How to Clean a Camera Lens

Dust happens. It’s inevitable and you just have to make peace with the fact it’s going to end up on your lenses.

Of course, many other substances like oils from your fingers, the elements, food, or whatever you pick up while outside may eventually find its way onto your gear as well.

Some dust on the front of the lens can be harmless and even unnoticeable in your photos. However, dust on the back or oil on either end can stand out a lot more. You should onlyLens02 clean your lens if absolutely necessary and not just because of some arbitrary schedule.

In the event you notice dust or a stain that you want to clean, use cleaning methods in the following order to minimize the risk of making the issue worse:
1. Lens blower
2. Lens brush
3. Cleaning tissue, cloth, or pre-moistened wipes
4. Cleaning fluid + tissue or cloth

Step 1: Use a blower to remove dust

Lens03Using a blower should always be the first option for cleaning dust off a camera lens since it’s the least likely to make the problem worse. If you have dust on your lens, sometimes a quick puff of the blower will be the only thing you need to get it clean.

A natural instinct might be to just use your own breath but you should avoid doing this because it can introduce saliva and condensation onto the lens no matter how careful you are.

Do’s:
• Use a blower before any other cleaning method.
• Clear the blower of any potential dust first by squeezing a few puffs away from the lens.
• Hold very close to the lens without touching to prevent blowing airborne particles onto the glass.
• Blow a few puffs across the lens surface.

Don’ts:
• Don’t use your mouth since you can blow saliva and condensation onto the lens.
• Don’t use air compressors—they can drip oil.
• Don’t use freon-powered air cans—they cause condensation.
• Don’t waste money on a small blower. You will inevitably go back for a larger one that works better and is easier to use.

Step 2: Use a lens brush if a blower isn’t sufficient

If a blower didn’t do the job, a brush should be next on the list. Brush tips are made of various materials but camel hair is a popular choice because the fine, soft hairs help toLens04 prevent damage.

The main reason brushes are riskier than a blower is because they can pick up substances if you aren’t careful. Don’t touch the brush with your fingers to prevent oils from transferring over and make sure the brush stays capped or bagged to stay clean. Oils can be difficult to remove from lenses but they are even more difficult to remove from a brush you contaminate.

The original lens brush has been popularized by the brand LensPen (2nd from the right in the photo above). It features a brush that slides out for use, and slides back in to stay clean. The other end is is a carbon-soaked polishing tip, designed to clean oil from fingertips and various sources without damaging the lens. Many competitors now produce the same product as well.

Do’s:
• Use a brush with soft, fine bristles to avoid scratches; camel hair is a great option.
• Gently brush the lens surface to remove dust particles.
• Cap the brush after use to prevent contaminations.

Don’ts:
• Don’t jam the bristles onto the lens surface.
• Don’t touch the bristles with your fingers or anything other than the lens.

Step 3: Spray lens using lens cleaning fluid

Lens05The most potent (and messy) lens cleaning option is a spray bottle of cleaning fluid. Like pre-moistened wipes, these are typically alcohol-based cleaners that can clean your lens surface without streaking and quickly evaporate to protect your gear.

Bottles of cleaning fluid typically come in 1 oz, 2 oz, and 8 oz sizes and range about $6-8 per bottle. Cleaning fluid can be used with cleaning tissues or microfiber cloths. Avoid using facial tissues or anything that may be laying around since they can cause scratches.

Some folks dislike this method since it can leave streaking and you are required to use cloths, which pose their own risks. However, streaking can typically be dealt with by reapplying cleaning fluid and re-wiping the surface.

Do’s:
• Always use a dust-free option like lens tissues or a lens cloth and spray onto those before applying.
• Only use cleaning fluid made with denatured alcohol.

Don’ts:
• Don’t spray directly onto the cleaning surface since it can get into the lens.
• Don’t use cleaning fluid that’s mostly detergent and water–this can make the problem worse.

Step 4: Wipe lens using a lens cleaning paper tissueLens06

Lens cleaning paper tissues are a safe and inexpensive option for cleaning. Each tissue sheet costs around $0.05. Since you use them once and then discard, it ensures you start with a dust and contaminant-free sheet for cleaning each time.

Lens07Microfiber lens cleaning cloths are an effective way to clean smudges. These cloths will cost you on average $2-4 dollars each but some cost as much as $10, depending on the brand. Microfiber cloths are pricier than lens tissues and are meant to be used for a long time before getting discarded or washed.

They can also be a bit trickier than tissues to maintain. One downside is any oil or grime you clean off the lens remains on the cloth. Additionally, reusing a cloth poses the risk of trapping something in the cloth and dragging it across your lens, leaving a scratch. In between uses, you should keep them sealed in a plastic bag to prevent further contamination.

Do’s:
• Store your cloth in a plastic bag to prevent contamination.
• Work the cloth in concentric circles beginning in the center of the lens.

Dont’s:
• Don’t wash these with fabric softener as they can leave behind chemicals that leave streaks.
• Don’t use t-shirts, tissue paper, or paper towels to clean your lens.

Pre-moistened lens cleaning wipes are the next step up in terms of lens cleaning potency. Alcohol in the wipes help break down and clean off smudges.
These are usually sold in boxes of 100-200 for around $12. It can be handy to keep a few wipes in your camera bag for particularly stubborn smudges. Wipes are disposable, so they are safer and more convenient option than a cleaning cloth.

How to clean camera lens filters

It’s debated whether cleaning these filters cause more problems than they solve but you can clean camera lens filters with the same methods as lenses. Start with the least risky method and move down the list if it’s still not clean:
1. Lens blower
2. Lens brush
3. Cleaning tissue, cloth, or pre-moistened wipes
4. Cleaning fluid + tissue or cloth

Keeping lenses clean for as long as possible

We’ve accepted that our lenses and gear get dirty and will have to be cleaned. Ideally, we do what we can to prolong the time between cleanings with proper lens care. This includes doing things like using a lens filter, properly storing, and properly switching out your lenses, as well as generally avoiding touching the optics with your hands no matter how clean you think your hands are.

If you use the blower, brush, tissue/cloth/wipe, and liquid cleaning methods to clean a lens, it should handle most of your dust and smudge problems. Any really stubborn lens problems should be sent to a professional for cleaning to prevent costly damage to your lenses.

If the dust issue turns out not to be on the lens, but rather on a sensor, turn to a local professional or use a mail-in sensor cleaning service. Nobody should ever attempt to do this at home–the glass on lenses are tough enough to self-service but sensors are incredibly sensitive to scratches and can be dust magnets.


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