- Minimize lens changes. The less time your camera body is open to the elements, the less opportunity there is for a lot of dust and other debris to find its way onto your mirror and sensor.
- Avoid changing lenses in a dusty or windy environment at all costs.
- When changing lenses, point the camera body toward the ground. That puts gravity on your side, and dust will fall toward the ground and not into your camera.
- Frequently wipe down your lens caps and body caps. The less dust there is on your caps, the less dust that can be transferred into your camera.
- Clean your camera bag frequently. There's no sense in cleaning your camera if you then put it into a bag that has a bunch of dirt and other contaminants in it.
- Add 1-2 drops of cleaning liquid onto the tip of the swab. Only use camera sensor cleaning fluid - NEVER any other type of fluid!
- Allow the liquid to soak into the swab for a few seconds.
- At approximately a 45-degree angle, tilt the swab and gently pull it across the sensor from one side to the other. Then flip the swab to the other side and repeat the process in the opposite direction.
- Apply even pressure as you move the swab across the sensor such that it is making contact with the sensor across the width of the swab. Don't press too hard though - that could damage the delicate sensor!
- Never clean your mirror with anything but air. The mirror's coating is extremely fragile, and you could cause significant damage to it if you use a cloth, brush, gel stick, or another instrument to physically touch the mirror's surface.
- Point your camera towards the ground when using a blower or sensor brush. Doing so makes gravity work in your favor such that any dislodged dust simply falls out of the camera.
- Apply even, gentle pressure when using a sensor cleaning swab, sensor brush, or gel stick. Pressing too hard on the camera sensor could cause damage.
- Always clean your camera in a well-lit, clean environment. The better you can see, the better you can clean! Likewise, clean the camera indoors where the air is clean and still. There's no point in cleaning your camera if you're doing it where more dust can easily find its way inside.
So, you have a fancy camera that you worked hard to buy.
You've enjoyed learning how to use it to take some pretty good photos too.
But you've noticed that when you zoom in on your photos, there's anomalies that shouldn't be there...
Little black blobs that ruin the look of your photos.
Your camera's mirror or sensor is dirty.
For most beginning photographers, I'd venture to say that the answer is one that elicits a bit of fear...
It's time to clean your camera.
Why You Need to Clean Your Camera
Like any other piece of machinery, your camera benefits from cleaning in a number of ways.
First of all, by cleaning your camera, you ensure that the mirror and sensor are free of dust, dirt, and other debris that, as I alluded to in the introduction of this article, degrades the quality of the images you create.
The last thing you want is to get a wonderful shot of a landscape or take a beautiful portrait of a loved one, only to find that the quality of the image is poor because you have a dirty camera.
Secondly, routine maintenance will ensure that your camera continues to work like a top.
Just like your car needs periodic attention for an oil change, your camera needs periodic attention to get the mirror and sensor back to their cleanest states, particularly given how many dangers your camera faces in the contaminant department.
Frequency of Cleaning
How often you clean your camera depends on a number of factors.
First, if you intend to sell your photos, you'll need to clean your sensor and mirror more frequently than if you're just an enthusiast that wants to post photos to Facebook and Instagram.
For most of us, some dust specks here and there aren't going to be a deal-breaker, and even if there are some visible dust specks, they can be removed in Photoshop.
Second, if you do a lot of lens changing, your cleaning schedule will need to be pretty frequent.
Though dust will find its way into your camera even if you don't switch lenses, when the lens is off the camera body, that big opening is a huge invitation for dust to find its way onto the mirror and the sensor.
This is especially true if you do a lot of outdoor shooting in environments that are dusty or windy.
Lastly, how often you clean your sensor often comes down to how comfortable you are doing it.
I know when I cleaned my camera for the first time, it was a bit of a nail-biting experience because I didn't want to damage the camera's internal components.
Like anything else in photography, with practice, I got more confident and worried less about messing things up.
But still - that first go-round was a little stressful.
In short, there's really no hard-and-fast rule for how often you need to clean your camera. If you're just having fun taking photos of friends and family, once every few months should do the trick.
However, if you do a lot of lens changes, if you work in dirty or windy environments, or if you want to sell your photos, more frequent cleanings will be warranted.
Before I get into the various tools you can use to clean your mirror and sensor, it's necessary to point out that there are preventative measures you can take that can extend the time between cleanings:
There is a wide variety of cleaning tools for you to use on your camera's mirror and sensor. They range from air blowers to remove superficial dust to cleaning wands that you use to physically wipe the dust and debris from your mirror and sensor.
Let's take a look at a few of the most popular camera cleaning tools.
A blower like the Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster shown above is your first line of defense in keeping your camera clean.
The great thing about a blower is that it allows you to remove larger chunks of dust with a few puffs of air without having to actually touch the mirror or the sensor.
To maximize its effectiveness, give the blower a couple of squeezes away from your camera to dislodge any dust that might have accumulated on or in the blower.
Then, holding the camera such that it's facing the ground, aim the blower into the camera - taking care not to insert it too far into the opening of the camera - and give it a few gentle puffs of air. Any dust that isn't caked on will fall harmlessly out of the camera and to the ground.
A blower is also a handy tool for cleaning your camera's mirror.
In fact, it should be the only tool you use to clean the mirror as the mirror has a special coating that, if touched, could be damaged.
A sensor brush is another option for quickly and easily removing the larger chunks of dust and debris from your camera's sensor.
As you might guess, a sensor brush works by sweeping it gently across the surface of the sensor.
When it passes over the sensor's surface, the brush collects any loose debris and removes it from the sensor.
As with a blower, it's beneficial to hold the camera such that it's pointing at the ground so that the debris dislodged by the sensor brush will fall out of the camera.
Because there's no touching or liquids involved, using a blower or sensor brush is known as a dry method of camera cleaning and is the least stressful for beginners.
Sensor Cleaning Swab
Though a blower is great for getting big chunks of dust and debris out of your camera, the stuff that's more difficult to remove will require a wet method of camera cleaning.
When cleaning your sensor, something like the Sensor Cleaning Kit shown above is a good choice.
These kits come with swabs that are covered with a micrometer-level fiber cloth that's great for absorbing dust and sweeping debris off of the sensor.
The tip of the swabs have an ultra-thin tongue that's extremely flexible. That makes it easier for you to apply even pressure that's needed to clean the sensor safely and effectively.
Every camera manufacturer has slightly different instructions regarding the process of cleaning your camera's sensor.
First and foremost, check your owner's manual for their recommendations. The procedure will likely be something like the following:
Sensor Gel Stick
If a sensor cleaning swab with liquid just seems like a bit much for you to handle, there is another alternative - a Sensor Gel Stick.
Similar to using a sensor cleaning swab, you simply use the Sensor Gel Stick to remove dust by pressing the stick very gently onto your camera's sensor.
The gel stick's adhesive rubber head collects dust and debris, which allows you to clean the sensor without leaving any streaks (which can be a problem with sensor cleaning swabs).
The Sensor Gel Stick comes with adhesive cleaning papers that allow you to transfer any dust or dirt from the stick head onto the cleaning papers, that way you can reuse the stick without transferring dust back onto your sensor.
A Few Words of Caution
Although I mentioned these words of caution earlier, they are worth mentioning again:
When it comes down to it, if you are simply too afraid to clean your camera for fear of damaging it, let someone else do it for you. Brick-and-mortar camera shops offer cleaning services, as do online shops. It's better to have a professional clean it than to forego cleaning altogether!
See How to Clean Your Camera
Now that you know about a few essential camera cleaning supplies, it's time to see the process of cleaning your camera.
In the video below, PhotographersOnUTube gives us an in-depth look at how to clean your camera safely and effectively: