How to Clean Your Camera Sensor

 In Tips + Tricks

Last week, we talked about cleaning your photography gear, but we only talked about the outside of the camera. Today, let’s talk about a more sensitive part, the sensor! If you have a mirrorless camera, if you change lenses a lot or if you’re in dusty, sandy, windy conditions, you will need to clean your sensor.

Of course, if you’re not comfortable with doing it yourself, it’s understandable, and you should go to a camera store to get a professional cleaning. However, maybe you have to do it too often or your camera store is too far. In that case, let’s see how you can clean your camera sensor yourself.

Checking Dust Spots

Sometimes, you will notice dust spots when post-processing your images, and you’ll know right away that your sensor needs to be cleaned. If you’re not sure, there’s an easy way to check. Take a photo of a white wall at ISO 100, f/22, and import it into Lightroom. Then in the Develop Module, open the Spot Removal Tool (the circle with an arrow icon at the top right).

At the bottom left of the screen, check “Visualize Spots” and play with the slider to see the spots. You can also use this technique to remove spots during post-processing or to check after cleaning.

Preparation

Cleaning needs to happen somewhere without too much dust (or it’ll be counterproductive). An option is a bathroom after running hot water. Wait for the humidity to come down, taking down the dust in suspension in the air. You also need good lighting to be able to see the sensor well. With a DSLR, you need to lock the mirror up. Your manual will let you know how to do that.

Dust Blower

To clean the dust in the sensor chamber, you can start with a dust blower. It’s something you can do quickly on-location while changing your lens if you realize you have dust spots. With a DLSR, you may want to blow dust before locking up the mirror, and then again after.

You’ll need to make sure you’re using a blower like Giottos Rocket Blaster, which has a one-way valve so it doesn’t redistribute dust.

 

Unfortunately, a blower will likely not be enough to fully clean your sensor. You’ll need to get a little more involved, with tools like sensor swabs or static brushes.

Sensor Swabs

Sensor swabs are the most common tool to clean your sensor. You can get them at your camera store or online, from the brand Visible Dust for example. They usually come in kits of a few swabs and cleaning solution.

When choosing swabs, first make sure you pick a kit for your sensor size (Micro 4/3, Cropped, Full-Frame). Then you’ll need to decide if you want the water-based version (for things like condensation, saliva, or streaks) or the stronger, oil-based version (for things like heavy oils, stains, lubricants, and smears).

Once you have your kit, set up your camera face-up. Get one swab and the solution bottle. Wet each end of the swab with a drop of the solution, then swab the sensor from left to right or right to left. Important: DO NOT re-use swabs or apply multiple solutions.

Static Brush

A static brush like the Visible Dust’s Arctic Butterfly 724s removes sensor dust using static electricity. It’s significantly more expensive than swabs, but it’s reusable and easy to use. Turn on the motor to charge the brush with static electricity, then turn it off and turn the lights on before brushing the sensor, as you would do with a swab.

 

We hope this gives you a good idea of how to clean your camera sensor. If you have other tools you like using, please share in the comments below.

 

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Showing 2 comments
  • Avatar
    Craig P
    Reply

    After using the Arctic Butterfly brush I have noticed it can seem like it gets “oily” and has caused my sensor to smear more than it was before I used the brush. It makes it harder to clean with the swabs after using it. Do you skip the brush if the blower doesn’t get it off. I am concerned about scratching with the swab if there is “grit” on the sensor. Experienced anything similar? Is there a way to clean the brush?

    • Michael Muraz
      Michael Muraz
      Reply

      Hi Craig, I can’t say I have experienced anything similar. If there’s anything oily on the sensor, I would avoid the brush and use swabs. I think you’d need to purchase a replacement tip for the brush, I don’t know of a way to clean it. Maybe reach out to the manufacturer?

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