How to Unstick Two Filters That Are Stuck Together

How to Unstick Two Filters That Are Stuck Together

Use two threaded circular filters at once and you run a terrible risk: they might get stuck together. It happened to me when I was using a neutral density filter and a circular polarizer. Here’s how I got them unstuck.

Methods Busted

A quick bit of research on how to unstick two filters turned up a few techniques that didn’t help. If your filters aren’t stuck too badly, they might work for you, but they didn’t for me. I tried:

  • Just twisting the filters really hard. They didn’t budge at all.
  • Using kitchen gloves for better grip. Again, the filters didn’t move.
  • Tapping around the edge with your finger or a knife handle. I’m not sure how this is supposed to work, but it didn’t.

Freezer Time

Thankfully, I found one solution that worked an absolute treat. I took my two filters and popped them in the freezer for 15 minutes.

filters in freezer

Yes, I ate the Calippo while I waited.

When I took them out, the two filters detached easily. The metal obviously contracted a tiny amount in the sub-zero temperatures, which let them spin freely. The filters were totally unharmed; the only thing to show they’d just come out of the freezer was a small amount of frost on the glass.

unstuck filters

Boom! Unstuck filters.

If you’re in a similar situation, just stick your filters on ice for a few minutes. It should do the job.

The Nuclear Option

And, if it doesn’t work, there’s always the nuclear option: sacrificing a filter.

Decide which filter is less valuable (either because it’s scratched and scuffed, or just cheaper to replace), and very, very carefully, break it with a chisel, glass breaker, or other similar object. Without the glass in the filter, you’ll be able to use pliers to get a proper grip on the metal ring and unscrew it from your unbroken filter.

Have you unstuck two filters that were stuck together? Let me know what worked for you. I’m sure I’ll need to do it again.

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38 Comments

David Boyars's picture

There's a lot of tricks. Heat can also work so long as abrupt changes don't shock the metal. Any camera shop will have the experience of safely removing filters

Richie Bednarski's picture

Your timing is impeccable. I just got some filters stuck together and don't want to buy a filter wrench. Thanks!

Arun Hegden's picture

guess who got lucky.;)

I'll second the impeccable timing - I've also just fidgeted and fretted over two stuck filters, and finally gave up and turned to read FStoppers for some light releif ... and voilà, an unexpected but most gratefully received article! Thank you!!

Freezer is great. Unless you're in the field. I carry a heavy rubber band in my camera bag that works nicely to give the needed grip.

I use plastic filter wrenches, a few dollars on ebay, or those orange pieces of rubber that Tupperware used to give away for taking off stuck jar lids.

michaeljin's picture

This is one of the big reasons (on top of optical quality) that I started purchasing Breakthrough Photography filters. That being said, some tips for people out there to help prevent this situation in the first place is making sure not to over-tighten filters when attaching them and also promptly taking them off after you're done with them rather than storing them attached for any length of time. Be sure to make cleaning the threads part of your routine maintenance as they have a tendency to collect crud as you use them.

As for the freezer tip, that's a cool one. I've never heard of that particular one before, but it makes perfect sense that it would work.

Jon Tascon's picture

Hate to burst your bubble but just got a Breakthrough filter stuck to an also Breakthrough Photography step down (or up, I never know which way it is) adapter. Long story short, it took me a considerable effort even with filter wrenches to get those two unstuck. Turns out that that brass profile is not so great when the step down adapter has an identical profile.

michaeljin's picture

Been using Breakthrough filters along with step-up rings for a while now and I can't say that I've run into an issue. Not really sure what bubble you're bursting. I've had some B+W filters get stuck in the past, but even then I've never had them get stuck to the point where I couldn't detach them without tools. The Breakthrough design just makes it much easier to get a good grip on them.

JetCity Ninja's picture

hate to burst your bubble but i dont see how your anecdote trumps someone else's anecdote.

Logan Cressler's picture

Yea same as above, bought breakthrough to lessen the likelihood of this happening, and paid more for their step down adapter, hoping it wouldn't happen. It did, on the third use. Breakthrough was super helpful and said I should buy some filter wrenches...... TY Breakthrough. Perhaps look at your design better.

Jon Tascon's picture

Even with filter wrenches, it took me a considerable amount of effort, and several attempts, to get the 82mm filter unstuck from the 77mm step down adapter, both from Breakthrough. Perhaps they are good as individual filters, but stacking may be better with filters or adapters with different profile designs.

Kevin Harding's picture

I just use cheap step-up metal adapters for my Haida & Nisi round filters. I've never had them stick because I don't ever over-tighten them which is the #1 reason people have issues and have never had two filters stick together using the method below.

Screw the filters on gently to when they don't feel like you can tighten any more with effort .. and then back them off 1mm. And no I've never ever had one drop off either (though I do check them during use from time to time).

Jon Tascon's picture

Filter wrenches are my preferred method, but may consider the freezer option in the future if everything else fails. Neewer makes inexpensive ones that will do the trick http://www.amazon.com/dp/B018I848Q2/?tag=diegap-20

Edison Wrzosek's picture

You just beat me to it, I was about to suggest rubberized filter wrenches as the go-to solution, as I now keep 2 in my camera bag at all times, and they've never let me down!

I tried the freezer trick but it didn't work for me, hence the wrenches.

Jon Tascon's picture

Yeah, these Neewer ones are inexpensive and oh so necessary that I keep them in my bag at all times. They cover the whole diameter spectrum: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B018I848Q2/?tag=diegap-20

Logan Cressler's picture

Whoa whoa whoa, you went from tricks, to smashing things? Ever think to use a pair of filter wrenches, the tools specifically designed and made to remove stuck filters? In all your research to find all these "tricks" you never came across the cheap and readily available filter wrench? Is it a requirement at Fstoppers that you must never actually research something before you write it?

I've tried filter wrenches and, in that case, they didn't work. Rubber bands didn't work. Rubber kitchen gloves? Nope. Freezer didn't help. I finally got them apart with … well, I don't remember. It's been several years. :-/

Logan Cressler's picture

My point is, it would be apt to at least mention the tools made specifically for the job somewhere between the freezer and the hammer.

If you are shelling out for filters surely you can afford some filter wrenches?

Watch this video, https://youtu.be/jMyUi_umDZg

it is a little long but it has a bloke in it who has worked with lenses and filters for years and his advice is worth your time.

For anyone with this problem, you are tightening the filters on too tight. Once it touches after gently screwing it on, do not go more than half a millimeter, if at all. It is not a car's lug nut.

Jon Tascon's picture

So true, yet so easy to get yourself carried away over tightening. For the rest of us, here are my preferred filter wrenches http://www.amazon.com/dp/B018I848Q2/?tag=diegap-20

David Boyars's picture

You're really pushing these over using a rubber band. Smart using the affiliate codes

Hard to tell what's "tight enough" when using something like an ND fader, as it's constantly in use, twisting one way and the other to adjust exposure, so it needs to be tighter than the usual fixed filter. Polarizers may create an issue, too.

Fritz Asuro's picture

Just use the lens cap that fits the thread. Then tape it around with gaffer. This way you have more to grip on.

Pietro Martelletti's picture

I had this problem so many time, the solution that works for me every time is using a thick rubber band to have more grip and unscrew it. Way easier than freezer, especially if you are in the fields!

C Fisher's picture

The freezer trick is so great, just used it the other day to get a stuck downstem out of my bong lmao.

Some thoughts

I have used the freezer method with success. But there are some situations where the two sets of threads essentially become cold welded together. This phenomena is not restricted to filter threads and can happen with nuts and bolts see https://www.boltdepot.com/fastener-information/Materials-and-Grades/Thre...

I had this happen when connecting two sections of 1" threaded pipe and was unable to separate them using a pair of 36" Stilsons and a heavy duty vice. When this happens catting one of the threadsets may be the only potential solution.

As the linked article states there are antigalling preparations that reduce the risk of galling but these may not be desirable for use near to optical surfaces. Alternatively use of filters with different materials less prone to galling can help prevent the problem e.g. interactions between brass and steel threads are to a degree self lubricating.

JetCity Ninja's picture

i just gently tap around the full circumference of the filter.

and since everyone seems to think anecdotal evidence is able to trump another's, my way is obviously best. i also dont overtighten my filters because, well, i'm not retarded.

I've had this problem with my circular polarizer. I've found the reason it gets stuck is because at first I try and grip the filter with just two fingers (on opposite sides of the ring). I assume that due to the flexibility in the cheap filter it distorts it causing it to become oval rather than round and thus binding up on the threads. If I use two hands (4 fingers) and turn gently it always comes off (at least so far). Sometimes we're probably gripping these two hard in localized manner. More even and distributed pressure may be the key. The worst is when this happens in the field and you don't have access to a freezer. I'm going to find a nice thick rubber band as many have suggested.

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