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How To Clean Your Camera Lens


How To Clean Your Camera Lens

No matter how careful you are with your lenses, no matter how paranoid you are about keeping the glass clean, there’s always going to come that time when you will need to get out the cleaning gear and clean your lens. It can be as simple as getting off a few specks of dust that blew on to the front element while you were shooting, or it could be you happened to get a fingerprint or two on there – that happens more often than you might think. Either way, knowing to properly take care of a good lens, including cleaning it, is something every photographer should know

It’s simple enough. Just find a cleaning technique (there are many cleaning methods) and familiarize yourself with it, so that when you actually need to get off a smudge of oil, or some dust, in a hurry, you know how to do it properly, and you’re able to do it safely without damaging the lens. Yeah

In this post, I’ll explain my current method of cleaning lenses. It’s nothing special – I learned it from one of the many people who clean lenses in this fashion – but I stuck with this after researching and trying out other ways of cleaning, and this method is what I’ve found to be the most satisfactory. If you’ve done your research and feel that there’s another technique that feels better to you, the rest of this post won’t apply – but I still advice you to stick with that method and get familiar with it. Alright then

Basic Lens Cleaning Philosophy

Not really as fancy as it sounds, this is basically what you need to do to clean your lens, regardless of what tools or techniques you use, and I thought it’s best to start here. Here we go:

  • Clean the lens body
  • Clean the lens mount
  • Remove loose dust off the front element of the lens
  • Remove dust that is stuck on the front element
  • Clean any smudges off the front element: oil, fingerprints, etc.
  • Repeat the previous 3 steps for the rear element

And that’s it

Oh, and remember: it’s not necessary to clean your lens too often. Every couple of months (or every 6 months) or so is fine, unless you notice something particular that requires immediate cleaning. Cleaning your lens too much and too often can tend to damage the coatings of your lens – and wouldn’t that be counterproductive?

But yeah, lens cleaning is simple enough. Now lets talk cleaning technique

Lens Cleaning Techniques: The LensPen

Back when I started out, I used a LensPen to clean my lenses. This, if you’re wondering, is an ‘all-in-one’ tool for cleaning lenses. It’s a pen-shaped object, which has a push-out brush on one end and a ‘non-liquid cleaning element’ on the other side. The original tool is a brand of its own (LensPen) but loads of other brands, including Nikon, make a copy of it. It’s quite simple to use: you push out the brush and, well, brush off any dust – off the body, off the front and rear elements – after which you pull out the cap on the other end, and use the non-liquid cleaning element to wipe the front and rear elements – in a circular motion – to remove any smudges. That’s it. So it covers all bases in a simple but fairly effective way: the brush will clean the dust off the lens body and lens mount; the brush will clean dust (loose and not-so-loose) off the front/rear elements; and the non-liquid element cleans smudges off the front/rear elements

Image from Amazon

Image from Amazon

It’s easy enough, and does a reasonably good job; but after a while, I wasn’t very happy with the results. For one, the brush started to collect dust rather quickly; so after a couple of cleans, I found that using the Lenspen brush would sometimes add a few specks of dust to the lens while brushing, which in turn had to be brushed off as well, leading to a rather frustrating cleaning process. In addition, the non-liquid element started to leave smudges of its own, which, again, was frustrating

No, it didn’t really work for me. If you use one and you’re happy with it, stick with it, but trust me, with a bit more effort, you’ll do a much better job of cleaning your lens – using the following method

Lens Cleaning Techniques: Blower/Brush/Wipes

With this technique too, the philosophy is the same. You just have a different set of cleaning materials to do the job with. And with different materials comes a different process. And here it is, a process that, after quite a bit of research and trial-and-error, I can really trust…and recommend to you all. It does a great job of cleaning my lenses, and, with a bit of practice, is very easy to perform. Here’s what you will need:

Lens Cleaning Kit

Air blower: Giottos makes an industry-standard product known as the Giottos Rocket Air Blaster. Get one. A large one. It is very easy to grip/squeeze, and produces a very powerful, controlled stream of air.  It’s as good as it gets

Lens brush: A goat-hair brush is highly recommended, as these are super-soft, and will not scratch the lens as you brush. Again, Giottos makes a really good one

Lens Cleaning Fluid: Technically, any lens cleaning fluid would do, as long as it is ammonia-free and alcohol-free. Some recommend using ‘isopropyl alcohol’, available at most pharmacies or drug stores, as it’s cheap – but you have to be careful if you’re going with this option, as the cheaper stuff can contain impurities that can harm your lens. I recommend getting a bottle of branded lens cleaning fluid, to be safe, and for peace of mind. They’re not that expensive and just do the job well. Zeiss makes an excellent lens cleaning fluid – and if you’re going with my personal kit, Eclipse (by Photographic Solutions) is excellent. It’s one of the best you can get. It’s also more suitable than Zeiss because of the next point…

Lens Tissue/Swabs/Wipes: To use the lens cleaning fluid, you need a tissue/cloth/swab to apply and clean with. Regular cloth/tissue is an absolute no-no, of course, as they’re too harsh to use on delicate lenses. If you’re using cloth, get a microfiber one – but I strongly advise against this, as cloth tends to collect dust after cleaning, and during storage, meaning you have to wash and dry them carefully (before and) after you clean, and it’s a real hassle. Use proper lens cleaning tissue instead. They’re single-use, they’re soft, they’re cheap, and they work great for this purpose. There are many brands available – I use PEC*PAD wipes. PEC*PADs are also made by Photographic Solutions, and come in a kit with Eclipse fluid, which is perfect (and works out cheaper)

Microfiber Cloth: Get one of these to use for cleaning the lens body and mount. There’s no specific brand. Get the softest one you can find. You can use PEC*PADs or tissue, but it’s not necessary to be that soft on the stronger parts of the lens! Save your wipes and use a microfiber cloth for this. Some microfibre cloths have a ‘rough’ feel to it, and even though these are fine for cleaning a lens body, get one of those that are nice and soft; the ones that come with sunglasses etc. work great

All of the above images are from Amazon

So, to summarize, this is my cleaning kit:

  • Giottos Rocket Air Blower (sometimes known as an Air Blaster)
  • Giottos Retractable Goat-Hair Brush
  • Eclipse Lens Cleaning Fluid
  • PEC*PADs
  • Microfiber cloth

You should be able to get the entire kit for less than $50. And everything, apart from the wipes and the cleaning fluid, will last you forever; the wipes/cleaning fluid kit will cost you less than $20, and will last for years. Not too bad, is it? All this stuff is available on Amazon or B&H Photo, and I’ve linked you to where you can find this stuff, at the end of this post. As always, I’d greatly appreciate it if you used these links to buy them, as it’d support this site and help keep it running. Oh, and having used these particular products, I recommend you get the same brands

Anyway, now to the process…

The Lens Cleaning Process

Step One – Cleaning the body: Use the microfiber cloth and – keeping both lens caps on – wipe the lens barrel. Remove any dust, dirt, or whatever is on the lens body that makes it require cleaning. You can dampen the cloth very lightly with a bit of the cleaning fluid if you feel the need to. If there’s nothing seriously dirty about the body, just give it a quick wipe

Step Two – Cleaning the mount: You can use the same cloth – make sure it’s clean, though, or use another one – to clean the lens mount. The lens mount is the metal (or, on cheaper lenses, the plastic) ring on the back of the lens that attaches to the body, and it’s rather important to keep it clean, so yeah: dampen the cloth (very slightly) with cleaning fluid, and gently wipe the mount of your lens. Then, again very gently, wipe the contacts (the series of little electronic ‘dots’) on the outside/inside/top of the mount. Don’t put too much pressure here – just make sure you give it all a good wipe. It shouldn’t be too dirty anyway. In this step, you need to remove the rear cap to access the mount, but make sure the front cap is still on


Step Three – Cleaning the front element: Pop the rear cap on, place the lens with the front facing upwards, and remove the front cap. Alright, now comes the important part of lens cleaning – the part where you need to be careful, the bit where knowing what you’re doing is important: cleaning the glass

Start by removing the loose specs of dust on the glass – the bits that blew on there recently. Use the air blower for this. Turn on a lamp, point it towards the lens; carefully examine the surface for dust, and blow it off with the blower. Don’t worry if there are bits of dust that won’t blow off – that’s next. For now, blow off as much dust as you can with the blower. Whatever you do, do NOT use your mouth to blow – you don’t want to get saliva on there!

Next, put the blower away and get the goat-hair brush. Keeping the lamp on and pointed at the lens, carefully brush the surface of the glass. Be gentle, but make sure you brush firmly enough to remove even the stubborn bits of dust. Make sure you get it all off in this step. Once you’re done, examine the surface again for any more dust, and repeat until there’s nothing to be seen

Lastly, check if there are any fingerprints or any other smudges on the lens. If there’s nothing of the sort on your glass, you can skip this part, but there’s really not much harm doing this anyway – unless you’re doing it too often. Anyway, if there are any smudges, this is where you use the lens cleaning fluid and tissue to get rid of this. If you’re using other brands of fluid and tissue, follow those instructions – but if you’re using the combination of Eclipse and PEC*PADs, here’s what you do: Fold a pad in two or four, place a few drops of the fluid on to the folded pad, and gently wipe the lens element in a circular motion, maintaining a single direction. Once you’ve properly wiped the surface of the glass, refold the pad to get a dry side, and wipe the glass again in the same fashion

Just before placing the lens cap back on, give the glass a quick blow with the blower to remove any few specks of dust that fell on the glass during cleaning. However, don’t try to remove every little speck of dust off the lens because this is impossible: there’s always going to be a some little speck on there, and the moment you clean that, you will notice another bit. Just do the best you can and stop before you get frustrated! So yeah, give the lens another good round with the blower, and pop the lens cap on

And the front element is now done

Step Four – Cleaning the rear element: Once the front is done, place the front lens cap on, and flip the lens over. Then, remove the rear cap – and repeat all parts of step three to clean the rear element properly

Once that’s complete, place the rear lens cap back on, or pop the lens back on to your camera – and that’s a job well done!

—————————————————————————————————————————————————

And that’s how you clean a lens. Pretty simple once you know how. Just take a bit of care when doing the front/rear elements of your lens, because, even with good tools and materials, there’s always a chance of damaging the glass if you’re too rough. But yeah, it’s easy enough

NOTE: I recommend having some sort of lens cleaner in your camera bag at all times, so you can do a bit of emergency cleaning on the go too. A lot of people use a Lenspen for this, and that’s not a bad idea, but as I’m not a fan of this tool, I keep a small blower and the goat-hair brush in my camera bag. So even though I can’t clean smudges with these tools, at least dust (or sand) is never a problem 

NOTE II: All of the steps above apply to cleaning a camera with a fixed lens as well. There just won’t be any cleaning of the lens body, lens mount, and rear element. It’ll also apply to cleaning eyewear!

Get all this stuff from Amazon:

Or browse through B&H Photo: Lens & Optics Cleaning 


Yeah, I’ll leave it at that. Check out the list of links above if you’re looking to purchase any of the items I mentioned earlier. Using these links to buy this stuff, of course, will always be appreciated! Thanks for reading. Until next time

By Heshan Jayakody
All content in this post is my own, unless otherwise noted

Discussion

20 Responses to “How To Clean Your Camera Lens”

  1. Thanks for posting this!! Ive been using lenspen for a while now and I dont like it much either. I knew there was a better method out there but I wasnt sure which was best, as Im not very experienced. Now I know!

    Posted by Jay | January 20, 2014, 09:02
    • Cheers, Jay :) Yeah, I tried the LensPen, and a few other ways of cleaning lenses. It’s not like there’s so many different ways, but you’re never sure of which way to go, and you’d naturally be afraid to try out new stuff on your expensive glass! I know I was. This blow/brush/wipe method is one that is often used by pros, and taught to me by one such ‘pro’, and I’ve found it to be the best!

      Posted by pixelogist | January 20, 2014, 10:02
  2. I used a blower often, but it didn’t always get the dust. The brush, well, I was always worried about using a brush, with those stiff bristles, on my lenses, but the goat hair one sounds nice. I’m getting one as we speak

    Posted by PSK | January 20, 2014, 10:00
    • Indeed, the brush is a must, if this is the way you’re going to go about things. A blower will only get the looser bits. For the specks that are more stubborn, a brush is necessary. If you skip the brush and go directly to the wipes, the wipes will ‘wipe’ around the remaining dust specks, which could scratch the glass and ruin everythin!

      Posted by pixelogist | January 20, 2014, 10:03
  3. I bought the Giottos kit which has the brush and rocket blower that you mention. However, the cleaning fluid is a Giottos branded one, and it came with a microfibre cloth. I was annoyed with the cloth for the exact reason you talked about but I didn’t realize the solution was so easy: single-use tissue! I’m going to get some PEC PADs now – but is the Giottos fluid ok, or should I get the one you mention? Thanks!

    Posted by Harrison | January 21, 2014, 17:27
    • Yeah, using a cloth to wipe the lens glass can be a nuisance, and very frustrating. Any sort of lens tissue like PEC*PADs would work great!

      As for the cleaning fluid, I haven’t used the Giottos one, but I believe it is alcohol-free and ammonia-free, so it should be fine. I’ve used Zeiss and Eclipse fluid and they work great, but like I said, any good brand should be fine. But if you’re getting the PEC*PADs, you can get it in a kit with a little bottle of fluid for about $5 more, so you can try it out! I hear it’s one of the best

      Posted by pixelogist | January 22, 2014, 09:10
  4. Great post – I was looking for something like the Pec Pads. That sounds just about perfect. The idea to go with the Eclipse/Pec Pads makes a lot of sense…good to hear that this brand of fluid works well for you :)

    Posted by Svet | January 21, 2014, 19:38
    • Thanks! :) Yeah, any good brand of fluid (Zeiss, Eclipse, Giottos, etc.) would work well. But if you’re getting the PEC*PADs, getting the Eclipse fluid makes sense!

      Posted by pixelogist | January 22, 2014, 09:12
  5. Great tips. Thanks. I had a Lenspen-type of tool that worked decently, but like you said, it doesn’t last. Lenspens are supposed to be good for like 500 uses, so even though I did not expect it to last the full 500 uses.. I did not expect it to stop doing the job properly after 10 uses! The kit you use seems like it’ll last a long time :)

    Posted by Christopher | January 23, 2014, 07:37
    • Yeah, that’s right, the LensPen cleaning element is supposed to work upto around 500 times; the brush should work for longer! But after a while, the brush collects dust, and the element starts to leave smudges. Way before the 500 mark

      The kit I use will last you forever, you only need to replace the wipes and cleaning fluid. And maybe you’d need a new brush after a few years. Haha

      Posted by pixelogist | January 23, 2014, 08:44
  6. Good tip on the Giottos blower, I use that as well, and it’s really superb. But what I didn’t know was the goats hair brush…I was looking for a soft brush that would do the job and was not satisfied with what I found and this sounds just right. Giottos too! Something I can trust

    Posted by Harv | January 25, 2014, 07:41
    • Absolutely, Giottos is a great brand and both the Rocket and the goat hair brush are excellent products. Hope you find that brush and get cleaning soon! :)

      Posted by pixelogist | January 26, 2014, 10:35
  7. Great tips :)) Thanks!! Veryy helpful…I never knew how to do this, and I was quite scared to actually try anything without knowing how and think that I would damage my lens glass

    Posted by Crimson | February 6, 2014, 17:27
  8. I’m always scared to brush my lenses. I feel it’ll leave some sort of damage. I guess this brush you use is okay but I still feel a bit afraid. Maybe just blower and then tissue etc?

    Posted by Tran TT | February 11, 2014, 07:30
    • Haha I know what you mean, but if you get a goat hair brush like I suggested, it is really soft, and will not damage your glass. Trust me! :) If you use a blower and then miss the rest of the dust, wiping with the tissue might actually rub the grains of dust on the glass, and THIS might scratch your lens. It’s much better to use the brush too :)

      Posted by pixelogist | February 12, 2014, 16:16
  9. Thank you. Actually I just used anything soft clothes. As a newbie in photography I also want to learn the proper maintenance of my camera especially its lens. I am glad I’m across here I learned and earned a lot here

    Posted by marjorey56 | February 26, 2014, 11:02
  10. Great tips, thanks for sharing! :)) Very useful, especially the tips on not blowing wiht my mouth, haha!

    Posted by Ben | March 20, 2014, 16:53

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