How To Clean A Camera Lens The Right Way

Whether it’s from an accidental finger touch or you’re shooting in a dusty environment, a dirty lens is something we all deal with as photographers. So what’s the right way to clean a camera lens?

To clean a camera lens, you need to follow three simple steps:  air, spray, and wipe. First, use a puffer to blow away any large dust particles that are on your lens. If you don’t have a puffer, you can also use a lens brush for the same purpose. Next, get a lint-free wipe and spray a cleaning solution directly onto the wipe. Take this wipe and move it in circular motions starting in the center of your lens and working outwards till the lens is clean. Now you have a spotless lens!

Cleaning A Camera Lens – Step By Step

When I first started cleaning my camera lenses, I would just use my breath and a t-shirt. As a total novice, I had no idea that this wasn’t the smartest idea. Just think of all the things your clothing touches throughout the day. You have no idea if there are small dust particles in there or not. Not to mention that a regular cotton shirt isn’t very soft compared to a microfiber cloth. For these reasons alone, it’s easy to see why using a shirt to clean your lens is a surefire way to scratch the coating.

This is something I never thought about at the time and paid the price because of it.

From the school of hard knocks, I learned that there are smarter ways to clean a camera lens. Ways that won’t damage the lens coating and certainly won’t leave any scratches!

Let’s dive in a little deeper into the how’s and why’s of each step to help you realize there’s a method to this madness.

Step 1: Use A Puffer To Blow Dust Off Your Lens

The first (and most important) step of lens cleaning is the one many people forget. You need to blow away any dust particles before you ever wipe your lens.

You never know how dense these particles are, and some of them could cause damage to your lens if they’re rubbed around. Just imagine if you put a bunch of sand on a piece of glass. If you started wiping with all the sand still there, you’re just moving around all the grains as you wipe. With each stroke, you’d be creating more and more scratches to the glass.

Try to think about anything on your lens in the same way. Always assume that something on your lens could scratch it before you break out the lens wipe.

Ideally, you should use a dedicated lens puffer for this step, but there are other options out there. If you really wanted to get DIY with it, a turkey baster will work fine too.

You just might get a few looks taking that one out of your camera bag like I did.

If You Don’t Have A Puffer, Use A Lens Brush

Instead of using a puffer, you can also use a lens brush to dust off your lens. A lens brush looks a lot like a small paintbrush that swipes away any bigger dust particles. Since the bristles are so fine, they don’t affect your lens while they’re brushing.

The lens brush I love to use is built into a lens pen. It’s super compact and doesn’t take up any space in my bag. What it lacks in size, it surely doesn’t lack in usefulness!

You can’t go wrong with either the puffer or brush method, so it’s totally up to you which you go with. The important part is that you get rid of any significant dust or debris from your lens before you wipe it.

– Things You Shouldn’t Use To Blow Dust Off Your Lens

If you’re thinking, “I can just blow the dust off with my mouth,” or “what about compressed air?” stop yourself right there.

Using your mouth in place of a puffer causes a few problems. Since the air you exhale isn’t as focused as the air coming from a small nozzle, it’s hard to blow away all of the dust from your lens. Secondly, you’ll probably get a bit of saliva on your lens, which further complicates the situation. You’ll want to wipe it away, but all the dust particles are still there. That sort of defeats the whole purpose of this step.

Canned or compressed air is another common tool you might want to use for dusting off your lens. The problem with this is that it can sometimes release a liquid from inside the can. This liquid will really damage your lens and can be quite corrosive. To avoid this problem altogether, it’s a better idea to leave the canned air out of your cleaning routine.

Step 2: Grab Your Lens Cleaning Solution

Now that your lens is clean from any big dust particles, it’s time to apply a cleaning solution. Most cleaning solutions for camera lenses are alcohol-based, and essentially the same as an eyeglasses cleaner. The idea with this solution is to lift any oil that’s causing smudges on your lens.

If you need a lens cleaning solution, you can find some here.

Step 3: Spray The Cleaning Solution Onto A Lens Wipe

People face a common problem when learning how to clean a camera lens because they spray the cleaning solution directly onto the lens. Doing this leaves you with a ton of excess liquid on the glass that can be harmful to your lens coating over time. Instead, spray the cleaning solution directly onto a lens wipe first.

Now a lens wipe isn’t just a piece of toilet paper or paper towel. A proper lens wipe is lint-free and won’t leave anything behind after you’re done with it. They feel a lot different than your typical household wipe and are much better for lens cleaning.

With a cleaning solution on a lens wipe, the liquid is less saturated but still works well to lift the oily smudges on your lens. Usually, one or two sprays of the solution will do the job. The wipe just needs to be damp, not soaked.

– Other Lens Wipe Options

Lint-free wipes aren’t the only thing you can use for cleaning a lens. You can also use a microfiber cloth or a pre-moistened lens wipe.

A microfiber cloth is an extremely soft fabric that won’t damage your lens in any way. These are great to keep in your camera bag and can be used multiple times, so they’re far less wasteful. With that said, make sure to keep your microfiber cloths in some kind of case or pouch so they can’t collect dust and debris. The last thing you need is a dirty microfiber cloth that just causes scratches without you realizing it!

You can use the microfiber cloth from your eyeglasses, or you can find a set for cheap here.

Your other option is a pre-moistened lens wipe. These essentially merge steps 2 and 3 into one since it’s a cloth that already has a cleaning solution on it. These can be slightly less hassle but slightly more expensive per wipe than the lint-free wipe and spray method. If convenience is more important to you than cost, this could be a better option to go with.

There are a ton of pre-moistened lens wipes out there, but it’s best to get them in larger quantities. These wipes give you 400 wipes in one box, so you’ll be set up for months (or years) to come!

Step 4: Wipe Your Lens From The Center, Outwards

Now it’s time to start actually wiping your lens. Don’t think about this as your bathroom mirror in broad strokes; instead, clean your lens with small movements working outwards.

Starting in the middle, firmly press the wipe onto the lens and use the wipe in a circular motion moving outwards. As you reach the outside of the lens, look for any smudges that may be leftover. If you still see something on your lens, work inwards from the outside, continuing the circular wiping motion. If your lens is really dirty, you might need to do this a few times until the glass element is spotless.

Now You Have A Spotless Lens!

Following these four easy steps, you’ve learned the best way to clean a camera lens, so your lenses stay clean and protected. Before you wipe a lens, it’s always important to get rid of anything that might cause a scratch. Even the smallest dust particles can cause slight damage to your lens coating that will compound over time. Using these methods, you’re guaranteed to keep your lens in mint condition for as long as you use it! If you want to learn some added ways to protect your camera lens from getting dust in the first place, check out this post!

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Happy Cleaning!

– Brendan 🙂