There are various ways to cut down on your chemical costs.

First, mix your own chemicals instead of buying the prepackaged kind.  You'll need to buy a level to measure the chemicals, but this will pay for itsself in no time.

Second, but in bulk.  Most chemicals will last forever if properly stored.  But read the label first;  it will tell you if the chemical is subject to oxidation or has special storing requirements. Normally, freezing or refrigerating the chemical will NOT increase its longevity, as with film.  I once bought a 50 pound bag of sodium sulfite for $20.  A one pound bottle from Kodak was priced at $7.  The bottle would have lasted a few months, the bag is still going strong after ten years!

Third, buy used.  A lot of people set up a darkroom and, for one reason or another, decide it is not their cup of tea.  They then sell their equipment and chemicals in the newspaper or to the local used camera shop.  You can get these chemicals for a song.  I regularly pick up half-filled bottles of Kodak Indicator Stop Bath for a quarter at the local used camera shop.  To get it new would cost eight times as much!  I once picked up a five pound bottle of Kodak metol --  enough for a lifetime -- for $10.  To get a new bottle would cost well over $100.  Just be cautious will used chemicals.  If they are past their expiration date, don't buy them.  But it's hard to go wrong if the price is right.

Fourth, buy the lowest grade that you can.  Chemicals come in a variety of purity levels -- from extra pure (for scientific tests) to technical grade (perfect for most photographic use).  The lower grades have slightly more impurities, but these are not enough to affect photographic outcomes -- and they are a LOT cheaper.  You might need to shop around to find certain chemicals in the technical grade, but the search will pay off bigtime.

Fifth, go to the grocery store and pharmacy.  A wide variety of chemicals are available at grocery store, home improvement stores and drug stores.  Keep your eyes open and read the labels.  Often you can find the same chemical that you buy at the chemical supplier, but in a more dilute form.  

Ammonia.  You can get this at a 28% variety for the chemical supply house or in the 9% variety at the supermarket.  It's a LOT cheaper.  Make sure you don't get any variety that "suds".  Get the one that is just ammonia and water.  You'll have to change your formula slightly if it calls for 28% ammonia.  For example, if you need 10ml of 28%, use 30ml of 9%.

Borax. You can get this in the soap aisle at the grocery store -- Twenty Mule Team Borax.  It's the same stuff you pay ten times as much for at the chemical store.  It's best to take it out of the box and put it in an air tight container.  A clean one-gallon plastic milk jug should work fine.

Sodium Carbonate.  The monohydrated version is used in many formulas, but a cheaper decahyrated version is available in the supermarket, called Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda.  If the formula calls for 1 gr of monohydrate use 2.33gr of decahydrate instead.  It's best to take it out of the box and put it in an air tight container.  A clean one-gallon plastic milk jug should work fine.

Sodium Hydroxide.  Red Devil Lye, available at any grocery store, is the same thing -- and a LOT cheaper.  

Aluminum Sulfate.  Available as "cake alum" in many stores.

Denatured or Isopropyl Alcohol.  Get it at the local drug store in a 70% variety.  If your formula calls for 10ml of the 91% type, add 13ml of the 70% solution.

Ethyl Alcohol.  Get it at the local liquor store.  Buy a bottle of Everclear.

Hydrogen Peroxide. You can get this at the pharmacy in a 3% solution for about fifty cents.

Citric Acid.  Available at many drug stores.

Magnesium Sulfate.  Same as Epsom Salts available at all drug stores.

Sodium Chloride.  Same as table salt.  Just make sure you get the kind without iodine added.

Sodium Bicarbonate.  Same as Baking Soda.  

Cupric (copper) sulfate.  Check out the drain cleaners at your local home improvement store.

Be advised that some of these chemicals can be dangerous if not used properly.  Care should always be taken when using them to avoid personal injury.  The last thing you want to do is contact a San Diego personal injury lawyer to take care of an insurance claim to pay your medical bills after an accident.

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COPYRIGHT @ 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 by Joe McGloin. All Rights Reserved.