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Does Film Last Longer if It is Kept in the Refrigerator?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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While the advice of extending the shelf life of batteries through refrigeration may be a little dubious, the storage of film stock is a different story. Most does have an expiration date stamped on the protective casing, which generally means the manufacturer guarantees the quality of their product until that date. Expired film can still provide decent photographs for the average amateur photographer, but increased graininess does become a factor. Extending the life of most stock through refrigeration is actually a common practice among many professional photographers and is supported by the manufacturers' own literature.

The type of film generally sold for ordinary household use in standard cameras can remain viable for many years, as long as the protective wrapper remains intact and the cartridge is not exposed to extreme heat. Even stored at room temperature in a drawer, most consumer-grade cartridges should last at least as long as the photographer. The worst enemy for film is extreme heat, not cold. It can be stored in a refrigerator or even a freezer as long as it is brought up to room temperature before use. Condensation can be very problematic for the emulsion on film stock.

Some professional photographers do not recommend storing film in typical home refrigerators because they do not always control humidity very well. A smaller refrigerator used specifically for storage may be a better option. Film stored in this manner should remain in its original protective wrapper, but open rolls of 35mm could be stored in plastic storage containers. Containers should be labeled with an original storage date for better rotation. Like any other products stored in a refrigerator, it should be checked periodically for signs of mold or other contamination.

The actual amount of life extension one can expect from refrigerating stock is a matter of some debate. Some suggest that film behaves much like bread or coffee. It has a natural arc of freshness when purchased, but it can be preserved almost indefinitely if frozen or refrigerated properly. Others say that refrigeration doesn't guaranteed quality past the original expiration date, and the additional shelf life is negligible at best. Many photographers who buy film stock in batches tend to refrigerate only the batch mates of rolls which demonstrate superior emulsion qualities. Quality can vary widely from batch to batch, so it might pay to refrigerate stock from a particularly good production run. Other film may be stored at room temperature without much loss of quality.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to EasyTechJunkie, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By sunnySkys — On Jul 06, 2012

I definitely think it's a better idea to just buy film in small batches and use it up, rather than buying a lot and trying to store it in the fridge. I actually used to store film in the refrigerator all the time, until I ruined a whole batch of film by doing this.

I guess I left it in there too long, or maybe my refrigerator was too humid, but the film got moldy! It was gross, and I definitely wasn't able to use the film after that.

By Ted41 — On Jul 06, 2012

@dautsun - I don't see film completely disappearing for awhile longer, so I think this discussion is still relevant. I have some older relatives that would never dream of getting a digital camera, and still use disposable film cameras you can buy at the grocery store!

Anyway, I took photography in college, and I remember them telling us that film lasts longer when refrigerated. However, when you're taking photographs all the time, you go through film quickly. So I've never had a chance to test this out, because I never kept film around that long.

I suppose this could be useful if you like to buy film in bulk or something.

By dautsun — On Jul 05, 2012

I hate to say it, but whether or not film lasts longer in the refrigerator is getting to be a somewhat moot point. Hardly anyone even uses film anymore. Most professional photographers use digital SLR's, and most amateur photographers use a digital point and shoot camera, or even the camera on their phone.

I imagine that most companies are going to start phasing out film before too long. If hardly anyone uses it and no one really buys it, then there won't be any point in continuing to manufacture it. So soon no one will be storing film in the refrigerator, or anywhere else for that matter.

By SarahGen — On Jul 04, 2012

@fBoyle-- To be honest, I have done that a couple of times and somehow got good results, but that is not recommended.

You need to give the film at list fifteen minutes in room temperature (without opening the package)to use it. If you take it out of the freezer, it needs even longer, possibly up to an hour. The amount of time also depends on the humidity and temperature of the room.

I recommend that you pick up a couple of film cans and place all the films inside and store in the fridge that way. When you want to use it, take out the can around twenty to thirty minutes before and allow condensation to occur and the can to warm up. Take the films out only after the can has warmed up.

This is the best way to store films for longer life and the best way to prevent damage to the films after removing them from the fridge.

By fBoyle — On Jul 04, 2012

@SarahGen-- I agree with you about refrigeration extending expiration date of films. I do it too.

I have a question for you though, how long do you keep your films out after removing them from the fridge to use them?

I'm not a professional photographer and take photographs as a hobby. I do sometimes get opportunities to take pictures for friends and acquaintances though like graduation and engagement photography. Sometimes there is a last minute request for photographs and I don't like to turn people down.

If I were to receive a last minute call, can I pull the film out of the fridge and use it right away? Will the pictures come out bad because of the condensation?

By SarahGen — On Jul 03, 2012

Yes, film definitely does last longer when it's stored in the fridge, especially if you live in a warm climate.

I live in Texas and in the summer, my film doesn't even last until the expiration date if it is kept anywhere warm. I keep all my films in my office but the AC isn't on when I'm not there. So after having lost my first couple of films to heat, I bought a mini fridge especially for films.

I use both the fridge part and the freezer part of the fridge. If I'm not planning to use the film in the next few months, I store it in the freezer. If I am planning to use it fairly soon, I store it in the fridge part. This works really well. None of my films have gone to waste since I started doing this.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to EasyTechJunkie, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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