Dust happens, smudges happen, and you eventually 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. In the event you notice dust or smudges you want to clean, here are some basic tips for how to clean a camera lens.
Using 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 air from 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 since it can introduce saliva and condensation onto the lens (no matter how careful you are). To clean with the lens blower, first clear the blower of any potential dust by squeezing a few puffs away from the lens. After making sure there’s no debris in the blower, hold it very close to the lens (without touching) to prevent blowing airborne particles onto the glass and blow a few puffs across the lens surface.
If a blower didn’t do the job, a brush should be next on the list. The main reason brushes are riskier than a blower is because they can pick up substances if you aren’t careful. Make sure you don’t touch the brush with your fingers in order to prevent oils from transferring over. Also, make sure the brush stays capped and/or bagged to stay clean between uses. When cleaning with a lens brush, use one with soft, fine bristles to avoid scratches. Gently brush the lens surface to remove dust particles, then cap the brush after use to prevent contamination. During use, make sure you don’t jam the bristles onto the lens surface or touch the bristles with your fingers (or anything other than the lens).
Lens cleaning fluid
The most potent (and potentially 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. They also quickly evaporate in order to protect your gear. Cleaning fluid can be used with cleaning tissues or microfiber cloths (avoid using t-shirts, tissue paper, or paper towels since they can cause scratches). When using this method, always use a dust-free option like lens tissues or a lens cloth and spray onto those before applying. Also, make sure the cleaning fluid is made with denatured alcohol. When applying the cleaning fluid, do not spray it directly onto the cleaning surface since it can get into the lens.
Lens cleaning paper
Lens cleaning paper tissues are an 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.
Microfiber lens cleaning cloths are also 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. When cleaning the lens, make sure to work the cloth in concentric circles, beginning in the center of the lens. When cleaning them, don’t wash them with fabric softener since they can leave behind chemicals that streak.
Pre-moistened lens cleaning wipes are the next step up in terms of lens cleaning potency. The 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 a more convenient option than a cleaning cloth.
With any amount of usage, lenses and gear get dirty and will have to be cleaned. Ideally, we do what we can to prolong the time between professional cleanings with proper lens care. This includes doing things like using a lens filter, properly storing and switching out your lenses, as well as avoiding touching the optics with your hands. If you use the methods listen above, it should handle most of your dust and smudge problems. Any further lens issues (or stubborn smudges) should be sent to a professional for cleaning to prevent costly damage. If the issue turns to be on the sensor instead of the lens, make sure you turn to a professional. No one should attempt to do this at home since sensors are incredibly sensitive to scratches and can be dust magnets. Let us know if there are any other camera cleaning tips you’d like up to cover!