Storing Slides and Negatives in home vacuum sealed bags

Im looking for some direction about using a home vacuum packing system for the long term storage of my photographs, slides and negatives.

I have a FoodSaver system and Im pretty sure the bags are safe. They have two layers of polyethylene with an outer layer of nylon. I’ve used them for storage of different types of textiles without ill effects (over 4 years in the bag).

My slides and negative are currently stored in archival pages, in binders, in boxes. I would like to put a few of the filled pages into the Foodsaver bags and then vacuum seal them. I’ve been pretty lucky in that my house wasn’t too severely effected by the fall storms of the last couple of years ( Irene, freak October snow storm and Sandy) but I want to protect these photographic materials from damage that those types of storms can bring. Im in the process of digitizing all my images ( 40 years worth) and was looking to use the vacuum sealed bags as a long term storage option.

My two real concerns are
not squashing the materials too tightly and
2) any side effects from storing the items in a vacuum.

I can get around the squashing issue by putting the slides and negatives into archival boxes and then vacuum packing the boxes. But what about the effects of the vacuum?

Thanks for any thoughts you might have.

Gary DeGruccio
Bethlehem PA.

Responses

We will reply to your question once the government shutdown is over. Thank you for your patience.

Hi Gary,
I apologize about the delay in responding - we had some catching up to do. While that is a creative idea for space saving purposes, I don't think it is a wise idea for long-term storage of your precious materials, be they textiles or photographs, to be stored in a commercial space saver bag. Your negatives, if acetate or nitrate, can continue to offgass their own deterioration products (what we call the "inherent vice") as they age, and if packed tightly in proximity to others can create what we call a "boil-in-bag" syndrome affecting the other materials. The best storage for photographic negatives is cool or cold storage which slows down rate of deterioration. But if you cannot achieve that, you actually do want some air around them so that these gasses can escape. Compression can also cause sleeves to buckle and wrinkle, causing the plastic sheets to come into contact with the film itself and potentially damage and stick to or mark the film. It is quite rare, but even we have seen an occasional bad batch of archival sleeves leach out impurities onto negatives. It is probably more likely that we would find this rare occurence because we purchase in such great quantities over time.
Your storage system as described does not create a true vacuum (the plastic, however dense and layered, is porous compared to other technical vacuum seal plastics), and will probably have air exchange, just at a slower rate, which can increase the potential for damage inside the bag. (For more on controlled environment storage, you can watch this short and fascinating video from the National Archives and Records Administration on the encasement of the Magna Carta.) You don't want to actually increase the potential for damage by protecting against a "maybe" event. Instead, I would stick with increasing your vigilance about protecting the larger environment by fixing leaks in the home, and using boxes, perhaps photographically safe plastic tub type ones with latching tops, and storing them higher in your home or offsite in a safe environment if you live in a flood plain.

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