Dust-Free or Bust: How to Clean a Camera Sensor
May 1, 2014
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Spots, squiggly lines and hazy areas on your photos are all indicators that it's time to clean your camera sensor. It may seem intimidating at first, but knowing how to clean a camera sensor is a basic skill all photographers should learn. With the right supplies, it's easy to do at home or in the field, and saves you money over having your camera professionally cleaned. Here's how to clean a camera sensor correctly:
Gather Your Tools
There is no "one-size-fits-all" tool when it comes to cleaning camera sensors. It's good to have a variety on hand depending on how dirty your sensor is and what substances are on the sensor. The following are common camera sensor cleaning tools:
- The sensor blower is a bulb syringe with a long snout that is used to gently blow air on the sensor, dislodging loose dust and particles that have accumulated. It's the safest option because it never makes contact with the sensor. However, sometimes sensor blowers only move dust around, not completely remove it.
- A sensor brush is a small, electrostatically charged brush that looks like a small paintbrush — it isn't, though, so don't just use an ordinary paintbrush. The static charge on the bristles causes the dust to cling to them and picks up most loose dust while posing very little risk to the sensor due to the light contact.
- Sensor swabs are lint-free tissues that are made in sizes specific to camera sensors — full frame, 1.5x crop, 1.6x crop and so on. Some come with a pre-applied specially formulated sensor cleaning fluid, while others are dry and require you to apply the fluid yourself. Swabs and fluid will remove just about anything, but using them poses the largest risk for accidentally scratching the camera sensor.
Begin by making sure your battery is completely charged to prevent the mirror and shutter from snapping closed on you while you are cleaning. Find a room with calm air, turn off any fans or air conditioners and close the windows to prevent more dust landing on the sensor. Finally, make sure you have all your supplies ready to go so you don't have to leave the sensor exposed any longer than needed.
The Cleaning Process
Once your preparation is complete, start by removing the lens or body cap and entering your camera's cleaning mode (consult the manual if you don't know how to do this). This will raise the mirror out of the way and open the shutter, exposing the sensor.
Take the blower, hold the end safely above the sensor so you don't accidentally touch it, and give it a couple good squeezes while moving it around the sensor. This will loosen up the dust for the next step.
Next, take your cleaning brush and gently draw the brush across the sensor, moving in only one direction, not back and forth. Don't mash the brush against the sensor as this may cause damage. Use only very light pressure and let the brush's static properties pick up the dust. Take care not to let the brush touch anywhere else inside the camera, as it may pick up lubricants that can be transferred to the sensor.
If there are still stubborn bits of dust or smudges after these steps, it's time to use the sensor swab. If yours didn't come with cleaner, carefully apply only two or three drops of cleaning fluid on the swab and wait one minute for it to soak in completely. Then, draw the swab gently across the sensor, moving it in only one direction. Turn the swab over to the unused side and repeat. Apply no more pressure than you would to write with a felt-tipped marker.
Wrap it Up
Take a few test shots to verify you've cleaned the sensor thoroughly. If you still see debris in the images, repeat the steps above until the images are clean. Once you've done this a couple times, the process will become second nature and you will be able to clean your camera sensor in just a few minutes.