Coffee, Tea, Or Vitamin C
Kitchen Chemistry In The Darkroom

The negatives for these photos were developed with the recipes given in the article. The photo of the chemistry students was processed in the coffee developer, and the negative for the old mill was made with the vitamin C formula. Both films were fixed in regular Kodak fixer, and the prints were made with conventional materials.
Photos © 2003, Roger K. Bunting, All Rights Reserved

A century and a half of research and development in photographic processing technology has given us some mighty fine materials to work with. The ease and speed of processing high quality black and white photos with today's materials is truly amazing. Developing agents with a wide range of capabilities are available from many different manufacturers. Could we ever manage without these commercial chemicals?

It may surprise you to learn that there are a number of common household materials that can serve as developing agents, and they can produce surprisingly good photographs. In fact, developers, stop baths, and fixers can all be concocted from products found in a typical grocery store. Will the results be as good as those produced with Kodak's fine line of chemicals? Not a chance. But it's interesting to experiment with these alternative formulas, and the results are often impressive.

Robot Star 25, kindly loaned by Stuart Heggie.

Developer Components
The two most essential ingredients of a photographic developer are a developing agent (a reducing agent) and an activator. Caffeine, that magical component of coffee, tea, and many soft drinks, is an excellent reducer and can work well as a developing agent. Vitamin C can also do the job, as well as vanilla extract, iron supplement tablets, and a number of other common materials when properly applied.

Brew A Pot Of Developer
Caffeine is one of the best, and it's simple to use. Coffee or tea can be the source, but coffee may be preferable because of its higher caffeine content. So if you want to try your own skill at kitchen chemistry processing, here's a plan: First get a jar of instant coffee crystals at your local supermarket. Next head to the laundry detergent aisle and pick up a box of washing soda. That's the stuff that will activate the developing agent, the caffeine in the instant coffee. With the wide variety of laundry materials available today, washing soda isn't the big seller that it once was, but the larger chains will carry it. (Baking soda just won't do.)
That's all you need. And here's a recipe for making a half pint of developer, enough to process a roll of 35mm film in a typical developing tank.

8 oz of water
4 teaspoons of instant coffee crystals
2 teaspoons of washing soda

Stir the ingredients until uniform, then develop film for 25 minutes, agitating every 30 seconds.
This simple formula will develop any silver-halide emulsion, but for best results you'll need to experiment to determine the optimum composition and development time for the particular film and exposure level you use. I used only Kodak T-Max 400, exposed at ISO 100.

If the idea of working in a darkroom with the pleasant aroma of fresh-brewed coffee sounds appealing--don't count on that. The activator degrades some of the components of coffee, and the solution will soon take on the odor of the coffee pot you forgot to turn off the night before. Not the most pleasant sensation!

Developing With Vitamins
If you're not into coffee all that much and want to still try another alternative process, think vitamin C. Citrus fruits and fruit juices immediately come to mind as good sources of vitamin C. Unfortunately, though, that vitamin is not in high enough concentration in these juices to serve as an effective developing agent. You'll need to turn to the medicine cabinet and get out the vitamin C tablets. Vitamin C can nicely replace coffee as the developing agent, but because vitamin C is more acidic than caffeine, a larger quantity of activator will be required. Here's a workable composition:

8 oz of water
8 vitamin C tablets (1000mg each)
5 teaspoons of washing soda
Develop for 30 minutes, agitating every 30 seconds.

Film development with either of these concoctions--the coffee brew or the vitamin C mix--is straightforward and simple. And what will you have in the end? A strip of negatives with all the requirements for producing good prints. The negatives may not have as clean and crisp an appearance as you're accustomed to seeing, but don't be deceived. A remarkable level of detail is there, and with a little effort you can generate prints of surprising quality. Try it and see.

Simple Stop And Fix
Now what about the stop bath and fixer? The local grocer has these, too. Many photographers (including this one) use only a thorough water rinse as a stop bath for film development. But if quick-stop action is desired, a dilute vinegar solution works well.

For fixing, ordinary saltwater will do. In fact, seawater was long ago used as the very first successful fixing agent. The process is slow, however, and very inefficient compared to the action of modern fixing solutions. It takes a lot of saltwater, but it can be done.

It's quite a satisfying experience to produce a good photograph from a film developed with only common household materials. And it's a thrill those guys with their digital cameras can never know!

Roger Bunting is a chemistry professor at Illinois State University. He is author of a book entitled "The Chemistry of Photography" (, and has taught a course in photographic chemistry for many years.

gswapnesh39's picture

this post is ABSOLUTELY VITAL and ABSORBING... thanks for sharing such wonderful post...
Regards - Glenda Kattner, Tory Marroguin

hotmit233's picture

A lot of coffee or tea is not good for health. So you shouldn't use it more a day. new mexico mesothelioma lawyer

hbowles17's picture

Your post will be rather good and I'm sure some will find it interesting because it's about a topic that's as widely discussed as others......Some may even find it useful......thanks so much for your post.....GOOD LUCK.....Petrina Halwood

ghantoby's picture

Thank you for another essential article. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a complete way of writing? I have a presentation incoming week, and I am on the lookout for such information.
agen bola, agen sbobet, agen ibcbet

luthar111's picture

buy air sofa bed

This is a fantastic website and I can not recommend you guys enough. Full of useful resource and great layout very easy on the eyes. Please do keep up this great work.

johndars's picture

Hair in styler

That is great! Despite the common misunderstanding that payday loans cause the borrower further debt the majority of these loans are repaid within the given time frame leaving the Regardless of your credit history or the purpose for your loan payday loans can assist you when it is difficult to stay on top =====

hotmit233's picture

You shoudln't drink coffee, tea or vitamin C before go to bed because it will cause you to lose sleep. Natural Wagyu Beef

hotmit233's picture

I like drinking coffee and tea because it make me perky. But sometime it make me sleeplessness because of drinking too much. Bücher schreiben

hotmit233's picture

Your post is really interesting. I will be referring a lot of friends about this. Keep blogging. Thanks. USA Westen

chicagocleanings's picture

This is also a very good post which I really enjoyed reading. It is not everyday that I have the possibility to see something like this..
Chicago cleaning services

ravinirvana13's picture

And indeed, I am just always astounded concerning the remarkable things served by you. Some facts on this page are undeniably the most effective I have had. Thanks a lot for providing individuals with a spectacular possibility to read critical reviews and posts from this site

hotmit233's picture

You should eat many vegetable and fruits because it have many vitamin which is good for health. blog

mstracyross's picture

Hi, interesting post. I have been wondering about this topic, so thanks for posting. I’ll definitely be subscribing to your site. Try out lifeinsurance, Keep up the good posts.

billdiessel's picture

Locksmith Charlotte loved this article. Vitamin C is important to us for sure. It is always recommended to eat fruits and vegetable. I read your blogs daily and enjoy it every time.

hotmit233's picture

Coffee, tea and vitamin C is good for health but you shouldn't use it in evening because it can make you lost sleep.

ravinirvana13's picture

I have been studying this topic for a long time. You have provided great information in your post and some things I have not seen in other content I have read by others.This post has helped me to have another perspective.  

jerrybrownlt's picture

i am for the first time here. I found this board and I in finding It truly helpful & it helped me out a lot. I hope to present something back and help others such as you helped me.

hotmit233's picture

focus of my time and enjoy reading these articles useful for your work, jual rumah

kadopasutri's picture

buat anda yang merasa bertubuh kurus dan ingin mendapatkan tubuh yang sedikit berisi boleh di coba produk kami obat penggemuk badan dengan bahan-bahan alami dari tumbuhan asli china

hotmit233's picture

The content of this article is very good, I enjoyed it, loans online

assunnahmedia's picture