This is the ultimate guide to camera cleaning, including the best cleaning accessories and some tips and tricks to keep your camera, sensor, and lenses clean.
Best Cleaning Accessories | Essentials
Every photographer should own the basic camera cleaning gear. I’ll list all the products I have and use regularly starting with the most important. A rocket air blaster. There are of course other brands that work just as well, but I like the rockets because I can set them upright and they don’t roll around.
Air blasters should be your first line of defense when it comes to keeping cameras clean. Always bring one of these with you if you ever plan on going anywhere where you may change your lens. This is the best and fastest way to get the dust off your lens and use these for cleaning before you try anything else.
They also work great for getting dust and lint of UV filters and lenses. And don’t forget to keep your lens caps and body caps super clean.
Rocket Air Blaster
Rocket Air Small: Amazon
Rocket Air Medium: Amazon
Rocket Air makes a few sizes of these. I have had them all and I’ve found the Medium works fine and provides enough air pressure to clean the dust off sensors.
Micro-Fiber Cleaning Cloths
These are must-have items. I’ve purchased this same pack a few times since they do get dirty over time and stop working as well. I also keep a few in all my different bags.
Micro-Fiber Cleaning Cloths 6-Pack
Available At: Amazon
I’ve found when I’m out and about my T-Shirt is usually totally fine for cleaning UV filters or LCD screens. However, before I go out and shoot I microfiber cloths are the best way to clean your gear. Usually, I give my ND filters and my UV filters a good cleaning with microfiber before I go. Here is a great 6-pack I’ve bought several times. It’s nice to replace your micro-fiber cleaning cloths every now and then since they do eventually get oil buildup.
Using a sensor brush is the second-best way to clean the dust off your sensor. Every so often you’ll see a few pieces of dust that are statically charged and won’t come off your sensor with the air blaster. That’s when the sensor brush comes in. Since I’ve started using the sensor brush, I haven’t had to use the “wet method” once.
Here are a few tips on how to use a sensor brush.
First – never touch the bristles with your fingers since your body oil will ruin the brush causing it to leave behind the oil on your sensor.
Second – use your Rocket Air Blower and blow some air on the bristles of your brush. This does two things; removes old debris, and creates a static charge on the bristles which will help it collect dust off your sensor.
Third – brush across the sensor, very gently a few times. When doing this, think about how you would brush your eyeball with the brush while causing as little pain as possible. Now brush your sensor like that. Make sense? Good.
I love my brush. It’s a must-have and I always keep one in my travel bag. This one here is German made, it’s the best.
The Sensor Cleaning Brush
Sensor Cleaning Brush Full Frame – Amazon
Sensor Cleaning Brush APS-C / All Sizes – Amazon
Every so often you’ll get little particles stuck to the sensor that just don’t want to come off. This is when the sensor brush comes in.
Camera Cleaning Brush
Nikon Lens Pens
Available At: Amazon
You’ve probably heard of lens pens before to clean the front element of your lens. I’ve had these before, I never loved them, but they do work. The actual only reason I’m listing is is for the brush that comes on the back. The brush is incredibly useful for cleaning around all the crevasses on your lens or in between the ribs on the focus ring.
The lens side with the carbon has a cleaning system that helps remove oil.
As with the sensor brush, keep this meticulously clean. Never touch the bristles since your finger oil will rub off on the brush and they will lose their ability to repel dust and dirt.
Matin LipStick Brush
Available At: Amazon
If you don’t want to mess with the Nikon carbon lens pen and just want a simple brush, this Matin brush will do the trick and is decent quality.
These are also nice to clean items for product photography since it’s a constant battle against dust.
Cleaning Accessories Essentials | Wet Method
When the dry method doesn’t work you’re left with the only option, that’s the wet method.
This is for when you get oil, water particles, or spit on your sensor. Something more than dust that’s just nasty. Maybe you sneezed while changing the lens. These things happen and you need the wet method to clean up the mess.
Before using the Wet Method always make sure you’ve used the dry method to get any large particles off your sensor or you’ll risk rubbing those into your sensor and scratching it.
Photographic Solution Swab Kits
Full Frame Kit – Amazon
APS-C Kit – Amazon
Pec-Pad Lint Free Wipes – Amazon
The Photographic Solution Swab Kit has a little bit of everything you need. If you have nothing, I actually recommend starting with this and you can see what you like and don’t like, then you can buy replacement parts from there.
This includes the sensor cleaning ewipes, the sensor swabs and eclipses. I’ll go into each of those individually and how they work below.
Sensor Swabs With Eclipse
Sensor Cleaning ewipes
These are great for just general-purpose electronic cleaning, but they do work on sensors, especially for larger sensors like full-frame and especially medium format. Take out an E Wipe and brush it once across your sensor as even as possible. Done. I recommend not using this on IBIS sensors since their mechanics are a bit more fragile – unless you just bush it lightly with the tip or the corner of the wipe.
These will also work great for medium format cameras from Fujifilm, Hasselblad or PhaseOne.
Sensor Magnifying Cleaning Loupe
Available At: Amazon
The sensor loupe isn’t required but it’s helpful to see and make sure you got everything especially on DSLRs where there is a longer mirror box.
It comes with 6 super bright LED lights built into the unit with the magnification lens and it comes with a case.
You can also get this bundle this with a grenade blower.
How To Cleaning Your Sensor
Before You Begin – Create A Dust Free Environment
The first thing you need to do before you can ever even consider cleaning your camera sensor is to prepare a dust-free environment.
I have a few Air filters I turn on full blast in a small area like a bathroom that can work but you definitely don’t need one to clean your sensor.
One trick I like to use is to turn your shower on and steam out your bathroom for a bit. This will cause dust particles to stick together and fall. Make sure all the steam is out of the air before you start cleaning your sensor as you don’t want excess moisture inside your camera.
Then you can use one of the above techniques to clean your sensor depending on how dirty it is and what is required.
Start with the air blaster – if that doesn’t work use the sensor brush.
If you have oil or something that is not dust, go straight to the sensor swabs. If it’s saliva or something you could end up ruining your sensor brush.
How Not To Clean Your Sensor
First – as far as I know, on Sony cameras, you shouldn’t use cleaner with Alcohol in as it can mess with the coatings on the sensor. That’s what I’ve heard at least. I’ve also heard Sony say they use Alcohol products. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but I stick with eclipse and it’s been fine.
Second – don’t ever use a microfiber cloth on your sensor, also, there are these gel sticks that have this sticky material. Never use those. It’s just about equivalent to using one of those sticky hands we grew up with that you can get from a quarter machine and they can damage your sensor by pulling it apart.
Third – never use canned air. It’s just too risky. You don’t want the little tube to fly out hitting your sensor, and you don’t want it to spray that nasty cold mist onto it either.
Good luck. These are the methods I use to clean my DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras. They’ve been effective for me both on my old Canon 5Dmkii and my new Sony A7r cameras. They will work on most DSLR and Mirrorless camera sensors but are by no means the only methods, just some of the methods out there that I like.
Please leave a comment if you’ve found other methods or techniques that you like to use for cleaning your mirrorless sensor.
What To Do If You Scratched Your Sensor
If you’ve scratched your sensor it’s not the end of the world, don’t panic, don’t get depressed. A lot of times scratches won’t show up or affect your image quality. If it’s scratched bad and is affecting your image quality then there is a fix. But it is expensive. Often times around $300.00 USD.
What you’ve done is actually only scratched the High Pass filter or UV filter or glass that sits in front of the sensor. You haven’t scratched the actual sensor. So you can take your camera in to be serviced and you can often get that piece of glass replaced. No big deal, just call your camera service center associated with the brand of camera.