How to Clean a Camera

A person cleaning a camera.

My first camera was a Kodak 110. A long, skinny, rectangular, cheap camera that was good for kids because it used a closed film cartridge, which was easy to load and hard to ruin. I took a lot of pictures with that camera. Most of them were very bad. One of the things that can affect your photos is the cleanliness of the camera. Dust gets inside and gums up the workings and blurs images. Unfortunately, that was not the issue with my portfolio of poorly taken childhood photos. Strangely, I never really got into photography. Even now, with access to fine photographic equipment, I rarely take any shots that aren’t work related.

There are a few things that you can do at home to get rid of the dust inside your camera. The following steps are simple and safe for your camera. If they are not enough to get rid of the dust, you should have it professionally cleaned. If you use a digital camera, never ever try to directly clean your sensor with anything other than a manual squeeze bulb. Anything else will scratch or possibly even break it. The camera I use in this example is a Canon 5D, a digital SLR. But you should be able to use this advice to clean any type of camera.

Steps to Clean a Camera

  1. camera cleaning kitThe first thing to do when cleaning a camera is to find out what the manufacturer recommends. Most manufacturers will have some advice for cleaning their cameras. It will likely tell you to use a microfiber cloth, lens cleaner, hand blower, and maybe a brush. Some cameras have an option for self cleaning. Most of the time this feature just locks the mirror up so you can blow the dust off your sensor with the hand blower. Many of Canon’s new cameras have an updated on-board cleaning system, which uses an electrostatic charge as well as ultrasonic vibrations to keep dust off the sensor.
  2. digital camera settingsTo clean inside your camera, first lock the mirror or shutter up. If your camera doesn’t have this option, carefully use a finger to hold it up. Inspect the inside of your camera with a light to see if there is any dust accumulated on the sensor. If there isn’t any, just leave it alone. If there is some noticeable dust, use your hand blower to blow it away. Don’t try to brush it away with that crappy brush that came with the camera. That thing will only scratch the surface. If you are unable to blow the dust away, you can either try to clean it yourself in the next step or have it professionally cleaned. Lastly, check the lens mount for dirt and remove it with a Q-tip. The mirror should only be cleaned if it is really dirty, as it does not affect photographs. When the mirror gets dirty, it’s time to have it professionally cleaned because they can get to places you can’t.
  3. Camera sensorIn digital cameras either a CCD or CMOS sensor records the image by capturing light and turning it into electrical signals. It is not recommended that the average person clean their own sensors. The sensor is behind a filter or two, so you can’t clean the actual sensor. Also, the glass is very delicate and is easily scratched without the right tool. The right tool, strangely enough, is a sensor-cleaning tool. If you are going to use one of these tools, it is best to keep the camera stable while you clean the sensor. Professionals have a sort of vice that keeps the camera from moving while they clean it. I suppose a tripod might work alright in a pinch. Better than holding the camera between you knees.
  4. cleaning the viewfinderThe viewfinder is what you look through to take a picture and this place on the camera is often dirty because of its proximity to human skin and oils. This is why on many cameras part of the viewfinder can be removed to be cleaned more easily. Use a Q-tip to clean around the viewfinder. Then use a microfiber cloth and a drop of lens cleaner to clean the glass. Always apply the lens cleaner to the cloth and not the glass. This will keep it from getting inside the camera. If the glass is recessed too far for the cloth, use a Q-tip with a drop of lens cleaner on it to clean the glass.
  5. microfiber cloth cleaning the lensA dirty lens is a big problem when taking picture, but it can be cleaned in under five minutes as long as you have the proper tools. The proper way to clean a lens is with a microfiber cloth. Many times you won’t even need to apply lens cleaner to the cloth to get the dust off. But occasionally it may be a good idea to do so. Make sure to apply the solvent to the cloth and not to the lens. This prevents excess cleaner from getting inside your lens. To prevent lenses from getting dirty, make sure you have quality lens caps and that you keep your lenses covered when they are not in use. Don’t forget to take the filter off and clean behind it as well.
  6. Cleaning the back of the cameraThe body of the camera gets the dirtiest in the back where it touches your face. If you have a digital camera, you know what happens when you touch the camera to your face—the screen gets all greasy and looks gross. You can clean that with the same microfiber cloth that you used to clean your lenses. Just a quick wipe and it’s gone. Use the same cloth to clean the rest of the camera body. If the cloth isn’t working, use a Q-tip. But beware of cotton coming free from it and getting lost inside your camera. Try folding the microfiber cloth in two to make it a little stiffer to get into nooks and crannies.

Professional Camera Cleaning

If you are really serious about taking photos, you probably know about every piece of your camera and how it works. You also probably realize that the average person just doesn’t have the tools or ability to thoroughly clean a camera. Digital cameras are pretty complex and often expensive. The average cost of a thorough camera-cleaning is 50 dollars, which is a fraction of the investment you have already made in the camera. Perhaps a once-a-year professional cleaning in combination with the regular cleaning that I have described here is all that it will take to keep your camera in perfect working order, allowing you to continue to take pictures of yawning kittens and dogs wearing sunglasses.

Camera Cleaning Tools

Blue microfiber clothMicrofiber cloth is made if a material that cleans glass really well. It also doesn’t shed pieces of thread very easily. It is what most lens-cleaning cloths are made of.

squeeze blowerThe hand blower is a bulbous looking thing with a little spout that compresses the air when it is squeezed. Never use a can of compressed air to clean a camera. It can damage the camera by adding moisture to the inside of your camera. You can find squeeze bulbs from Amazon.

Formula MC cleanerLens cleaner is a solvent that is the best liquid for cleaning lenses. Just a drop on a microfiber cloth and a quick wipe will clean most anything on the glass. No smudges.