How to Clean a DSLR Lens

January 11

8 min. to read

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If you use your camera, it's going to get dirty. Luckily cleaning your DSLR's lens isn't that hard to do. Here's how.

If you use your camera, it’s going to get dirty. There’s no way around it. And while you can remove some lens dust and dirt spots in Luminar, the reality is that you’ll need to eventually clean your lens. As terrifying as that might seem (at least to those of us with expensive glass), it’s thankfully not terribly difficult.

What You Need

A basic lens cleaning kit has only a few things in it: a lens blower, a lens brush, a cleaning cloth or tissues, and cleaning fluid. Most of the time you can get away with just the lens blower and brush, but if you end up with oil or dirt that sticks, you’ll need to bump it up a notch with the cloth, wipes, and/or cleaning fluid.

Where to Start

The most important things to remember when cleaning your lenses are to 1) do only the amount of cleaning that’s necessary, and 2) always minimize your contact with the gear. The more you touch the lens (with your finger, cloth, or even the lens brush), the greater your chances of making matters worse by transferring additional dirt or oil to the glass. That’s why the next four stages go from the least amount of intervention to the most—the least amount that works is always the correct amount.

So, follow these steps in order, i.e. if the first doesn’t work, move on to the second, and so on.

1. Lens blower

2. Lens brush

3. Cleaning tissue, cloth, or pre-moistened wipes

4. Cleaning fluid + tissue or cloth

How to Clean a DSLR Lens Image1

1. The Lens Blower

The lens blower should always be your starting place since it’s the least likely to introduce more dirt. Choose a blower that is larger rather than smaller—the smaller ones simply don’t get the job done. While it may be tempting to use your breath instead of a blower, it’s not recommended. You can blow condensation onto the lens. Also, never use compressed air. If you do, you run the serious risk of getting the oily propellant on your lens.

The Method

First, squeeze a few puffs out of the blower away from the lens to clear it out. Next, position the blower as close to the lens as possible without actually touching it. Finally, blow a few puffs across the surface of the lens. If this doesn’t remove the dust, it’s time to move on to the lens brush.

How to Clean a DSLR Lens Image2

2. The Lens Brush

Lens brushes have tips of fine, soft hair that will ideally avoid scratching your lens. The trick is to keep them clean. Avoid touching the brush with your fingers and keep the fibers either capped or retracted when not in use. The lens pen (shown in the photo above) has retractable bristles and a carbon-soaked polishing tip that can safely clean oil off your lens. It’s also a handy size for carrying with you. If you choose another brand, just make sure the bristles are soft and that it was made specifically for cleaning camera lenses.

The Method

Gently brush the lens surface with the bristles, being careful not to jam them into the glass. Make sure to retract or recap the cleaning tip when finished.

How to Clean a DSLR Lens Image3

3. Use a cleaning tissue, cloth, or pre-moistened wipes

If the blower and lens brush didn’t clear all the dirt away, the next step is to use either a lens cleaning tissue or cloth. Lens cleaning tissues come in packs and once you use one you discard it. This limits the risk of contamination. As far as lens cloths are concerned, most people opt for microfiber cloths. They cost more than lens tissues, but if kept clean can be used for many applications and even washed. (Just make sure to not wash it in fabric softener, as the chemicals they use can get on your cloth and leave streaks on your lens.) If you’re using a lens cloth, make sure to keep it stored in its plastic sheath. And whatever you do, don’t use your t-shirt, non-lens tissues, or paper towels to clean your lens.

The Method

Begin at the center of the lens and move outward in concentric circles.

4. Cleaning Fluid

Using lens cleaning should happen last, after trying all the other methods. Lens cleaning fluid (and pre-moistened wipes, for that matter) uses an alcohol-based cleaner minimizes streaking and evaporates quickly. Avoid cleaners that contain detergent or acetone—a lens fluid made of denatured alcohol is what you’re looking for.

The Method

Place a few drops on a lens tissue or lens cleaning cloth (don’t apply the droplets or spray directly onto the lens). If using a lens cloth, make sure it is absolutely clean. If streaking occurs, simply reapply the cleaning fluid and re-wipe the surface. (Lens tissues taken straight out of their package actually work better here, since you know if any streaking occurs it’s not due to the tissue being dirty.)

If the dirt, oil or markings still persist after you’ve taken these four steps, you’ll need to send your camera in to a professional. With care, though, you shouldn’t need professional service too often. The best strategy is to keep your lens glass as protected as possible (i.e. using a UV filter, keeping the lens cover on when not in use, etc.). It will still need cleaning—but hopefully, you’ll be able to keep it to a minimum. 

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