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How To Clean Dust Off Your DSLR Sensor: Sensor Gel Stick

Over time every DSLR will collect dust on its CMOS or CCD sensor; there really isn't anyway around it. Cleaning your own camera's sensor with liquid wipes or other wet processes has always been a bit risky. Luckily the Sensor Gel Stick is a safe and easy product that top manufacturers like Leica, Nikon, and Canon have been using in their own factories for years. Now YOU can use it too!

Our good friend Nasim Mansurov at Photographylife.com called me up a few days ago and told me he was now the sole US distributor of the most revolutionary sensor cleaning product on the market. I have to admit, I've always been too scared to clean my own sensors. Trying to figure out which specific sensor cleaning swab to purchase has always made me question if we should even be cleaning our sensors in the first place. Maybe this is a task meant to be left for the true professionals.

Nasim laid all my worries to rest when he told me that this Sensor Gel Stick was the easiest and safest way to clean your sensor. Not only that, but professional camera manufacturers like Leica, Nikon, and Canon actually use this exact product in their own factories.

Being pretty handy myself, I asked, "If this is the exact same product being used to clean my sensor when I ship it to Nikon, then why in the world can I not do this myself?" Well I decided to clean my first sensor today on one of my own DSLR cameras....and I committed to it all live on video.

Here are the full res examples showing the dust spots on my Nikon D300s sensor before cleaning and after cleaning with the Sensor Gel Stick:

how to clean dslr sensor dust spotshow to clean dslr sensor dust spots after As you can see in the examples, my D300s camera was filthy. I bought this camera back in 2009 when it first came out. My Nikon D300s has now since been retired to only wedding photobooth duty. Since my photobooth setup uses studio lights, I'm often shooting at smaller apertures like f10 or f16. As you can imagine, these specks of dust can cause all sorts of editing problems when you have hundreds of photobooth photos with white backgrounds. As soon as I received the Sensor Gel Stick, I knew this was the first camera to test to see how clean I could get the sensor. The results are pretty amazing especially considering much of this dust has probably been on the sensor for years!

After having great success with a few of the D300s cameras laying around the Fstoppers office, I decided to see how much dust was on my year old Nikon D600 camera. I've heard a lot of horror stories about how dirty the D600 sensor can get and obviously there is also that notorious "oil stain" issue that many claim was the reason for the Nikon D610 release. To my surprise my Nikon D600 camera was even dirtier than my 5 year old D300s camera! Having become a pro sensor cleaning in just 20 minutes, I decided it was time to up the ante and clean one of my work horse cameras. You can see the results of the Nikon D600 below.

sensor gel stick Nikon d600 oil splatter before

sensor gel stick Nikon d600 oil splatter

NOTE: AFTER INVESTIGATING THIS A BIT MORE, I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND CLEANING THE MIRROR WITH THIS DEVICE. SEE MY RESPONSE IN THE COMMENTS BELOW: After cleaning a handful of Nikon D300s, D600, and D800 cameras, I thought maybe this Sensor Gel Stick would help me clean the mirror and viewfinder on my older Nikon D300s cameras. After five years of heavy use, it was pretty embarrassing to look through the viewfienders of these crop sensor cameras. There was dust, dirt, and grime all over the viewfinder. As expected, the Gel Stick did a great job removing all the mess and restoring my oldest cameras to "like new" condition.

All in all, I have to say Lee and I were extremely impressed with this product. Cleaning a sensor used to seem scary as hell but now I would have no reservation cleaning any camera with a digital sensor in it. Obviously I do not have experience with how long each stick will last or how many pieces of sticky paper I might go through in a year (I'll probably only clean my cameras once or twice a year), but at $40 this thing is totally worth it.

buy sensor gel stick cleaner

If you have any questions or concerns, leave them in the comments below as I'm sure Nasim can answer a lot of the technical aspects of the Sensor Gel Stick better than I can. Also feel free to post your before and after images. I'm curious if anyone has a dirtier sensor than I did and how well it cleans up after the process.

Patrick Hall's picture

Patrick Hall is a founder of Fstoppers.com and a photographer based out of Charleston, South Carolina.

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Yes, I would recommend to use a rocket blower or a mirror swab cleaning product instead of the sensor gel stick for the mirror, as you do not want to move it out of alignment.

As for the stick being used by various companies, the owner of the company showed me email orders from Leica, Canon and Nikon Germany, but those are not going to be publicly available - not something any of the manufacturers would disclose. In fact, most of what happens in service centers is pretty secret as far as I know. If you watch the Leica videos, including the one from Luminous Landscape where they visited the Leica factory, you can see that they use the same product, but in a slightly different color/shape variation.

And I agree, wet cleaning is not hard at all - I have a video on how to do it in less than 5 minutes. However, most people for some reason do not feel comfortable doing it anyway, probably too scared to damage the sensor. I have been wet cleaning my sensors for many years now and I have tried every method from CopperHill to VisibleDust swabs. While wet cleaning is ideal for removing oil, there are several problems with it for regular cleaning:

1) It ends up leaving particles on the sides/edges of the sensor, so you either need to use special "corner swabs" and even those often end up leaving residue as well.

2) It often requires cleaning the sensor multiple times, which can get very time consuming and costly. I cannot remember the last time I was able to clean my sensor thoroughly using a single VisibleDust's swab. There are only twelve that come in a package and those are not cheap! Most of the time I end up using 2-3 or more and I found myself going through those too often.

3) Wet cleaning often leaves residue on the sensor, especially if the sensor has oil spots on it. Even without oil you might see some "cloudy" residue on the sensor after wet cleaning. The sensor gel stick can be used effectively in such situations - you wet clean first, then pick up the residue using the sticky gel.

4) If you use other methods like CopperHill, you might end up leaving lint and other stuff inside the chamber if you accidentally touch the side walls and those are tough to get rid of. The sensor gel stick has nothing that will fall off inside the chamber.

5) If you put too much liquid on the swab, you might end up depositing the liquid on the side walls and potentially damaging the sensor, or potentially pick up the grease on the sides and make things worse. Not trying to scare in any way, but you have to be careful :)

6) Using wet cleaning can be very time consuming and you have to constantly go back and forth to check the state of the sensor between cleanings. With the sensor gel stick, you just clean the whole surface and it does a pretty good job most of the time without having to go back over and over again. And if you missed a dust particle, you can just press the gel stick right on that exact spot and only remove one particle - with wet cleaning you either clean everything or nothing.

7) If you have sand or other sharp particles on the sensor, you could end up scratching the surface of the AA filter when wet cleaning. With the sensor gel stick, you never move it from one side of the sensor to another, so there is no danger of scratching the AA filter. Obviously, if you see a big dust particle, it is best to remove it with the sensor gel stick and transfer it to the paper before doing it again to prevent any potential issues (just in case).

8) Traveling with a wet cleaning kit can be problematic - you have to take liquid with you. With the gel stick, you do not have to worry about that.

Now regarding your comment "for me, a gel that requires repeated re-use, and re-application on a sensor invites issues of contamination and getting mechanical oils on it". That's why you use the supplied sticky paper to clean the surface of the gel stick. And if things get nasty, you could always just use distilled water with mild soap or isopropyl alcohol to clean the surface of the gel stick, let it dry and then use it again (just don't use any other chemicals). As for cleaning the corners, it is a little more difficult, but can be done - just angle the stick a little to the side and you should be able to clean the corners as well.

Lastly, regarding a rock solid guarantee that would cover 100% of damages - no way anyone would issue such a claim. No-one, including VisibleDust would ever state that they take any responsibility for damage. Any sensor cleaning is done at your own risk! (I clearly state that on the website).

Claims of manufacturer use are not bogus - please see this video from Luminous Landscape (move to 13:30 min): http://vimeo.com/6551861

In the last 7 years I have tried pretty much every method out there, so I was super excited when I finally found this product!

This post convinced me to buy one. Thanks, I was dreading having my cameras (two D300's and a D700) sent off for sensor cleaning service. I hate to be without my equipment, it's like separation anxiety or something.

Hey Lee,

I actually did use this on the mirror with no problems. After reading your comment I investigated a bit more since I was not aware of the mirror being so delicate.

What I found from other photographers (which is no way empirical), is that the mirrors are coated on the OUTSIDE and not under the glass like typical mirrors. Because of this, you can easily damage the mirror surface a lot easier than a traditional mirror. So yes, cleaning the mirror was rather risky and I would not recommend anyone doing it with the gel looking back.

However, I also read that most auto focus sensors are on the back of the mirror and are usually not affected by mirrors that are slightly scratched or have the reflective surface chipped off. So unless you gouge the mirror in a major way, the autofocus will still work correctly and only the viewfinder you look through will be affected (scratching the mirror will never affect your final image files).

The preferred way to clean a mirror and viewfinder are with the bristle brush. Lesson learned the easy way I guess, thanks for the response.

As for the claims of manufacturers using this, it sounds pretty much 100% confirmed at this point with people backing up my statement by knowing someone who works in a factory or buying the product directly from Pentax/Canon.

I also don't think any of these cleaning products would give a 100% guarantee that their product would not cause damage to a sensor or camera. They would only guarantee it would work as directed which it no doubt does. The tough part would be defining the correct pressure to apply....obviously someone could push this gel stick so hard that it would crack everything behind it; but by using it as directly there is no risk in breaking your sensor or AA filter.

Not only is it a bad idea to mess with the mirror like that, it will most likely also shorten the lifespan of the mirror :/

Thanks for the update Patrick! The biggest threat of the mirror cleaning is potentially dislocating it. If the mirror moves / down or tilts, it can throw the phase detection distance out of the accepted distance - even a quarter of a millimeter is enough to cause AF issues. I don't think it is that easy to pull off the coating from the mirror using the sensor gel stick, so that's not the biggest concern...

It just seems crazy to me that all the slapping the mirror does on a daily basis and it can get thrown off. I'm not saying it can't, it just sounds like a faulty design if it's that delicate. I can't wait until the day we get rid of these mirrors and shutters altogether. This seems like such archaic technology.

Patrick - DSLR mirrors are coated on the front - they are called front surface mirrors. You'll find these on telescopes. The reason is because regular mirrrors are coated from the back. Light going thru the glass to the mirror gets distorted and has ghost images. Front surface mirrors don' have this problem, therefore you get a better image for viewing

I have the same cleaner from Eyelead and also the Dust-Aid Platinum which is also a viscous cleaner like the Eyelead. I use them and have had very good success with them.

Patrick, thanks for the review!

If anyone has any questions about the product or its use, please feel free to ask me right here or at photographylife.com. I will make sure to provide answers as soon as I can!

Hi Nasim,
I noticed that you mentioned in another post that the stick is manufactured in Germany. Since I live in Germany, I would like to order one here instead of going via the US - but I can't find a retailer for the gel stick in Germany. I suppose the product goes by a different name here - can you help me find it (or tell me the name of the manufacturer)? Much obliged.

They are called eyelead (http://eyelead.de). And they distribute their product locally using amazon.de (http://www.amazon.de/eyelead-Sensor-Adh%C3%A4sionstupfer-kit-silber/dp/B...) under the name "Adhäsionstuper-Kit silber".

Awesome, thank you :)

I posted a response to your question last night and for some reason the comment did not show up. You can buy it on Amazon Germany and the company fulfills the orders directly.

Thank you :)

I was about to ask the same thing!

I can confirm that the Canon service department use these (in Switzerland at least) as I just bought one from a Canon service professional. The specific kit they use can only be bought by the public in Japan I think and is sold as the Canon SCK-E1. None of the components are actually Canon branded, just the instruction booklet that comes with it. I can confirm that it works extremely well.

Simon, thank you for your response! The Canon product you are referring to is made by the same company :)

40$? yikes. Why do all these photo gadgets have to be overpriced? I would assume that this thing costs no more than 20 to be honest.

Also, can you clean it with water? 12$ additional for the sticky papers seems ovepriced as well.

All in all, a nice idea, but not worth the money - for me at least.

I agree that it seems expensive. I paid more for my 'official' Canon one which also comes with a grease removal blotting pad as well as the sticky pad. The problem is, it works very well, and is very easy to use and has more than paid for itself already.

I guess it's not terribly expensive, but still, 40 bucks seems a lot. I wold definitely buy it if the gel was washable... but if I have to constantly buy sticky tape, then that's a deal breaker.

Any info on the washability?

I can't comment on the washability, but the one I have comes with a ScotchPad like this http://www.interplas.com/3m-822-4x6-scotchpad-label-protection-tape-p-3m... which are very cheap

It seems crazy that people are saying the sticky paper is expensive for a pack that costs $15. I'd imagine only using this thing 2 times a year per camera so it should last about 1-2 years with the included paper. So hypothetically, saying you spend $100 total to clean 2-4 cameras for 3 years seems negligible. My Rhapsody music account is 4x that in 3 years!

yep and if a ScotchPad is good enough for Canon, it's good enough for me - that's basically regular tape, right?

Simon, it is definitely not regular tape. What I know is that the manufacturer buys the paper from the USA. Not sure who the manufacturer is, but I can ask. The manufacturer buys the paper in large rolls and they cut it themselves, so it is definitely not in a pad like shown in the URL above.

You should just go to the pawn shop and buy cds for $2. That way you get 10 -12 songs for 20cents or less ea.. If it's music worth listening to it'll still sound good to you a year or 2 later instead of impulse buying for far more online

$9.99 a month for any album you ever want at anytime is perhaps one of the greatest deals I've ever found in my life. I'm serious about that statement. Problem with the CDs is I would also have to go buy a CD player now too :)

When you think about it's long term use it sounds good but the initial purchase price stings a bit for something so small and simple and infrequently used.

Jernej, yes, you can certainly wash it, but the manufacturer only recommends to do that if the sensor gel stick falls on the ground or gets oil on the gel. In those cases, you can use mild soap and distilled water, or isopropyl alcohol to wash the gel stick. Let it air dry (do not blow hot air on it) and use the sticky paper before first use.

Any other strong sticky paper we can use with the gel?

Considering that the sensor gel stick is manufactured in Germany, factoring in reusability (the product can be reused thousands of times before it loses its stickyness), the cost of sending your camera to the manufacturer or the cost of other cleaning products on the market, $40 is actually cheap.

The manufacturer wanted me to charge $55 for the sensor gel stick (that's the MSRP) - I had to fight to get the $40 price. The same story with the sticky paper, its MSRP is $15. It is a niche product with a high manufacturing cost, so it is priced accordingly. Perhaps if everyone starts cleaning their sensors using the same product and it becomes popular, the price might get lower overtime...

A sensor cleaning from a shop can easily cost $50. I used to be afraid of cleaning my sensors but my 5D Mk 1 is a freaking crud magnet and I wouldn't be able to afford regular cleanings.

FWIW, I've been using the DustAid Platinum DSLR Sensor Cleaner ($28) and it works great.

i cleaned an old 5D mark 1's sensor several times with ear cleaners and ethanol. Dont ask me how but i got oil drips on the sensor. To get the last bit off i had to scrub quite hard, no gentle wipes here. Worked like a charm, no damage to the sensor at all and it still works fine.
People are way too fuzzy about sensor sensitivity. It doesnt take a degree in engineering and a laboratory to get dust off a tiny surface. Sure nikon and canon would like you all to believe that so they can charge insane amounts of money doing it.

I have been using it for 1 year now, a few cleans of both my bodies and my editing time is thankful to the process as i'm not dust cleaning all the time. The sticky tapes are costly true, but well, when you know and see the Canon Cleaning days and they use the same tool, and then charge 100 bucks per sensor clean, when you are cautious and can use that super tool, well you for sure do.

There are a few other add-ons such as the magnifying glass and the light to see the dust better, and you can also get some wet product for indepth cleaning if you can't get things off with the sticky Gum, but seriously it's impressive and the 40$ is really not overrated. if you're in the field and need to clean regularly as you're probably changing lenses now and then, it's so worth it.

Thank you for your feedback Olivier!

I use it for several years now. Mine is the same they use in the Leica video btw. It's from Pentax!

And it is made by the same company - Pentax simply rebrands it as their own, similar to what Canon does in Japan.

Naseim, maybe yes. I bought mine in 2007 or 2008 so I just wanted to say it's not something new. And at this time it was the only one I could find when looking for alternatives (didn't look for a Canon one if it was available at this time).

Rudi, yes, the product has been out for a while now and Pentax is not the only company that re-branded it. I met the owner of the company and he told me the whole history of the sensor gel stick. Turns out that the product was mostly OEM'd in the beginning and now he is actually selling it as a retail product rather than allowing for re-branding. So the Pentax product that you bought will soon disappear from the market, according to the manufacturer.

I did learn from the video that there is no residue left - How was this fact ascertained ? I wish to learn more about this - If this fact is confirmed, I am would be interested in trying out his process and relegate the wet-process for ever !

Jai, the sensor gel stick indeed removes residue, especially residue that is left from the wet cleaning process.

Hello Namim - Thanks for the kind reply - Perhaps I need to rephrase my question - I understand that the gel remove dust particles, etc., but does it "leave it's own" residue behind - I ask as "sticky stuff" normally leaves it's residue. Have any tests been conducted to confirm that the get does not leave a residue. Sorry if I am persistent in asking this question. I will appreciate any additional information that you can share about this.

Jai, we have shipped this product to over 1000 customers so far and I have not heard of any residue issues yet. The only area of concern is extreme heat and humidity - the stick might not "stick" as well in those environments and could potentially just transfer stuff from one side of the sensor to another. Just make sure that you do it in a clean, dry environment and it should work. Make sure to clean the sensor gel stick with the included sticky paper before first use.

Isn't this the same thing just rebranded?


Andy, it is the other way around - Pentax is the one that's re-branded. The manufacturer told me that he will stop OEM'ing the product, so the Pentax product will disappear from the market soon.

That's what I mean. The Pentax one is rebranded. I suppose it comes down to do you want orange or blue and the tin to go with it :)

Yes, color and shape are slightly different. I can actually get the gel stick in any color including green, blue, orange, etc. I think light blue looks the best though :)

Uh oh, you just opened a can of worms! I want a green one :)

LOL, I think I might have a couple of green ones actually!

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