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The Best Way to Safely Clean Your Camera's Sensor

If you're scared of damaging your camera's sensor by cleaning it yourself, this short video will show you exactly how to do it and remove any fears you might have.

When it comes to cleaning my camera’s sensor l treat it with absolute trepidation, terror, and fear. The idea of exposing such an expensive piece of technology to my wayward, rather clueless hands is something that fills me with total dread, so I tend to put it off until the multiple black spots and streaks that appear in all of my shots can no longer be ignored. And even then I rely on the camera’s own sensor cleaning capabilities to do the job for me. But when even that doesn’t work, I need to go in there like a heart surgeon and hope for the best. Thankfully, this video by the guys at The School of Photography has made my job whole lot easier.

It explains very easily how to clean your sensor; how to tell if you’ve got a dirty sensor; the equipment you need to use; and how to effectively remove those little black spots and streaks appearing in your photos.

After watching it I realized I’ve been cleaning my sensor completely the wrong way for all these years. How? Well, you actually need to hold your camera up so the exposed sensor's pointing down, and then use the blower facing in an upwards direction to remove the dust from your sensor. Quite stupidly, I've always held the camera facing upwards and used the blower facing downwards. Please, no comments necessary.

As far as the equipment you need to use goes, the most important takeaway here is to buy a sensor cleaning kit that matches your own camera's sensor size. For example, if you have a full frame sensor you need to buy a full frame sensor cleaning kit. That’s because the swabs that are included in the kits exactly match the size of your sensor. Alternatively, you could buy a Delkin Devices Sensor Cleaning System that includes swabs for all sensor sizes.

This is an easy walkthrough video to follow and takes any uncertainty away from the correct sensor cleaning procedures. What about you? Do you have anything to add here that helps make cleaning your camera's sensor a rather painless, trouble-free task?

Iain Stanley's picture

Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

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I recently cleaned my Nikon D610 sensor myself for the first time. In the past I just dropped it off at the shop for $40 and have to be without it for up to two days. It was easy and you just gotta be sensible. Turn it flange side down and hit it with the rocket blower thoroughly. I think that's the most important part, to evict the would be sensor scratchy bits. I had to do it twice, because the amount of dust and oil (I think?) was just appalling lol.

And here's a real-world example of how it looked before cleaning. I should've tired of that healing brush work long ago!

So you went the rocket blower approach? No time for brushes eh. Blast away! Great example shots too. Thanks!

Saw that can of compressed air on the desk and got nervous for a minute - thought he was going to spray it right into the body... Haha!

*Edit - He pretty much did! No way I'd ever do that...

**Edit 2 - And why not use a sensor loupe to look for dust specs?

How Do You Clean Your Camera's Sensor?

"First of all, never use compressed air cans, as most don't contain pure air, and they may leave chemical stains on the surface after application. They're sold under "electronic device-cleaning kits," and they may be good for cleaning your keyboard or other office equipment; however, I don't recommend these even for cleaning the outer surface of your camera bodies and lenses."

Too funny...

I was always under that impression too but I like the guys who made this video. Luckily I have a few cameras at home so decided to give the compressed air can a try on my old Canon Rebel sensor. I know it’s only a sample size of one (me) but it worked just fine.
Besides, there’s always multiple ways to do things. I tend not to couch instructions with absolute words such as ‘never’ but there you go.
And thanks for the link. More info the better!

For my 5dmkiv I don’t think I’d be so bold to use the compressed air can but that’s coz I am an absolute clutz with my hands. I’d likely blow the sensor out the back of the body! I did try it on an older camera and nothing disastrous happened.

I'd be more worried about the chemical residue than the force of the air.

Just funny that F-Stoppers says to never do something in one article then in another says meh, it's ok... So much for consistency.. =)

To be perfectly honest I wrote the article from my own perspective - completely useless with my hands and a pathological fear of cleaning my sensor. I tried out the methods herein and, voila! They worked. I can’t really comment on, or vouch for, another viewpoint from another writer.

It's a half dozen of one and six of the other. First, "canned air" is not compressed atmospheric air. Because of the mechanical problems of compressing atmospheric air, they use a low boiling liquid, usually a fluorocarbon.

Because fluorocarbons can be intoxicating, some manufacturers add oils that make it smell bad to reduce huffing. That oil may remain after cleaning.

Third, because of the low boiling aspect, spraying too close or turning the can upside down, can actually freeze the target. Many things get very brittle when frozen and can crack or break.

So, read the label to ensure it does not contain any oils, such as mustard oil. Do not spray directly on the object or target and, especially, not on your skin. Wear gloves.

If you have a mirrorless camera with IBIS please disregard his advice and MAKE SURE you turn on cleaning mode. If you try to clean your sensor when it's not locked in position you'll have a bad time

Thanks for the input. Very helpful and appreciated.

I played this video at 2x speed and he still speaks slow!

Think of it as being easy to follow :)

I used to have to clean my Canon sensors every few months. Since I switched to Panasonic cameras 4 years ago, I haven't seen a single speck of dust on my sensors.

I would add that sensor spots appear more prominently (and are more likely to appear at all) at a smaller aperture. A plain, blue sky is ideal for checking for a dirty sensor but if you use a wide aperture, sensor dirt may not appear in your test photo. Shoot the test with a small aperture so that all sensor dirt appears, then you'll be sure whether or not you have it cleaned and won't have a surprise next time you stop down.

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