10 Ways to Remove a Stuck Lens Filter

10 Ways to Remove a Stuck Lens Filter

If you use screw-in lens filters, sooner or later, you may end up with a stuck lens filter that refuses to come off. Have no fear, though: here are 10 ways to remove that stuck lens filter.

There are two types of stuck lens filters. The first is one that is either screwed on too tight or has debris in the threads. The second type is one that has become stuck because of damage, most likely from an impact. Before you decide on a removal method, carefully inspect the lens filter to determine if it is damaged or not.

The most common stuck lens filter is one that has been screwed on too tight or has debris in the threads. Tightening the lens filter too much or even a temperature change can cause the lens filter to become stuck.

Lens filters constructed from aluminum are more likely to have this problem. When those filters come in contact with an aluminum lens thread, it can gall. Galling is a form of wear caused by two sliding surfaces. When a material galls, some of the material is pulled along the contacting surface and builds up, resulting in a wedge-like force between the mating surfaces.

Some of the more expensive filters use brass, which doesn't tend to gall and may be something to consider the next time you purchase a lens filter.

It May Just Be Your Grip

Believe it or not, sometimes, a filter isn't actually stuck until you try to remove it. Gripping the lens filter too hard can cause it to deform into an elliptical shape, which causes the other side to dig into the threads and bind. Sometimes, using the least amount of force will allow the filter to turn loose.

Gripping a lens filter too hard may cause it to deform and become elliptical, causing the area indicated by the blue arrows to grip the threads too hard.

Caution: Before You Begin

Before you try these methods, it's worthy to note a few cautionary things. The torque you place on the filter and lens can damage your lens. Using caution is especially noteworthy with zoom lenses that have more complicated inner workings. When holding your lens, you should grip it as close to the front element as you can to reduce the twisting force on the inner workings of the lens.

You should also remove the lens from the camera body. Your initial thought might be that the camera body will help hold the lens from turning, but this also allows a damaging force to be applied to the lens. You also don't want to drop the camera body. If done correctly, you should be able to remove a stuck (not damaged) filter without much force.

Tips #1 and #7 work most of the time, but if you have time to spare, tip #5 is the recommended method for really stuck filters, as well as circular polarizer and variable ND filters. Polarizer filters and variable ND filters have an outer ring that rotates on the main filter ring, which can make these filters especially challenging to remove.

Non-Destructive, Non-Tool Methods

1. Tapping With a Finger or Hard Object

This method works better than you might initially think. Most of the time, it works well. While gently applying a twisting force with one hand, gently tap or flick the filter with your fingernail or a semi-hard object. The tapping imparts a light shock to the lens filter, often jarring it enough to allow it to turn. The key here is to tap the lens filter gently so that you don't cause any further damage, denting, or shock to the lens components.

Tap/Bip your fingernail against the lens filter to help jar it loose.

Tap an object against the lens filter to help jar it loose.

2. Using Both Hands

This method aims at applying even force from as many directions as possible, without deforming the filter. The trick here is that you are applying more gripping points to invoke a twisting force and not as much squeezing action. Grip the lens filter with four or more fingers and turn. You may find this easier to do if you have someone else to hold the lens.

Varying the amount of force between your fingers may also help free the filter.

A double hand grip and alternating pressure may help loosen a lens filter.

3. Use Another Filter or Step Down Ring

Screw another filter onto the stuck filter, but leave it just shy from tight; we don't want to get another lens filter stuck! Now, using squishing force to elongate the second filter, attempt to unscrew it. This squishing force should elongate the second filter into an elliptical shape, causing its threads to grip into the stuck filter threads.

4. The Freezer

Metals contract when cooled. The filter threads are tiny, and the filter ring is relatively thin, so it doesn't take much contraction to release pressure on the threads. 

Place a plate in the freezer with a small amount of water in it and allow it to freeze. Place plastic wrap over the filter; this will help keep the lens filter dry, as we don't need moisture making it slippery. Once the plate has frozen, place the lens filter side down on the ice for about 15 seconds. The filter should cool down and slightly shrink. Remove the plastic wrap and attempt to unscrew the filter. If you leave it on the ice too long, the lens itself will also cool and contract.

Non-Destructive, Tool Methods

5. Filter Wrench

The phrase "the right tool for the job" could not be more accurate here. Some people may not know that they make wrenches specifically for the purpose of removing stuck lens filters. A filter wrench is an inexpensive tool that you can easily carry in your camera bag. They make removing stuck filters easy. Most of my lenses have the same 77mm filter size, so I only have one size in my bag.

Filter wrenches come in a variety of sizes and types. They normally can remove lens filters in a small range of sizes. I have a rubber-coated type, which provides a bit more grip than just the hard plastic type.

The preferred method, a lens filter wrench.

6. Anti-slip Mat / Mouse Pad / Oven Mitt

This method works on the principle of applying a turning force with no squishing force. Place the lens filter side down on the backside of a rubber mouse pad or silicone oven mitt. Apply a slight downward force and turn. If all works well, the evenly applied friction should turn the lens filter off. Make sure you're turning it the correct direction.

A mouse pad or other rubber or silicone surface may help out in a pinch.

7. Rubber Band

This little hack works better than you might think. If you're not going to carry a filter wrench in your camera bag, at least carry a good rubber band. Place the rubber band on the filter, being careful to not overlap onto the lens portion. The rubber band will give you much more gripping power without requiring as much squeezing force.

A wide rubber band is especially useful with a circular polarizer or variable ND filter, as the rubber band will span the two rings and provide additional gripping area.

Perhaps one of the easiest methods, and the easiest "tool" to carry in your camera bag.

8. Gaffers Tape

This method is a bit more tricky, and may not work as well on filters with a small surface area. Wrap the gaffers tape around the lens filter, at least one full wrap. Leave about four inches of tag on the end. Firmly hold the lens, preferably against a stationary object. Give the tag end of the tape a small but sharp yank, being careful to not pull the lens out of your other hand.

You may also use the gaffers tape to get a better grip on the lens filter and loosen it like you normally would.

Although not the best method, gaffers tape might be the only thing you have with you to help with a stuck lens filter.

9. Take It to a Camera Store

If you have a local camera store, they are most likely familiar with this problem and can help remove the filter for you. My local store sees three or four stuck filters a month. Except for dented lens filters, they rarely see a lens filter that the rubber band trick can't remove.

Your local camera store experts can also inspect the lens and lens filter for damage, possibly preventing future stuck filters.

Destructive Methods

If a lens filter isn't damaged, one of the methods above should work. However, a damaged lens filter is an entirely different thing. There are quite a few little things here that can go wrong and permanently damage your lens.

However, if you're the adventurous type with a bit of mechanical ability, this method might be right up your alley.

10. Sawing or Filing It Off

This method is the last resort for broken/dented filters. I recommend taking the lens to a professional for removal; don't say I didn't warn you. Replacing a front element or outer housing of a lens can sometimes be very expensive. Often, the professionals have an array of tools such as filter wrenches and lens vices. Most of all, they have the experience to quickly and safely remove a broken or dented filter.

This method involves sawing or filing partway through the filter, removing or breaking the glass out of the lens filter, and then using pliers to bend and remove the filter. It's so not recommended that I'm not even going to provide the detailed steps here; you'll have to do an internet search for that. 

Prevention of Future Stuck Lens Filters

First of all, you don't need a UV filter to filter out UV light unless you're shooting film; digital does not pick up blue UV haze. Second, UV filters don't really protect your lens except in a couple of extreme conditions (like blowing sand).

Thirdly, UV/protection filters cause many more problems than they fix, such as lens flare, ghosting, and reflection artifacts. If you're worried about damage to the front of your lens, your best protection is a lens hood.

Do not over-tighten your filters. Use only two fingers, turn it gently until it stops. Don't tighten it down. It's not going to fall off. The threads are small enough that it won't vibrate loose. Check it occasionally.

Do not use any liquid or paste lubricant. These will get all over everything and are very difficult to remove from surfaces such as your front element. If you use anything, use a tiny amount of powdered graphite. Honestly, after you have a filter wrench and learn not to tighten down your filters, you'll probably never have a problem removing them, and lubrication won't be necessary.

Clean the threads of your filter with a small brush, especially if the lens filter is relatively new. The coating on the threads will wear with some use, so brushing away small wear particles will help keep it from getting stuck again.

Consider buying filters made from brass instead of aluminum, as they are far less prone to getting stuck. Quality filters made from brass probably have better optical properties also.

Conclusion

A stuck lens filter isn't any fun, but hopefully, these tips will make that experience a short one. Once you know a few of these tricks, there probably isn't a non-damaged filter that you can't remove. Don't forget to put that rubber band in your camera bag.

Do you have any tricks that I didn't cover here? Let me know in the comments!

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24 Comments

Alex Cooke's picture

Plus one for the rubber band trick. Helped me get a dented filter off.

Marcus Joyce's picture

How did you comment on this before the date at the top? R u a tImEtRaVeLeR?

On the same lines of the ice trick, use a can of compressed air turned upside down. The frozen coolant will act to contract the metal ring. Use a rubber band or jar opener to grip the cold ring

Willy Williams's picture

One I have found useful combines that use of a rubber band and a rubber pad often used to help twist off jar lids. Put the rubber band on the lens barrel itself to get a grip with one hand, and put the pad on the other hand to gently grasp the filter with the palm of the other hand. Twist gently. It's worked every time for me.

That’s a great idea!

Willy Williams's picture

Here's another idea based on your #6 - rather than carry a thin rubber pad as I mentioned earlier, take an old mouse pad and cut squares to drop into the bottom of the cells on your camera bag. They help cushion and protect your high-dollar lenses, and if you need to do so, pop one out and put the soft side to the filter needing removal. Using the rubber band as mentioned earlier, gently twist off the stuck filter. Ta-DAAAA!!! No need to carry a full-size mouse pad, and the squares serve multiple purposes.

One of the best articles in this matter

Same a opening the lid on a glass of jam. I learned to use a towel on top of the lid and glass, that works to. Just put the cloth over and unscrew.

Very helpful article. It got to the point and just listed the tips. The length was from the large number of good tips, and not from a bunch of narrative filler. Thanks.

I've used a straight-bladed knife to do the trick. Place the blade across the filter at the middle - the widest point. It should grip very well, sitting in the edges around the edge of the filter. Then, applying a bit of pressure and turning has loosened it easily. Be careful not to cut yourself!

While I could totally pull that off myself, I have a few friends that would probably lose an arm at the elbow if they tried that. :) But, hey, sometimes you have to do whatever works!

Quality brass filters and the rubber band have always worked for me. I always keep a filter in place. But I'm always outdoors in remote locations with if not blowing sand and dust, then fine dust kicked up by our off-road vehicles. The hazards of shooting my travel adventures.

About once every three months if you have a spare old toothbrush you're ready to recycle one way to do it is to lightly scrub around any used lens filter's threads, and (not scrubbing the lens with such) the threading around the lens that normally accepts the filter. Can remove an amazing amount of dust/metal grindings from the lens & filter.

Willy Williams's picture

It might be better to use an unused child's toothbrush. No residues from past brushings to clog the threads and get on the filters or lenses. Plus, it's smaller and can fit in the camera bag better.

imagei _'s picture

"Consider buying filters made from brass instead of aluminum" is the best prevention method in my experience. Also remember about brass step up rings or your fancy brass filter will get stuck just like before if you put it on a rubbish aluminum ring.
I found the Luzid Brass step up rings to be the best and still affordable choice. Never had a stuck filter once I switched to brass rings (together with B+W filters).

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

One of the more difficult is a polarising filter. Simply because instead of a single ring, there are two - one which screws in and the other which simply spins, and gets in the way when you try to undo the ring that was screwed in.
No wonder the pros look to a totally different filter system, not involving "screw in" filters! With filters being dropped into a frame in front of the lens, instead.

Spy Black's picture

That channel lock would probably work too if you wrap the edge in something and are careful.

LOL - That channel lock wouldn't open large enough, but if you had a large one it might work but the risk of damage is high. The rubber band trick works very well and can probably remove anything that isn't damaged. Just about any plier would work on damaged filters if you just grab the edge.

Red Whitenbleau's picture

Trick I've used for the last 40 or so years... sole of your shoe! Works like number 6 above and you don't have to go searching or remember to bring one of the above items. Just don't go barefoot!

I'm pretty innovative, but I didn't even think of that! That's what I was hoping to see, people with ideas outside of the box!

Red Whitenbleau's picture

Can't take credit for the idea, I read about it somewhere years ago... it's always worked for me!

Adam T's picture

Wait, you're not supposed to use your beer belly, oy vey just think how much hair I could have saved.