How Do You Clean Your Camera's Sensor?

How Do You Clean Your Camera's Sensor?

Spots on your images caused by dust on the sensor can be frustrating and hard to deal with, especially when you have lots of images waiting to be retouched. Although most recent cameras have built-in sensor-cleaning mechanisms, the dust inside your camera should be removed completely in order to prevent existing dust particles from clinging onto the sensor again and again. There are lots of products on the market, but which one you should choose? 

Swabs

You have probably seen these tiny sticks under different brands. Sometimes, they are equipped with special liquids, and they guarantee to clean your sensor better than other products, especially if there is still dust or anything else remaining after cleaning with air, swabs would be handy at this point. Also, you can choose different-sized swabs either for crop sensors or full-frame sensors. However, they are a bit pricey comapred to other cleaning products and there is always a risk of scratching or damaging your sensor if not applied carefully. 

​Air Blowers 

This is the most traditional way of cleaning your sensor and lenses. It is cheap, practical, and easy to do. However, it is better to avoid using unbranded versions, as low quality products may contain tiny rubber and plastic particles inside the hose and the pump, which may cause more trouble while cleaning. I have been using my Giottos Rocket Blaster for years, and so far, it is my first choice for daily cleaning. But again, like all other methods, you have to be careful when holding your camera to avoid scratching the sensor with the plastic pipe.

Compressed Air Can Sprays and Vacuums

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. Plus, they are environmentally hazardous. Furthermore, a vacuum creates a static buildup from particles rubbing against the intake. This buildup could easily damage your equipment.  

Canless Air System

Battery-powered canless air systems are a better alternative to air cans and traditional air blowers. They're quite powerful; therefore, they must be used carefully to avoid any possible harm due to high pressure. They are also a cleaner alternative to compressed air sprays, as they just use the air inside the room to blow. O2 Hurricane is a good solution and is handy for cleaning lenses and other camera gear. However, there isn't any filter on the device and it is quite noisy, and because of its power, I would recommend avoiding using it on the sensor.

Conclusion

There are several products available on the market; you can even find a swab-holder with LED lights. But in my opinion, keeping it simple is vital for the health of your camera's sensor. If there isn't stain-like dirt on the sensor, avoid using liquid-based cleaning equipment. Camera sensors are really sensitive parts; therefore, owners should be beware of touching them even with cleaning objects and should refrain from doing so unless they need to. At this point, basic air blowers are the winners. 

  • Instead of cleaning your sensor, try to keep it clean, and be careful when changing lenses.
  • Try to avoid direct contact with the sensor.
  • Avoid using vacuum cleaners and powerful air compressors on the sensor.

Also, try to buy the original products rather than cheap replicates, as you will be dealing with the most important part of your camera. And if you don't have experience cleaning the sensor, consider asking a camera service to do it for you. If you have any experience with these kinds of products, please share in the comments section below. 

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11 Comments

I've been cleaning my sensors for over 3 years now.
Definitely, start with a blower, it might get rid of all the dust, especially if you check regularly and don't let things accumulate.
It's impossible to have no sensor dust in any camera, especially one where you change lenses and even more so on mirror-less so the advice on avoiding dust - not really an option, unless you live in a clean room and carry one with you to change lenses. I would however recommend NOT changing lenses in dusty/salty environment as this is a great potential for bigger issues that some sensor dust - it can get into the mechanism, clog the shutter, and I won't even talk about salt water corrosion...
For the technically challenged - get a lab to clean things for you. for those who are more technically inclined, get pecpads, the proper cleaning solution (Sony A7 series is not the same as Canon/Nikon sensors..) and clean the sensor according to the instructions. Work GENTLY :) no force is needed to clean sensors. If dealing with SONY A7II series - make sure to lock the sensor in place.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I swear by Visible Dust products.

Anti static blower first, then their brush system (useful little light built in, and finally the green swabs with their cleaning solution (which is slightly lubricated).

I use a brush which is one size smaller than the sensor size for ease. The new swab shape helps entry into the chamber.

The magnification loupe is not so much use. However the little torch attachment for the swabs is very useful.

Sensor gel sticks. Cheap. Effective. Safe. Anyone can do it.

user-75500's picture

With a little Fairy Liquid and for the really tough spots a Brillo pad works wonders... ;-)

I use the Arctic Butterfly for dust removal. I find that using a blower merely pushes the dust around inside the camera.

For sticky stuff be careful, especially with Sony sensors. You have to use non-alcohol fluids or a special sticky swab. Using generic sticky swabs leaves a sticky mess. Ask me how I know this.

fred lefeuvre's picture

Gel stick or Swab + gel stick... IMO the only efficient solution for dirty outdoor prime lens user

I always use bicarb and vinegar. Just sprinkle a pinch of bicarb over the sensor then a tiny spray of white vinegar does the job. If I want it extra clean, I just put it straight into the microwave after the spray of vinegar and boom!

You'll never have to worry about that sensor again.

Simon Patterson's picture

That's a great idea - I've been using the same method except with a normal oven. The microwave would be so much quicker; I can't believe I didn't think of it already!

Vincent Morretino's picture

Don't forget to drill a hole in the side to add a headphone jack, and update the firmware to make the camera waterproof!

Carl Irjala's picture

I tend to be safe than sorry. Cleaning service at the Nikon camera importer works very well. The need for my cameras has been ones every three years, to a costs of 140 € here in Finland (include freight).

Laughing Cow's picture

I use Lightroom "Spot Removal" instrument…
Seriously, I am a fan of the Visible Dust products