How to Clean a Digital Camera

Point-and-shoot and SLR lens
Cleaning the entire camera, including the body, can help make the device last longer. See more pictures of cool camera stuff.

Digital cameras are far from immune to the environmental challenges that affect so many electronics. In fact, some digital cameras are actually more susceptible to problems arising from dust, fingerprints, liquids of all varieties and other random particulates that cause major headaches.

Just a small fragment of dirt or debris can cause huge exasperation on your part. For example, a tiny bit of dust on your camera's lens can create dots in your images.


In many cases, you won't notice these specks because they blend into parts of the image -- into the shadows of trees behind your family, perhaps. Once in a while, though, those dots wind up in exactly the wrong spot, like on someone's face, ruining the entire picture or sets of pictures.

In addition to messing up your carefully composed photos, grime can gunk up your camera, causing physical problems that might eventually lead to a complete malfunction. For instance, using your camera in a dust storm or in blowing sand is asking for trouble -- that airborne dirt will certainly find its way into the miniscule crevices of your camera. This is doubly true if you use an SLR camera, in which switching lenses exposes the high-tech guts of your camera to open air.

So perhaps the first lesson of cleaning your digital camera is this -- do your best to keep that camera squeaky clean from the start. Use a well-sealed carrying case with a zipper and zipper flap that keeps the majority of dirt from contacting your camera during transport. And if you anticipate encountering very dusty areas, seal your camera in a large plastic bag before you go.

No matter how careful you might be, however, your camera will eventually need at least a little cleaning. Keep reading to see how you can keep your camera clean and taking the sharpest, clearest photos possible.





Cleaning Your Digital Camera and Accessories

Camera controls
Don't forget to clear gunk from around control dials and buttons, otherwise, built-up dirt can affect camera operation.

The lens on your digital camera is somewhat delicate and deserves special treatment, so we'll get to that component on the next page. In the meantime, realize that the body and accessories of your camera require cleaning, too.

Let's start from the outside and work our way into the camera. Understand that your camera spends most of its time in a nice soft padded case. Whether that case is pocket- or suitcase-sized makes no difference -- but if you heavily use this case, it'll get dirty.


If you use a small case, you can remove all of your camera's accessories and swish the carrying case around in a sink or bathtub. You might be taken aback at how much dirt darkens the water. Use a fan to dry the case. For larger cases, you may need to use just a damp sponge or cloth to wipe the interior.

Now you'll want to clean the body of the camera itself. There are probably a lot of fingerprints and maybe even some accumulated oily dirt jammed into the cracks of your camera.

Use a small cleaning brush to clear away excess dirt from the camera exterior. You'll find these brushes at camera stores and superstores. The brushes often come equipped with rubber bulbs that let you use puffs of air to remove dust (always avoid using canned air for this purpose because it's far too powerful, uses liquid propellants and may cause more harm than good).

Use a soft cloth to wipe away remaining grime. A microfiber cloth specifically made for camera lenses works great; don't use microfiber cloths made for eyeglasses. Apply a tiny bit of moisture if necessary, but only to remove tough grunge.

Don't invest in cleaning chemicals for your camera unless your camera's manufacturer instructs you to. Not only are these chemicals pricey, they can damage your camera's surfaces if used improperly.

If you own an SLR digital camera, you probably already know that you're exposing the image sensor to dust and debris every time you switch lenses. Many contemporary SLRs have sophisticated sensor-cleaning routines they use to keep the sensor clean without any action on your part. However, once in a while, stubborn dirt appears on the sensor (and subsequently, your images) and you must remove it.

Because every SLR is different, you'll need to use the Internet for specific sensor cleaning instructions for your particular model. But the basic process is usually the same. You'll have to engage a special cleaning mode on your camera, and then use a sensor-cleaning brush (also available from many online vendors) to carefully snag dirt from the sensor.

Sensor cleaning is a touchy process and if you're too rough you can actually damage the camera if you're not careful. But with a bit of research you can confidently clean the sensor yourself without paying ridiculously high professional cleaning fees.


Cleaning the Lens on a Digital Camera

Digital SLR
When it comes to cleaning your lens, less is more. Constantly cleaning the lens may actually cause more problems that it solves -- a small amount of dust rarely affects image quality.

Your camera's lens is its window to the world. And that window gets exposed to just about everything -- wind, dirt, moisture and fingerprints.

Without a clean lens, image quality may suffer. Particles might create spots in your pictures, and smudges can warp light into streaks and colors that look fun but also ruin most pictures. Using correct processes is key to cleaning your lens effectively without causing streaks, or worse, scratches that permanently mar lens quality.


First, you'll want to remove excess dust and grime from the lens. Do this carefully and slowly to prevent scratches. Using a clean lens brush, tilt the camera lens downward and lightly use a circular motion to loosen debris, letting it fall to the floor. Use a few puffs of air from the brush's rubber bulb to push dust away, too.

The line where the edge of the lens meets the lens casing tends to trap dust more tightly. Gently work your brush into this edge to make sure you've dislodged the majority of dirt.

Check your work. If you tilt the camera lens toward a light at an angle, you'll be able to see whether or not you've removed most particulates. Usually you'll see a few stragglers that need more attention. Never wipe the lens if you see particulates on the lens surface, as doing so may gouge the lens.

After you've dusted off the lens, you can go to work on smudges and other oily residues. For this task, you'll need lens cleaning tissue, which you can buy at almost any store that sells cameras.

Before you wipe the lens, understand this cardinal rule -- the lens must always, always be moist before you wipe, otherwise you may cause scratches. The easiest way to moisten the lens is to simply open your mouth and breathe on the lens. Not only is this easier, but it's less messy and often just as effective as cleaning fluid.

Once the lens is fogged over, gently wipe the lens with fresh tissue paper using a circular motion. Repeat for stubborn smudges.

You can use the same process to clean any filters you might use for your camera. And don't forget to clean the lens cap, which tends to trap dust that eventually winds up on the lens, too.

Some people advocate the constant use of clear filters to protect lens surfaces, especially when using expensive SLR lenses. Doing so will certainly protect the front lens element from scratches and dirt, but filters (especially cheap filters) do negatively affect image quality, so you'll have to consider that tradeoff.

As you can see, keeping your camera clean doesn't take a lot of time or money -- just a bit of diligence on your part. Keeping dirt to a minimum will maintain your camera's performance and resale value.

To picture more information about cameras, shoot on over to the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Kelly, Heather. "How to Clean a Digital Camera." Aug. 17, 2010. (Nov. 17, 2010)
  • "How to Clean Professional Camera Lenses." (Nov. 17, 2010)
  • Rockwell, Ken. "How to Clean Lenses, Monitors, Filters, and CCDs." 2007. (Nov. 17, 2010)
  • Steve's Digicams. "Digital Camera Care: How to Clean Sand Off Your Lens." (Nov. 17, 2010)
  • Trenholm, Rich. "How to Clean Your Digital SLR Camera." CNET UK. Sept. 17, 2007. (Nov. 17, 2010)