During COVID-19, Cleaning My Camera Has Taken on a New Meaning

During COVID-19, Cleaning My Camera Has Taken on a New Meaning

I used to clean my cameras and lenses before every shoot. Now that washing my groceries has become common place, cleaning my camera gear has taken on new meaning. This isn’t likely to change any time soon – even if the world opens back up. How are you dealing with this? 

This Has to Come With Disclaimers

Almost every source I looked at stated in big bold letters that information about this particular coronavirus is changing almost daily. Make it part of your process to check back with the authorities in your jurisdiction as often as practical. To be clear, you should not rely on this article as medical advice. I have canvassed and collected information from a series of experts. I have no medical background.

Like any other surface disinfection process, you should consider the recommendations from the U.S. Centre for Disease Control, Health Canada, UK’s Public Health, or the equivalent public health organization in your jurisdiction. 

Coronavirus, CDC. Public Domain.

Best Practice

Because we’re talking about surface cleaning, it’s important to start with the premise that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 can remain infectious for several days after finding its way on to your equipment. Reports indicated that the virus can remain active on plastic, metal, and glass for up to several days, but that it loses potency within a few hours on paper, fruit, and skin. Basically, the more porous the surface material, the faster SARS-CoV-2’s envelope degrades. Once the virus’ envelope is damaged, the virus loses agency and is unlikely to infect you. Since most camera equipment is hard plastic or glass, the virus is likely to remain viable toward the longer end of the scale. Perhaps more than 72 hours.  

I don’t think that this can be stressed enough:

  • If you can afford to leave your gear isolated for a few days, the virus should lose its ability to infect you. 
  • If you can’t leave your gear alone, you’ll have to depend on disinfection. Few of us have access to a clean room. Any attempt to clean your gear carries with it a degree of risk.

Disinfection

The CDC sets out the following cleaning summary for electronics:

Electronics:

For electronics such as tablets, touch screens, keyboards, remote controls, and ATM machines, remove visible contamination if present.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products.

Consider use of wipeable covers for electronics.

If no manufacturer guidance is available, consider the use of alcohol-based wipes or sprays containing at least 70% alcohol to disinfect touch screens. Dry surfaces thoroughly to avoid pooling of liquids. 

Amazon.



Cameras and lenses hold a special place in photographers’ lives. It makes sense that you’d want to make sure that cleaning your gear with 60-70% alcohol or a bleach compound isn’t going to damage its fine and fragile components. For example, cameras, media, and lenses contain exposed electronics, rubber seals, and plastic or rubber grips. Likewise, camera bags are usually made out of relatively fragile dyed fabric.

Olympus

Olympus has provided cleaning information for both its weather sealed gear and gear that isn’t weather sealed.

This process could likely be applied to any manufacturer’s gear: 

Not sealed:

  • Use a camera body cap if no lens is attached, and ensure all covers are closed and sealed (including battery door, SD card door, USB door, grip cover, hot shoe cover, sync cap, etc.).
  • For lenses detached from the camera body, ensure that the front and rear caps are on.
  • Wipe down the exterior of your product with alcohol-based sanitizing wipes. We recommend choosing products that are labeled as effective for killing 99.9% of bacteria and viruses and are also bleach-free. Lysol or Clorox wipes are examples of suitable products, although any product meeting the above requirements may be used.

Sealed:

  • Use a camera body cap if no lens is attached, and ensure all covers are closed and sealed (including battery door, SD card door, USB door, grip cover, hot shoe cover, sync cap, etc.).
  • Ensure the lens is weather sealed as well.
  • For lenses detached from the camera body, ensure the front and rear caps are on. If the lens attached to the camera body, ensure the lens cap is on.
  • To reiterate: if a lens is attached, please ensure it is a weather sealed lens. Spray with a disinfectant solution that contains over 70% Alcohol, and dry with a towel. An example of an appropriate solution is Lysol, but any product meeting the requirement of over 70% alcohol may be used.

I have been unable to find similar information about cleaning (non-medical) imaging equipment from any of the other major camera manufacturers. If you have found this info, please leave it in the comments below and I will update the article.

Lens Rentals

Lens Rentals published a great article back in March discussing how to disinfect camera equipment that we talked about here on Fstoppers. Given the volume of gear that moves in and out of Lens Rentals, they’ve certainly developed some keen insights. For example:

  • Use alcohol as a disinfecting agent.
  • Use common sense to try to keep your disinfectant on the outside and not let it run into the inside. 
  • A light mist with a spray bottle, or a cloth or paper towel dipped in alcohol works great for large surfaces. 
  • You might want to dip a Q tip or similar thing to get into small areas or places where you’d rather not spray.

Building on this article, Lens Rentals released another a podcast early in April discussing their cleaning and disinfecting process. In this podcast, they discussed a few more critical ideas:

  • Give electrical components time to dry before running electricity through them
  • Ensure that you’re not leaving residue on lighting equipment (particularly oils) as the residue could heat up and explode.

Practices to Consider

In my research, I also found a few items that photographers should consider when trying to disinfect their equipment of SARS-CoV-2:

  • Make sure when you’re disinfecting your equipment that you’re not moving it around too much (focus on not shaking the virus off of your equipment’s surfaces).
  • Ensure that you disinfect your workspace when you’re done with the equipment.
  • Most cleaning products that mention the novel coronavirus are piggybacking on testing results versus older coronavirus envelopes. Few, if any, products have been tested against the current virus and any claims otherwise are the result of the United States Environmental Protection Agency labeling process, not actual test results. Many cleaning manufactures are being less than honest. However, check out Canon's honest comment on this:

Canon Medical has not tested the chemicals listed for efficacy, the information provided has been referenced from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and who have released a list of disinfectants that claim effectiveness for use against SARS-CoV-2. Sodium hypochlorite, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol from that list are recommended in the guidelines. 

  • Bleach will destroy fabric. Using hydrogen peroxide or a similar chemical has not been proven to destroy the virus.
  • Bleach may pit and ultimately damage even metal components. This pitting can actually protect the virus if it lodges in the pits. Pitting your equipment may lead to long-term damage. Tread with care.
  • Alcohol may cause fogging of your LCD screens if you use enough to ensure that it doesn’t evaporate before destroying the virus.
  • Alcohol may damage rubber sealing if you use enough to ensure that it doesn’t evaporate before destroying the virus.

Analogizing Canon's and Nikon's Medical Imaging Practices

Both Canon’s and Nikon’s medical departments have provided advice to the users of their medical diagnostic equipment. It’s interesting to note that Nikon clearly sets out that bleach, peroxide, quaternary ammonium, and benzalkonium chloride are not compatible with their eyepieces, lenses, or even their metal components. 

Similarly, Canon’s materials clearly set out that alcohol should not be used on any rubber or synthetic rubber parts. Further, Canon’s materials note that no chlorine-based disinfectants should be used on metal, plastic, or rubber coatings. This means no bleach. Though they do note that benzalkonium chloride can be used.

The Last Word

It would seem to me that the safest process would be to set your equipment aside, without too much jostling. Anything else is going to mean significant risk to you, your family, or your equipment. 

Background for lead image used under Creative Commons HFCM Communicatie.

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19 Comments

Mike Ditz's picture

You clean your camera and lenses before every shoot?!
Dang, I guess I am missing something. Even though 90% of my work is on location it just doesn't seem to get dirty. Maybe some dust after a dusty road or desert shoot, I take care of that when I get back as otherwise I'll forget. If I am really bored I will see if anything needs attention usually not.... I check the sensor to be sure its clean but I don't do a CDC/CSI wipedownas I am theo only one touching the camera...during the few shoots I have done masks were worn.
Lenserentals has to clean everything all the time because no one knows who has been sneezing on the cameras.

But my car needs of a wash too...

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I clean my equipment about 13 times more than I clean my car.
But, yes, I clean my equipment prior to every shoot. Particularly if my previous shoot was in the desert or close to salt water.
My car is really dirty!!!!

Yin Ze's picture

I have been covering the pandemic since about March 3. I got a gallon of 70% isopropyl after my 99% ran out. I am receiving 99% iso next week but so far 70% has not damaged my cameras. I use spray bottle on my Sony a9 & a7riv after removing the battery and then turning the camera on then off to use up any residual energy(can anyone confirm if this is can help?)

I spray on lens rubber and around the entire camera. I let it dry by a small desk fan to minimize pooling of water(30%). So far my cameras are working and no damage to lens material(Knock on wood). I also spray on camera straps and inside/outside my Think Tank bag.

I thoroughly disinfect surface where I put my bag every day as well as table I clean cameras on using 409.

I also spray some isopropyl on a tissue and clean batteries and make sure I do not use damp tissuer near battery contacts. I also clean the SD cards and reader.

I put all my clothes in hot water and detergent and hang them up to dry with a fan blowing to make the process faster.

If anyone has any advice on this process and if I am doing anything incorrect that can harm gear please reply. Any suggestions are welcome.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Thorough. Alcohol on rubber will cause damage. How long it takes is up for debate, but the end result is not.
Well done!

Mike Ditz's picture

Regarding Alcohol, I have had the rubber trim on some cameras or accessories get sticky, usually after being in case or place with out much airflow. Someone said that it was the rubber breaking down or some kind of microbe? Alcohol and rag will take that off. But be careful!

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Agreed. Alcohol strong enough, and long enough to kill the virus is going to eventually breakdown the rubber!

Yin Ze's picture

Hi, sadly a little rain was all it took for 24-70/2.8 GM rubber to come off four months after I got the lens. I had a large microfiber rag and quickly wiped off the rain drops(not a downpour) but that was enough for the rubber to come loose on the zoom ring. I've had 24-70/2.8 Nikon for 4 years and did not have any rubber issues.

I guess I will risk sacrificing the rubber to save myself and anyone else who I come in contact with. I am in areas such as subways, funeral homes, etc. where rubbing or touching anything might be dangerous. I avoid touching anything as best as I can. If I do I immediately spray isopropyl on my hand.

Robert Lynch's picture

I really do not understand this. I get the need for Lens Rentals to thoroughly clean their equipment but what are you doing that you think that you need to do the same? Are you letting random people get that close and handle your equipment?

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I don’t share my camera. And, for the time being, I am not shooting. But, without the 70-200, I’m close enough. Especially if I have people jumping and moving.
Why not be safer than sorry?

g coll's picture

Agree with Robert here. Unless you are letting other people use your gear then I don't see the point, even with your 70-200 example.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I agree that the risk might not be that significant, but, there is a risk that can be easily mitigated.

Marc Perino's picture

For electronic equipment I would suggest UVC light devices. Here is an industrial version:
https://nypost.com/2020/05/01/can-this-germ-zapping-robot-really-kill-th...

But there are smaller units. All without liquids and rather fast.

Jan Holler's picture

That is close to an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Please do not spread fear and anxiety! If a lens rental store is cleaning their gear regularly it is perfectly understandable. But if a private person does the same with the own gear it is not reasonable.
"focus on not shaking the virus off of your equipment’s surfaces" You must be kidding!

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I'm not kidding. A little quick research will show that the virus can live on clothing and bags - like a camera bag or strap. The CDC has recommended not shaking your clothing off before washing it if you think it has been contaminated.

I'm confused by the fact that you think cleaning your equipment, which likely takes about 15 minutes, is such a hardship. Could you explain that? I think that you're underplaying the safety risk.

Jan Holler's picture

It's been said already. It is your gear which only you touch, why would you think that cleaning would lower the risk significantly? Please tell me: Do you clean your casual things you use every day the same way? Your wallet after you went shopping, the bills and coins you might get in return, your shoes with which you walked on "shaked of viruses", the and clothes after you went outside, your jacket? Your rucksack or bag you carry usually? Your pens, your glasses... your car which somebody might have touched or coughed on. The list is endless.
No offence, but your suggestion does not make much sense What makes sense is: keep distance, wash your hands regularly if not at home, do not touch any things or persons if avoidable and do not touch your head with your hands if you are outside of your home.
Edit: About the shaking off of viruses: this is no danger, the risk is very very small as many studies show. The aerosols of infected people is many many times more dangerous. The suggestion of the CDC is about if you live in a home with a sick person: "Cleaning And Disinfecting Your Home: Everyday Steps and Extra Steps When Someone Is Sick"

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I'm confident I know who touches or comes into close contact with my gear. I know that it isn't always only me. It could be an assistant. I could be shooting a model I've gotten to move enough that they're breathing heavy. It could be a MUA that I show an image to. It could be a client.

I actually don't bring my wallet with me anymore. Nobody here is taking cash. I use a contactless credit card, but, still wipe it off when I get home. We can't use reusable bags in most stores. Disposable only. Perhaps the general practice in your neck of the woods is different than here.

All of these precautions take only a few minutes out of my day. I'd say again, that that is worth my health.

You can clearly make your own decisions, and so can the readers.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Edit: In response to your edit regarding the CDC recommendations surrounding “shaking off the virus.” I think we’re having a bit of a disconnect. When you say no chance and very very small chance, I see those as separate things. And, I see the amount of effort required on my part to mitigate even a small chance is minimal.
Again, in the fall, in a crowded studio, there is no way I don’t take the effort to avoid shaking my bag when I get home. Even if the odds are small.
I do agree, the odds are small. My intention isn’t to immobilize people, but instead to suggest straightforward and simple ways to make life a bit safer.

Jan Holler's picture

No chance and very small chance lead to the same: No infection. The CDC recommendation is for people living with an ill person. You do not get ill if one of a few viruses enter your body. All those counter measures (cleaning gear extensively after every use) should be in correlation with the actual risks and measures you do outside of your profession. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. You did not mention if you treat all your belongings this way.
Hydrogen peroxide is active against viruses, see https://europepmc.org/article/med/203115

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I disagree with your reading of the definitions of "no" and "small." I also don't agree that I'm cleaning my gear extensively. I always clean it after or before next use. Anything new is taking up 5-15 minutes of my time. I don't see that as extensive.

I do currently wipe down my groceries and switch out my sweater etc if I get too close to someone at the store. Yes. Luckily I don't have to use transit here in North America's 4th largest city. Again, not a serious effort on my part.

As for peroxide, my point is that it isn't proven to work against this virus in particular. The article you site is from the 70's. It can't apply to this virus without further testing. It is, as I mentioned in my article an FDA labelling loophole that allows disinfectants to be marketed as such right now. It may work, but it isn't proven, yet.

I would also point out the amount of time needed for peroxide (at consumer concentrations) to render other coronavirus agents inert is sometimes significant.

https://www.cdc.gov/infectioncontrol/guidelines/disinfection/disinfectio...