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What's the Best Way to Clean My Camera's Sensor?

Published: 09/11/2019

Jansis, from Tallahassee, FL writes:

“I’ve always had my camera sensor cleaned at a camera service center. The truth is, I’m not techy at all and I’m a bit of a klutz, so I’d worry about doing something to the sensor if I did the cleaning wrong. However, the last professional clean that I did cost me an arm and a leg after their rates went up. So, I think it’s time that I learn to do this. Any advice?”

Thanks Jansis, and yes, I feel your pain... technology and I are not good friends either. Like yourself, I was a little intimidated by cleaning my camera’s sensor but the truth is, it’s actually pretty easy and it’ll save you a good chunk of cash! Here’s a quick, bullet-point overview:

  • First, you'll need to assess just how much dust is on the sensor. So, use a very small aperture (f/16 or f/22) and then, take a picture of a white surface, zooming-in, so that the white takes up the entire photo. You'll quickly see where your dust spots are.
  • You’ll want to clean your camera in a spot in your house that's as dust-free as possible.
  • Make sure that your camera’s battery is fully-charged and then take the lens off the camera.
  • In your camera’s menus, find the option that allows you to manually clean your camera. This will lock the mirror in the up position, thereby giving you access to the sensor.
  • Hold your camera so that the lens opening is pointing downward, so as to avoid having dust particles in the room fall into the camera.
  • Use a hand-bulb air blower, like the one shown in the photo at the top of this article. Never use a compressed air blower!
  • Do NOT place the tip of the device into the camera, as you want to avoid touching the sensor in any way.
  • Squeeze the bulb a few times to shoot bursts of air onto the sensor. This will hopefully get most, if not all, the dust particles.
  • To check if it worked, turn off the camera (this will take the camera out of mirror lock mode) and replace the lens. Then, turn on the camera and take another test shot at the same aperture settings as before.
  • That photo will allow you to see if the procedure was a success. If so, you’re done!

If, however, the sensor is not clean, then you’ll need to do a more intensive clean. There are a number of ways to do this (e.g., wet clean or with sticky silicone pads). Given the fact that you’ll need to touch the sensor with these devices, I’d like to share some links to show how it’s done. For an overview of how to do what's known as a "wet clean", click here; to see how sticky silicone pads can be used to clean your camera's sensor, click here.

FYI, these links videos do not represent endorsements of the products therein... I’m just sharing them because doing these types of cleanings involves more delicate work and, as such, I think it’d be more helpful to actually see how it’s done vs. just reading my description about it.

Anyway Jansis, if you’re like me (and many others, I'm sure), your first time cleaning the sensor will be a little nerve-wracking. Once you get the hang of it, though, I'm sure you’ll make it a regular part of your camera maintenance. Good luck.

So, any other tips for Jansis? How often do you clean your camera sensor?

Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.

7 comments on “What's the Best Way to Clean My Camera's Sensor?”

  1. I'm going to make this so much simpler that you will all say OMG! WOW.
    Buy a cheap (less than $10 UV flashlight on Amazon) these are so cool!
    First thing... you know there is dust there so no need for the test shots at all.
    Getting simpler yet.
    Now turn off most of the lights, can bit dimly lit but not super bright work area.
    Second thing... before you open the camera turn on your trusty flashlight shine it on your camera and watch the dust light up all over the place! Clean it all up before you take the lens off.
    Third... thing shine the flashlight into the camera and on the sensor. You will see the dust it will light up. Then use our blower or whatever to clean the sensor.
    Fourth... check your work by shining the UV flashlight in again. If you see no dust, button it up no need for a test shot. If you do clean again and light again.

    You're done but before I would attach the lens to the camera I would shine the light in the rear of it and clean the lens up. I might say if you are using a protective body cap on the camera while it's sitting there, shine the light on it and clean it before you put it on the camera.

    What this does is eliminate the test shots and let's you know with certainty where the dust is and when the sensor is clean.

    You're Welcome.

    After that turn off all the lights in your home and walk around with the UV flashlight and be amazed or disgusted depending on the room, if you have children and pets etc. Then go out at night with it and hunt Scorpions.

  2. Thank you for outlining this tutorial. Whenever I'm about to clean a sensor (or even change lenses) I turn off the heat in my home before I start work....nothing worse than having your sensor exposed and then suddenly the forced air kicks in and blows dust all over the place.

  3. To be clear..
    Unless your camera body has been converted to infrared, you are not cleaning the sensor...your cleaning the protective lens covering of it.

  4. Go to the WPPI conference (Feb in Vegas). They have factory booths that will clean your sensor for free.

    I use Visible Dust products when a blower won't do the job. IIRC, they have some videos on sensor cleaning.

    Spend the money on good sensor cleaning swabs and fluids. It's not something you should cheap out on.

  5. Tuesday about noon I called Canon CPS and they emailed a pre-paid FedEx label during a less than 1 minute conversation. About 15 minutes later I dropped a body and 2 lenses off (plenty FedEx pickups almost everywhere). Friday morning gear, checked out and cleaned to perfection by Canon techs, was delivered back to my doorstep - no charge. I can do that with 12 items a year. CPS also includes significantly discounted factory repairs with *overnight turnaround*. I'm all for DYI, but any Pro Canon shooter that doesn't have CPS is really missing out...

  6. Sensor cleaning swabs are effective, if you follow the directions carefully. However, you need to be extremely cautious when cleaning an IBIS sensor. These can be damaged if key steps are not taken before cleaning them.

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