How to Clean SLR Camera Lenses

When it comes to cleaning SLR camera lenses, photographers use different methods that work for them. In this article, I will show you my way to clean DSLR camera lenses. I often get emails and comments from our readers, who ask to provide detailed information on this process, so I am including a detailed article along with an accompanying video to thoroughly explain the process. Cleaning lenses is a fairly straightforward process and is almost risk-free, as long as you are using proper tools for the job. If you are impatient and want to see the video where I show the entire process of cleaning a lens, skip all the way down. I hope you find the below article and video useful.

1) Why Clean Camera Lens?

Besides the obvious answer “because it is dirty”, keeping your lenses clean will ensure that you get the best and highest quality results from using your gear. During a Photo Walks that I led a couple of years ago, a novice approached me with a question about his camera. He told me that his images look cloudy and he had no idea why it was happening. I asked if I could take a look at his camera to see if I could find anything wrong with it. As soon as I opened the front lens cap, I knew exactly what the problem was. The front element of the lens was very dirty and had oily fingerprints and other stuff all over the place. I showed him the lens and asked if he knew about the problem. He told me that he had a toddler that likes his camera too much and apparently, that’s how the lens ended up getting all the stuff on it. He did not know how to clean the lens properly and after spending so much money on the camera gear, he was too scared to clean it himself. Gladly, I always carry my cleaning kit with me, so I took a picture before and then another after cleaning the lens. We compared the images and as expected, the first one indeed looked cloudy, while the second one was clear and sharp. This is one example of how dust, dirt and oil can affect your images.

Another important reason to clean your camera lens is keep your images free of particles that might show up in background highlights and other parts of the image. Take a look at my earlier post on “the effect of dust on lens bokeh” – you will see, that dust on the rear element of your lens will show up in your images, especially if you have large specks of dust there.

Dust is a normal part of a photographer’s life. While it is a good idea to prevent dust from landing on your gear, whether you like it or not, you will eventually end up in a dusty environment some day. So, it is not a matter of how, but when. If you see a beautiful sunset on a windy and dusty day, are you not going to take a picture? Some photographers say things like “do not get your gear dirty in first place”, which I consider to be a ridiculous statement. I would never want to miss an opportunity for a good picture, just because I wanted to keep my gear clean. Every time I go to places like Sand Dunes, I know beforehand that it is most likely going to be windy. Take a look at this shot:

I captured it on a very windy and cold day. The sand was all over the place and it ended up going into every hole in my camera and lens. It took me several hours to get everything cleaned and even after cleaning, the lens had some screeching noise when I moved the zoom and focus rings. If I worried too much about dust and sand, the above image would never have been captured.

2) Dangers of Improper Lens Cleaning

Most people end up with bad equipment because of their creative ways to clean it. Remember, camera lenses are very similar to glass lenses on eyeglasses, which means that they can be easily scratched. Lenses are generally made of tough optical glass, but if you attempt to clean it with cloth that might have sand particles on it, you will surely scratch the optical surface. That’s because sand is harder than glass. If you use a wrong type of chemical liquid on lenses, you might damage the lens coating. If you put too much of the liquid on the lens, some of it might get inside the lens and give you all kinds of trouble afterwards. The list goes on and on.

If you decide to clean your lenses yourself, it is very important that you choose the right tools for the job and use them properly.

3) Using Protective Filters

Every lens I own and use has a high quality protective filter in front of it. I also suggest protecting expensive lenses in my articles on purchasing camera gear and other gear-related articles I post on this blog. Why? Because filters make it easier not only to protect your lens, but also to clean it. Some lenses have threads or “steps” right by the front lens element (separate from filter threads), which attract dust and even cut off pieces from microfiber cloth. Overtime, it gets difficult to keep the front of the lens clean due to all the stuff that gets attached to those threads. A protective filter will go over those threads and you will spend much less time cleaning your lenses. If you are too worried about image quality, don’t be – take a look at my gallery and Lola’s weddings page. Every picture you see was taken with a lens that had a protective filter. Do you see any problems with image quality? Just use professional multi-coated filters from companies like B+W and Hoya. Those filters will have the least impact on image quality, because they are made of high quality glass. They are expensive, but definitely worth it. When you consider the amount of time you will be spending on cleaning your lenses and when you weigh in all potential problems such as scratching your lens, you will quickly realize the benefits of using filters. If you happen to scratch or break your filter, you just buy another one and your lens stays protected.

4) Tools to clean lenses

There are plenty of different tools available on the market today for taking care of your lenses. I have used many different solutions before and I found some products to be more effective than others. Here is the list of tools that I personally use and recommend for cleaning lenses:

  1. Zeiss Liquid Lens Cleaner or Eclipse Optic Lens Cleaning Solution are the liquids I personally use and recommend for cleaning lenses
  2. Visible Dust Magic Cleaner is a large piece of microfiber cloth for cleaning lenses. Grab a couple of these.
  3. Tiffen Lens Cleaning Paper to clean the optical lens elements.
  4. Giotto’s Rocket Blower to blow off the dust from lenses.
  5. Giotto’s Hair Brush or any other soft & clean brush you can find for removing dust before cleaning lens elements.
  6. A hard toothbrush or some other hard brush for cleaning the rubber focus/zoom rings.

There are many other types of liquids and tools you can find online or in a local camera shop that also work great. Giotto’s Lens Cleaning Kit is also great if you don’t want to spend much – just don’t buy the other kit that comes with a small blower, you will need the large one.

5) Lens Cleaning Process

My process of cleaning lenses is divided into three parts:

  1. Cleaning the exterior of the lens, including the lens hood – I first start off by using wet microfiber cloth to remove any dust or dirt from lens exterior and lens hood. I apply the same optical formula that contains anti-static material on microfiber cloth or if the lens is too dirty, I start off by using regular water (distilled water would work best) and then finish off with using the solution. To clean the rubber zoom and focus rings, I use an ordinary toothbrush, which works great for removing particles in between the rubber lines.
  2. Cleaning the lens mount – a very important part of the process that sometimes requires me to clean the mount several times due to oil and dirt. Apply the same lens cleaning solution on microfiber cloth and clean the mount thoroughly. Don’t forget to clean the round contacts on the lens as well.
  3. Cleaning the rear and the front optical elements – I find microfiber cloth to be unsafe for cleaning optical lens elements, especially if you reuse the same microfiber cloth that you use to clean your lenses outside. Also, sometimes microfiber cloth will leave particles that are hard to remove with the rocket blower, so I rely on lens cleaning tissues instead. They clean glass very well and if they leave anything on the lens, it can be easily removed by the rocket blower.

The process is pretty straightforward and you can do it with ease yourself. Here is detailed video of the entire process:

Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!


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Avatar of Nasim Mansurov About Nasim Mansurov

is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Sam

    Thanks for the effort and time spent. Is very helpful and well presented.

  2. 2
    ) Rahul

    hi Nasim,

    This and other linked posts bookmarked for future reference. Heck, I have most of your articles bookmarked !

    • Thank you Rahul, glad you found the article helpful :)

  3. 5
    ) Bruno

    How do I clean filters? The same way you did with your front and rear optical elements?

  4. 6
    ) Jane

    How often do you clean your gear Nasim?

    Thank you so much for yet another fantastic article and instructional video.

  5. Great post! I’m very appreciative of the time you take to make the videos, too. So helpful and you take the “scary” out of it. I feel like a true professional being able to clean my own lenses and dslrs rather then sending them away like I used to. Thank you!!!

  6. 8
    ) Sophie

    How often do you have to clean the lens and the sensor? Great article it really help me because i am new at all of this. thanks!

  7. 9
    ) Amitabha Sadhukhan

    Hi Nasim,

    This is a great article on Cleaning the Camera lens.I’ve watched the video.I just want to know that you’ve mentioned to use Visible Dust Magic Cleaner (a large piece of microfiber cloth) but in video I’ve found you’ve used a bit small microfiber cloth.Can you please let me know which one is this?

  8. 10
    ) Vikram

    Hi Nasim,

    I found your website absolutely beautiful and full of information, really it’s packed with huge amount of tips which I never found on any other websites. I’m pursuing photography as my hobby since 6 years and I recently bought Nikon D5100. Your posts about metering modes and auto-focus were very helpful. Thanks! In regards with cleaning the lens, how would you rate Lens Pen cleaning tool? Is it better than cloth and a liquid solution? I’ve never used any specialised cleaning kits before, just a cloth.

    ~Vikram

  9. 11
    ) Raj

    can you give me the link where i can buy these things? (lens cleaners, camera cleaners)

  10. 12
    ) heather

    hi, i was doing at photo shoot for my higher photography and i was taking pictures of three models playing in the swimming pool and my lens kept going foggy, any one know how to fix this?

  11. 13
    ) Vivek

    Hi,

    I have SLR D40 Nikon, I try to clean my lens properly and with proper cleaning kit purchased from Jessops. I cleaned it very gently but don’t know what went wrong my lens is not working and front part is not at all rotating to focus image..could you please help me, I doubt is there any lock or something which is stopping lens for rotation.

    Appreciate if help or comments on my email id.

    Regards,
    Vivek

  12. 14
    ) Mikko

    Hello Sir,

    I recently had my camera sensor cleaned and Im experiencing a problem with my lens. When i shoot at small apertures, i see this smokey figure on the left side of the photo. Im assuming this is in the rear element of my lens. upon having that cleaned by a nikon technician, it still has the same smokey effect though it is not as bad as before. When I inspect it, I do not see anything in the rear element, there are no scratches either. Trying another lens on my camera body, the smokey effect is gone. This is why im convince that the problem is in my lens. If you could give me a feedback regarding this would be really appreciated. :)

  13. 15
    ) Boris

    Hi,
    I’ve tried to clean my lens and my UV filter exactly as you described, even with same cleaning solution and cleaning paper. It look’s like there is to much solution on paper but i put only one drop. My filer and lens are now more dirtier than it was before. What could be wrong? Do I have to wait more then few seconds to paper absorb the cleaning solution?

    Thanks,
    Boris

  14. 16
    ) CW

    Thanks for the great article! Wish I’d had it years ago! One question about lens care – do you ever send your lenses in to Nikon for cleaning/maintenance? Not repairs for problems, but just for servicing? Some people say they do annually, some every 5yrs, some never. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this.

  15. 17
    ) CW

    Sorry, one more follow up question – how often do you get new protection filters for your lenses? I’ve never bought a new one for my main lens & probably got a cheap one (I was very inexperienced), so I was considering whether I should get a new one.

  16. 18
    ) Arfa Mahmood

    I often use rocket blower to clean the dust, will try these tips for better cleaning. Thanks a lot.

  17. 19
    ) Kathleen Winfrey

    Thank you for sharing this! I’ve learned many thing by just reading this much more after watching the video!

  18. 20
    ) rahul dev

    well done job nasim.. i hope your duing grt .. prayers

  19. 21
    ) Aman

    thanks a lot for sharing these useful experiences dear Nasim

  20. 22
    ) Keith R. Sauerwald.

    Hi. I have a HOYA UV filter which, for whatever reason, now has a “foggy”glass. I have tried cleaning it with water and a soft tissue, but to no avail. While on a recent trip to Singapore, I bought a new one. The salesman said thyat the old one (foggy) is no good and I might as well throw it away.
    Should I do that, or can it be properly cleaned with some substance?

    Thanks,

  21. 23
    ) Asheesh

    Thanks for the informative video.
    I wanted to know your opinion on using Lens Pen fir cleaning the front and back element of the lens.

  22. 24
    ) naveen

    can you tell me, the best lens cleaning kit for dslr

  23. 25
    ) Heshan

    I used to use a Lenspen, but it started to not really work that well for me. Switching to the blower/brush/wipes method now

    I just wanted to ask if you’ve used the Giottos lens cleaning fluid? I got a Giottos kit, mainly for the blower and the goats hair brush, and it came with a little bottle of Giottos cleaning fluid – and I’m wondering if I should use it or chuck it and get a bottle of Zeiss that you recommended here

    Thanks!

    • For cleaning lenses, any standard alcohol-free solution should work fine. I have used Giottos and it works pretty well. Just read the label one more time and make sure that there is no alcohol.

      • 27
        ) Heshan

        Thanks for the reply! :) Yeah, I just double-checked the Giottos cleaning fluid, it’s ammonia-free and alcohol-free

        I did get a few recommendations from people, recommending any cleaning fluid with ‘isopropyle alcohol’. Not sure what that is – but I guess the safest is just to stick to something known like Zeiss or even this Giottos!

      • 28
        ) Ramakant

        Hi Nasim,

        A great article! However (like Hesham) I am equally confused about the cleaning fluid! It is a Nikon-sponsored youtube upload recommended “70% isopropyl alcohol available in any pharmacy”. Did you mean to avoid “methanol /ethanol bases to avoid spoiling the coating / rubber / plastic”?

        About the frequency of cleaning, that video mentions “twice a week”. Personally I feel “only when necessary, not to meddle unnecessarily”. Do you agree?

  24. 29
    ) James

    Hi Nassim,
    I would suggest a step 2.5 (or perhaps as step 0). I always give the optical elements a good blow with the blower or light brushing with a soft brush before I apply any liquid or wipe with a lens tissue. That way any larger particles will get blown away before they can scratch as the tissue is applied.

    Best,
    James

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