. There are some chemicals that I don't use anymore because they bother me, Kodalith chemistry for one. Thank god for film output now, we surplused our stat camera and Kodalith is history now for us. I really suit up for mixing up chemistry, and E6 in particular. The "nasty chemical" scale is ratcheted up alot when you get into the color processes. I've made dumb mistakes, had close calls etc. and every time I learned something and remembered it. There isn't anyone who has ever worked in a lab that has escaped a dumb mistake at one time or another, or at least worked with someone who did. And those stories live forever...just like reading the workplace safety reports...

I'll really end this by saying that you should look into having some way to flush chemistry out of your eyes in an emergency as well. A hose on a cold water line...anything really....believe me, a darkroom is the last place in the world you want to navigate with a chemical splash in your face....

Have fun, but don't forget where you are.

-- DK Thompson (, September 05, 2001.

how many of you smoke? if so, the photo chemistry is the least of your worries, morons.

-- By the way.. (, June 25, 2002.

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