What is the best and safest way to clean your camera’s lens? In this article we will discuss the best method to clean your lenses and optics and the gear you will need to keep your images looking their best.
Let's start with some facts:
Dirty optics can and will affect your image quality.
There are correct methods and tools to clean lens and filter optics.
There are incorrect methods and tools to clean lens and filter optics.
There's a great deal of information available on the topic of lens cleaning—some of it conflicting.
So, let's try to keep things simple, and find the best and safest way to get your lenses clean, so that you can spend more time making photographs, and less time on cleaning chores.
Rule #1: Avoid unnecessary cleaning of your lens
Glass is relatively hard and durable. However, when advanced coatings and other chemicals are added to the lens, it becomes a surface that's more vulnerable to scratches and damage from chemicals and contact. Because of this, we want to try to keep our lenses and filters free of fingerprints and dirt, and avoid repeated physical interaction—this includes touching the lenses and—yes—cleaning.
"When you use your gear, it's going to get dirty..."
When stored in your camera bag or on your shelf, judicious use of front and rear lens caps will help keep your optics clean. But, when you use your gear, it's going to get dirty. This cannot be avoided. Your lenses will benefit from an occasional cleaning of your camera bag innards, as dust and dirt will likely find a home inside your bag and attach itself to the lens.
Rule #2: Dust happens
Dust is everywhere and everywhere is dust. It will get on and inside your lens. Lenses are manufactured in extremely clean factories, where manufacturers go to great lengths to try to eliminate dust from the environment. Even then, brand-new lenses may have dust between the lens elements.
"Dust is everywhere and everywhere is dust... Dust, however, is not the main enemy..."
Dust, however, is not the main enemy. A lens that sits on a shelf in your home for years and collects a thick layer of dust will, obviously, produce image-quality issues. But, a few specs of dust here and there on or inside the lens will have no effect on image quality. A few specs of dust on or inside the lens will have no effect on image quality. That statement was intentionally repeated.
Trying to keep your lenses dust free through continual cleaning may serve to shorten the life of your lens, as you run the risk of scratching the lens surfaces every time you clean the glass.
Rule #3: Beware of rear smudges
Oily fingerprints and smudges on the rear element will have the most dramatic impact on image quality, because of the way that the light is focused narrowly through the back of the lens.
The good news is that the rear element of the lens is less susceptible to dirt and oil because, when mounted on the camera, it isn't subject to kids' sticky fingers, your sticky fingers, or other environmental dangers.
How to Clean Your Lens in 3 Easy Steps
Here is a simple, three-step process for effective lens and filter cleaning that you can easily do when in the field:
Remove as much dust and dirt as possible from the lens with a blower or soft-bristled brush.
Apply a few drops of lens cleaning solution to a lens tissue or cleaning cloth.
Using a circular motion, gently remove oil, fingerprints, and grime from the lens surface, working from the center outward.
Remember, you can perform those three easy steps in the field when needed but, unless there are greasy fingerprints or oily smudges on your lens, avoid unnecessary cleaning. You don't need to be in a dust-free "clean room," and don a vinyl suit and rubber gloves to clean your lens and you don’t need to clean your lens or filter as soon as the first speck of dust arrives.
The parts of the lens that are most exposed to the environment are the front element and the barrel of the lens. The best way to protect the front element is to attach a high-quality protective or UV filter. The filter, generally much less expensive than the lens itself, will serve as a sentry that absorbs the gunk headed for your expensive lens optics. The filter can be cleaned in the same manner as any other lens.
A dirty lens barrel will not degrade image quality, but keeping the lens barrel clean may help avoid potential issues with the mechanics of the focus and zoom mechanisms. Use a lens cloth or tissue and lens-cleaning solution to keep your lens barrel clean.
Brushes and Blowers
When it comes to dust removal by air, the best method is to use a blower, and to avoid using compressed air. Without a blower, you can always blow on the lens with your own lung power, but beware of spraying your lens with saliva or your lunch. A blower should be mandatory equipment in your DSLR camera bag for sensor and lens cleaning.
There is a multitude of lens-cleaning brushes on the market. A high-quality one is recommended. Camel hair works very well. Also, do not touch the brush bristles with your oily fingers, unless you want to transfer grime to the lens while cleaning.
Cloth, Tissues, and Cleaners
Lens tissue is relatively inexpensive. One use only, please. Discard the tissue after cleaning your lens.
Microfiber cleaning cloths are popular as well. There are a few precautions to help ensure their beneficial use. Keep them clean, as they will likely be used for multiple cleanings, and you do not want to re-apply dirt and grime or particles that may scratch your lens. If you wash the cloth, avoid using liquid fabric softeners, as they may leave a chemical residue on the cloth and create streaks on your lens.
Use your cotton T-shirt at your own risk. Again, if the lens does not need cleaning, do not clean it, but if you find yourself separated from your lens-cleaning gear and need to remove a smudge, using a clean 100% cotton T-shirt and warm breath is not the end of the world. Again, avoid liquid fabric softeners. You will find better (and safer) results with dedicated lens-cleaning tissues and cloths.
Cotton swabs are a good option for cleaning, and can be especially effective for cleaning the edges of a lens.
Facial tissue is not recommended, as some brands are abrasive and others contain oils and lotions that can streak your lenses.
Many lens manufacturers market specially formulated lens-cleaning solutions designed to accommodate optical coatings. Again, these are relatively inexpensive, but if you want to make your own solution, or store a 50-gallon drum of the stuff, the use of reagent-grade isopropyl alcohol is recommended. De-ionized water is also safe, but is not a dedicated cleaner and, like moisture from warm breath, will only be effective on water-soluble smudges.
Do not use acetone. Acetone is a great cleaner, but, when used on camera lenses, it could have adverse effects on the plastic and paint of the lens barrel, as well as the optical coatings. Again, do not use acetone.
"Oily fingerprints and smudges on the rear element will have the most dramatic impact on image quality, because of the way that the light is focused narrowly through the back of the lens..."
Using household window cleaners is not recommended on coated optics. Stick to the dedicated lens-cleaning solutions, alcohol, or de-ionized water.
Apply the cleaning solution to the tissue or cloth, instead of directly to the lens. There are several reasons to do so. You want to avoid having beads of liquid running to the edge of the lens element and then entering the lens body. Even weatherproofed lenses might not be watertight, and the liquid may enter the lens body due to capillary action. Liquid droplets function as a lens and may focus sunlight to a point on the glass lens surface creating a super-heated area that could damage the lens or coatings. Also, mild liquids and water can have corrosive properties if left in contact with a surface for a length of time.
Wiping in concentric circles will reduce the occurrences of streaking more than working across the lens.
Working from the center to the edge will move debris to the edges of the lens, away from the center of the image circle, in the event the objects do not get removed.
When wiping, apply only enough pressure to remove the offending smudge.
On a DLSR (or SLR), when you look through the viewfinder, many times you will see lots of dust specs throughout the image. This dust is usually on the camera's reflex mirror, and will not affect the photograph. This mirror can be cleaned, but the silvering is very delicate, so use caution. Also, using air blowers on the reflex mirror may blow dust from your mirror onto your digital sensor, which will definitely affect image quality.
A note to users of sport optics, telescopes, and night photographers: beware of inspecting your lens for cleanliness with a color-filtered flashlight, as some of the dirt and smudges may not appear—use white light unless you are trying to preserve your night vision.
Finally, you may clean your lens mounts (camera and lens) with a cloth and lens-cleaning solution. The digital contacts that allow the lens and camera to communicate may require occasional cleaning. Be sure to use a different cloth from that used for the optics, as wiping a metal lens mount to clean it may impart tiny metal debris on the cloth that should never be introduced to the glass.
Remember the three simple steps, remember that dust happens, and be sure to spend more time making photographs than cleaning your gear.
The three-step cleaning process outlined in the article is one I stand by. But, recently, I acquired a used lens filter that had what looked like stubborn water spots on the surface. I don’t know if they would affect image quality, but the spots were definitely larger than your average dust and reflected light differently than the surrounding coated glass. Lens cleaning and lens tissue was not having any effect on the spots. In my drawer, I had a LensPen Lens Cleaner and I decided to give that a try…
It worked and the spots disappeared.
The cleaning element of the LensPen was, apparently, just tacky enough to remove the spots and the filter was saved from the trash can. I recommend adding the LensPen to your cleaning tool kit for situations like this.
Are lens pens, which you sell, safe to use?
Yes! Please refer to the shaded section immediately above the Comment section. I am a big fan of the LensPen and, in that particular case, it worked when nothing else would!
Thanks for reading!
One trick some birders use on their binoculars when in the field, where they are always exposed to the elements and other stuff, is to clean the lens with their tongue. Wet, soft and gentle. I don't know that I would do that with photo gear, but I might. I've yet to see anything get on my bins that my tongue and a lens cloth can't remove. Birding down at the shore it is not unusual to taste the salt that has gotten on them from the seawater, a clear indication that the lenses needed to be cleaned.
Cleaning my eyeglasses at home, I use plain old soap (DIAL bar), warm water and two fingers. Then NO WIPING, as the coatings let all but a few tiny drops run off. Those drops are removed with a paper tissue by just touching each bit of water with the tissue, which absorbs the drop instantly leaving nothing behind. Again, not an approach I would use on photo gear.
Interesting technique. Once upon a time, at B&H, a lens manufacturer told us that repeated use of breath fog (and I am guessing direct licking) will break down a lens coating over time due to the acids in one's breath (and spit!). I haven't put this theory to test, but I would personally not lick my optics. :)
Thanks for sharing that method, however. And, thanks for reading!
Thank you for the thorough information! Is it alright to use liquid eyeglass cleaner on lenses and filters?
Thanks for the kind words. Yes, lens cleaners can be used on all sorts of optical glass...eyeglasses and/or camera lenses.
Thank you for reading!
My camera repair guy always gets my lenses super shiny. I use denatured alcohol, and the lenses look fine. But he adds a little bit of acetone to the alcohol to get shimmering results. I haven't added the acetone, yet, because I'm not sure how much to add and he mived his business to California. I can't remember their credentials, but they're a trusted repair service for Nikon, etc. and many media outlets.
Thanks for sharing! Let us know if you get your hands on the secret recipe! :)
And, thanks for reading!
Thank you for this informative article and for the great support for the past 25+years I have been using y'all. The biggest takeaway here is to use the cleaning advice in an escalation faction. Do the most simple things first. Blow, brush, clean. Also, I would say the LensPen should have been at the top of the article. As a predominantly landscape/nature photographer, I have a home in all my bags for a blower brush, Lenspen and microfiber cloths, and a few alcohol wipes (I never use the fluid). 95% of the time a blow and brush is all I need.
When changing lenses, hold the camera facing down to prevent dust/dirt from entering the body. Always use lens caps (front and rear). Handle filter on the edges. And never, ever, never use your shirt unless you are in a air filtered clean room wearing a brand new microfiber shirt. Happy Holidays to all and to all keep ckicking.
Great synopsis and takeaways! Thanks!
I won't disagree about the LensPen mention...but consider it a reward for those who make it to the bottom of the article! :)
Thanks for being a long-time B&H customer, reading Explora, and a Happy Holidays to you!
Such a handy article and entertaining, to boot!
Thank you for the kind words, Alexandr!
And, thanks for reading!
I have created a YouTube video that simply demonstrates these steps, check it out and let me know what you think. Likes are always appreciated and I'll be uploading more videos soon! [Link removed...Please see George Curd on YouTube.]
Sorry if this is not allowed, I'm just starting out on my YouTube channel and would love some feedback, I will remove the comment if not allowed.... Keep Snapping!
I did remove the link, but gave a way for folks to find you.
Great, thank Todd!
I have recently created this channel as a guide to aspiring photographers and nature enthusiasts. 1 video up now and more to come, thanks for your time.
No worries, George. Good luck, sir!
Happy New Year!
What is that tiny ILC in the illustration photo at the top?
I think that was a stock photo, but it looks like it might be a small Olympus or Panasonic Micro Four Thirds ILC?
I have a Nikon Coolpix S4200 and the lens may need cleaning, but the Lens Cleaning instructions for this camera specifically state: "Do not use alcohol, thinner, or other volatile chemicals." Myself not having degrees in Chemistry or Sorcery I really don't know what names other than alcohol do pertain to solutions that are safe to use on my lens.
Maybe Nikon doesn't want you to try to clean your lens with beer, whisky, scotch or another adult beverage!
Stick with any commercially available lens cleaner and you will be good to go!
Also, B&H Photo may start offering a certificate program in Sorcery. Stay tuned!
I'm a little late to this discussion. Hate to bust the balloon (or lower the stock price of J&J) but the cardboard that holds the cotton swab is treated with a waxy substance or polymer that dissolves in alcohol on their Qtips and can leave a residue on your lens. Urge people to use specially made Qtips with wooden sticks only and only when Qtips are necessary. Secondly, in spite of your best efforts, I still see people commenting about using 70% isopropyl instead of pure isopropyl (99%+). The old tried and true method is, after blowing off dust with a hand blower, using nitrile gloves, soak an unfolded piece of lens tissue (not a few drops) with spectroscopic grade methanol, shake off excess, and gently and steadily pull across lens surface once and throw out the lens tissue. Let it air dry. If offending smudges remain, fold a fresh lens tissue into a little pad (maybe a half inch or so wide) and using polycarbonate or polypropylene hemostat (forceps) to hold it, inundate (flood), i.e., thoroughly soak with spectroscopic grade methanol, shake off excess, and then wipe by pulling once steadly across offending smudge. All these items are easily and inexpensively available.
Hold on, Joseph...calling my broker...
Sell! Sell! Sell!
Great tips. Very detailed. Thank you!
I recently purchased a preowned Canon 135mm lens for my camera (non-DSLR). I went to clean the optics and found the rear lens is recessed beyond normal reach.
What tool do I used to get down to the lens?
The good news about lenses being out of reach is that you can't get your own grimy fingers down there. If there is dust there, you might try a blower. If desperate and you think that something down there is getting in the way of perfect photos, you could put some lens tissue on the end of a cotton swab (I recommend the name-brand variety) and gently clean the element.
Good luck...and be sure you need to do that cleaning before you actually do it!
I need to clean my dslr camera (Nikon D610) and film camera, but I wasn't sure which brand of cleaning kits that I should buy. Plus I pefer to buy good quality and cheap. Some of them recommended to buy - Altura Photo, Zeiss, Camkix, Lenspen, or K & F Concept. I am not sure still and it will be wonderful that you can recommend which it is good for my cameras.
Many cleaning kits are almost identical, but some, like Lenspen, are more for specialty lens cleaning. When you say "clean my dslr camera" I assume you mean your lenses?
All you really need is lens tissue and lens cleaning solution and you are good to go. Check the reviews on those products, if you want to narrow your search. I am pretty sure no one is selling anything that is bad for your camera or lenses...it is the technique that can cause problems.
Sorry to not narrow it down for you, but keep it simple and get your stuff clean and go shoot!
Thanks for respond!!! Thumb Up :)
Thumbs up backatya! You are welcome, Rae!
Hi Todd, some good tips on here. Enjoyed reading.
My question is slightly off the dust topic, but related anyway.
In an Olympus IS/L A 28 converter, that is about 25 years old already but unscratched, during a long period of storage and moving across extreme climate zones, a layer of grime accumulated inside the converter.
It seems like inside the device water condensated and then dried up on the inside of the smaller lens, leaving a layer as on a dirty window.
I notice that, provided I have a correctly sized spanner, I could screw the front lens off and thus clean the inside.
How risky would that be ?
Any other suggestions how to get rid of this dirt layer without sending the lens in for a service?
Thank you for your time.
I cannot find any information on that lens, do you have a longer or more formal name for it? My internet search has failed me, but I did learn about Olympus and a bit of a mess with UCLA medical!
So...disassembling a lens on your own. I am sure it can be done, but do it at your own risk. I would look for YouTube videos by folks who have done it on that lens (or similar lenses) and see what lessons they learned so that you don't have to learn your own.
I know it's sort of a copout but you might consider a pro to clean it all first time. He could show you how to do it so hopefully it would be a one time shot. You could get an estimate first. G9o9od luck Bert. Proud of you using film!
Happy shoosting! Joey
On a Panasonic 45-200 lens - H-FS045200
I've got a visible speck of dust in the first inner lens from the front in the lower left quarter.
I can see it when looking into the lens from the front.
It doesn't show in stills so far, maybe because of what I'm shooting, but it's easily seen in video along with an other spot that I cant see when looking into the lens.
Here's an example.
I cleaned the front and rear with Giottos "Professional Multi Optical Cleaning Solution" and the included Giottos microfiber rag
when I noticed it and tested again but both spots are still there.
So what's you take on this problem?
Great question. To me, that looks like sensor dust...not something caused by the lens. Are you seeing those spots when using other lenses? My guess is that you are.
To verify, shoot some blank daylight blue skies with your lens or lenses stepped down to their smallest aperture (i.e. f/22)...and then look at the images on your computer. This will show you if you have sensor dust, or not. And then it will be time to clean your sensor.
If I am wrong, these spots will only appear when using that lens...and we have to re-address the issue. Let us know what you find!
I havent seen the problem with other lenses on the camea but I rarely shoot at f/22.
And the problem video with the spots was shot at f/22 because it was very sunny.
I did a test yesterday with the same lens on my second camera and yes ... I believe you're correct.
No problem spots with yesterdays test at f/22 or other f-stops so it's most likely the sensor.
The camera is a Panasonic GH2.
Is the sensor shake (in the menu) the way to clean it or should it be taken to a Panasonic service center for manual cleaning?
I tested this morning with an other lens on the same camera and could see the same spots at f22 through the DVF
just looking up at clear blue sky.
I've been looking at diy sensor cleaning ideas with the wet wipe kits
gh2 is a 20mm sensor ... and the arctic butterfly.
I suspect mine is going to need a wet cleaning.
Anyway, good news is that the sensor dust doesn't show at lower f-stops.
Thanks for the discussion. I'll be keeping an eye out for your tutorial on sensor cleaning.
No worries! Good luck! Hopefully you don't need to send it in...try the sensor shake and maybe a blower before you do a wet cleaning.
Could this be inside?
The spots you see on the image are caused by dust on your digital sensor...not on the lens or inside the lens. Almost definitely sensor dust!
Thanks for stopping by! We have an article coming out soon on sensor cleaning.
My nikon lens had a spot. I tried to clean it with a q tip. Now ther is a circular piece that came loose in there and I can't use it.
May you give me some more information? Was the loose circular piece a result of the cleaning? Were you cleaning the front or rear element? Which lens is it? Can you identify what part came loose?
Well I haven't looked at it in 5 months. It is the inner lens I believe. Because it is in. Not Ratteling but I can't turn the focas to the right.
Sounds like your lens is due for a trip to a repair shop or back to Nikon! Sorry, mate!
Using a lens cloth is often recommend along with some kind of liquid product, typically isopropyl alcohol.
However, lens cloths easily get dirty just as lenses do, which leads to the recommendation of disposable lens cleaning tissues. I've heard that In hi-tech delicate industrial applicationss including electron microscopes and mirrors for astronomical telescopes, one-use Kimwipes are used. Would these be appropriate for camera lenses? They're very convenient and not overly expensive.
According to the Kimberly Clark website, they are designed for lenses, so I would say you are good-to-go!
I crunched the numbers. The Kimwipes cost about $0.02 per wipe. Our Tiffen lens paper is TWICE as much at $0.04 per wipe! HUGE savings!
After 1000 lens cleanings, the Kimwipes will have set you back $21 and the Tiffen paper $40. Unless you are doing a lot of lens cleaning, I think the savings over a lifetime are pretty minimal, but, hey! Go for it!
Thanks for stopping by!
I attempted to clean the rear element of my Nikkor afs 20mm f/1.8 with a Tiffen lens tissue but it felt like there was resistance between the tissue and glass. I assume that's because of the coating on the glass? The tissue also made a sort of "screeching" sound so I stopped. Would a liquid lens cleaner be ok if applied to the tissue first?
I guess the coating could create resistance. Did you see any marks on the glass after the fact?
Yes, liquid lens cleaner will be OK as long as, like you said, you apply it to the tissue first. This is especially important when cleaning the rear element.
Thanks for reading!
I have a 24-70mm 2.8 L II lens and im not sure how this happened but i see a water spot inside of the front part of lens. Its a problem becasue when using the lens the photo or the video shows a blurry spot on subject. How can i get this repaired. Obviousley i cannot do it myself.
I assume you mean that the droplet is in between the first two elements of the lens and not between the lens and filter, correct?
The obvious solution is to send the lens to a Canon service center and have them take care of it.
But, before you do that, if I were you, I might try to store the lens in a warm spot, or out in the sun for a bit to see if I could get that water to evaporate. [Hopefully it is water and not oil.] This is a complete and total guess...I have no experience with this solution, and no way to test it...just a hypothetical solution for you to try before you send the lens in!
Let me know if you try it and if it works!
Addition top my comment below: nitrile gloves, not latex. and get 'denatured" alcohol from pharmacy or lab supply that is 99% alchohol, the hight test stuff. For persistent greasy film that wont come off with alcohol products, try very carefully optical grade hexane on cotton or q tips. have to be careful because hexane will disolve things like balsam and other glues used on internal lens parts. just be sure you don't flush surface with hexane and stay away from edges.
Thanks again for the tips!