Washing Film – The Ilford Method 

From Ilford’s HP5 Plus Technical Information: 


Wash the films in running water for 5–10 minutes at a temperature within 5ºC (9ºF) of the process temperature. Or see note below for greater economy when using spiral tanks. 

Note: For spiral tank use, the following method of washing is recommended. This method of washing is faster, uses less water yet still gives negatives suitable for long term storage. 

After fixing, fill the spiral tank with water at the same temperature, +/– 5o°C (9oF), as the processing solutions and invert it five times. Drain the water away and refill. Invert the tank ten times. Once more drain the water away and refill. Finally, invert the tank twenty times and drain the water away.


For a final rinse use ILFORD ILFOTOL wetting agent added to water, it helps the film to dry rapidly and evenly. Start by using 5ml per litre of rinse water (1+200), however the amount of ILFOTOL used may need some adjustment depending on the local water quality and drying method. Too little or too much wetting agent can lead to uneven drying. Remove excess rinse solution from the film before drying.

An internet search for the “Ilford Method” turns up two frequent discussion topics: the efficacy of the method, and changes to the method made by individual commenters. 

Questions about the efficacy of the Ilford Method are easily answered by testing the processed negatives for residual hypo. Arguments for or against the method that do not include specifics of such a test and test results are meaningless. 

I was skeptical when I first encountered the Ilford Method, but it was obvious that it would greatly simplify my film developing if it worked. Following up on a discussion of film washing with an online friend I have never actually met he offered to test one of my negatives with Photographers’ Formulary’s residual hypo test solution. I mailed him clear sections of Tri-X, HP5 and HP4 negative strips I had developed in Rodinal and washed using the Ilford Method exactly as quoted above – but without the rinse step (see below). The result? The tests showed no detectable residual hypo, and my friend, who expected the test to fail, now uses the Ilford Method himself. 

Discussions of the efficacy of the Ilford Method are complicated by the almost universal admission by proponents that they don’t really use the method as spelled out by Ilford. The most common variations are adding additional fill/invert/dump steps and adding inversions to each individual step. More must be better, right? But it goes against the whole point of the Ilford Method in the first place: saving time and saving water. 

The one modification I make to Ilford’s recommendation is to not use Ilfotol, or any other wetting agent for a final rinse. All of the water I use for the entire developing process is distilled. I simply take the film out of the third wash step, hold the ends of the strip firmly with both hands, and snap it straight several times to remove most of the water droplets, and hang it in the most dust free place in the house – the shower stall. It dries with no water spots and almost no dust. 

Conclusion: I have satisfied myself that the Ilford Method does an adequate job of washing my Tri-X, HP5 and HP4 negatives. I have started experimenting with T-Max 100 film and, based on early results, I may be trying other tabular grained films as well. Before I commit any important images to these films I will have to do a residual hypo test on them, and my friend no longer has the test solution. It looks like there may be an order to Photographers’ Formulary in my immediate future.

2 thoughts on “Washing Film – The Ilford Method ”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s