Learning how to clean a camera sensor is essential if you don’t want to risk permanently damaging your sensor. With the right tools and tips, you can clean your camera sensor at home in a couple of minutes.
You’ll save money from having to get it professionally cleaned, and you’ll get better quality images and videos.
We’ll guide you through the cleaning process on different cameras and give you pointers and tips to make sure you’re not doing anything that’ll damage your gear.
By the end of the guide, you’ll have the knowledge and confidence to clean your camera’s sensor safely. You’ll know what cleaning tools and techniques to avoid and all the good practices.
Let’s jump into the guide!
How to Clean Camera Sensors like a Pro
We strongly advise you to stick to the gear recommendations and proper sensor camera cleaning kits as straying too far from the path could cause irreparable damage and cost you tons of money.
Let’s get started!
Why It’s Important to Clean Your Camera’s Sensor
Cleaning the camera sensor is one of those often overlooked tasks that photographers tend to ignore. Oftentimes, they’re afraid of doing more damage than good – and this is a fair fear.
I wrecked the sensor on my first DSLR and that taught me some good – albeit expensive – lessons that I’ve never forgotten.
Every time you change your lenses, you’re giving tiny dust particles a brief chance to make it into the lens cavity, and ultimately onto the imaging sensor.
Dust sticks to this surface like no-mans’ business and will slowly build up over time – especially if you’re into outdoor photography.
These clumps of dirt and dust can show up on your images and videos as blurry blobs that are quite easy to spot. Having your sensor cleaned is the only way to get this dirt off.
This is where it gets tricky if you mess around too much. There’s a lot of misleading information on the internet that can wind up ruining your camera or leading to an expensive mistake.
Now that you know why cleaning the sensor is important, let’s look at how to get it done.
How to Clean a Mirrorless Camera Sensor
Cleaning a mirrorless camera’s sensor is a little easier as you don’t need to worry about getting the mirror out the way. The caveat is that they tend to get dirty even quicker than other cameras.
I used these steps when I was learning how to clean a camera sensor by Sony, but you can use it on any camera brand.
We’d advise you not to try replacing these tools or trying any DIY swabs and builds. It’ll put your sensor at a far greater risk of being damaged.
Make sure the sensor cleaning kit you get has the following tools:
- Rocket blower or other handheld air blowers
- Sensor swabs that match the size of your camera’s sensor
- Sensor cleaning fluid
Here are some tools and materials to avoid using:
- Fluffy Q-tips as they leave residue and streaks behind (from quickly picking up moisture from the air)
- Rubbing or cleaning alcohol
- Compressed air cans (as they have propellants that can damage the sensor
With all this in mind, let’s move onto the steps to cleaning your mirrorless camera’s sensor.
Step 1: Take a Test Picture
We want to see how much dirt and dust has built up and how much it’s affecting your photos and videos.
To get the test picture, adjust your aperture to the smallest possible size (maximum zoom, e.g. f/22).
Take a photo of a clean white sheet of paper, making sure the paper can be seen in the entire photo. Move the camera slightly so that the image is a little blurry.
Transfer it over to your computer and use a photo editing app to show you where the dark spots on the photo are. If you’re using Photoshop, the “Auto Levels” feature is excellent for this and clearly shows you where all the dirt is.
Read More: How to Use a Kodak Disposable Camera
Step 2: Remove the Lens
By now you should know how to take a lens off your camera. If you don’t know how to, find your user manual or online version and look for the instruction.
Pro Tip: Always tilt your lens downward when you’re removing or changing them. This helps stop dirt and dust from drifting into the lens cavity.
Place the lens down safely in a dry and dust-free spot. Keep the camera pointing down toward the ground.
Step 3: Blow the Dirt Away
Using the Rocket Blower or whatever handheld blower (not compressed air cans), blow at the imaging sensor. Make sure not to get too close to the sensor and never touch it.
Blow from different angles all and aim it all over the sensor for the best results.
Step 4: Taking a Second Test Image
Put the lens back on quickly and take another test picture of the same sheet of paper in the same lighting. This might seem like a waste of time, but the blower is often enough to clean the sensor.
Even though we’ll be using proper sensor cleaning wipes, it’s always a good idea to limit the amount of touching your sensor. It’s less risky that way.
Step 5: Wiping Away the Dirt
If the previous steps have failed to remove the dirt, this step won’t. You’ll need the sensor cleaning swabs for your cleaning kit.
Make sure they’re fresh and in unopened packaging. Get your sensor cleaning fluid and dab it onto both corners of the tip.
You want it to be damp, not dripping wet. Looking at your sensor, wipe it gently but firmly from right to left. Only use one stroke and wipe the whole sensor in one motion.
Flip the swab over to its reverse side and wipe the sensor again in the same direction you did the first time.
If you’ve done this correctly, there won’t be any dirt or dust left on the sensor.
Step 6: Taking the Final Test Picture
Put your lens back onto the camera. Take one last test picture the same way you did the other two. You should have a clear image with no visible dirt or dust.
If there are still markings, then you should get it professionally done by a camera sensor cleaning service. Do an internet search for “camera sensor cleaning near me”. Take it in and have it looked at.
How to Clean the Sensor of a Camera that has a Mirror
The only difference between cleaning these cameras is lifting the mirror so you can access the imaging sensor.
We’ll show you how to do that safely and easily. We’re going to leave the test photos out of these steps, but you should do them if between any of the cleaning steps.
There’s a good chance you won’t need to move on to the more complicated and risky cleaning steps.
Step 1: Use Your Camera’s Automatic Sensor Cleaner
If you’re lucky, this will shake the dirt off. A lot of modern cameras have this feature and it can be accessed through the tools section of your menu.
The tools section is often the last section in the menu and shows the usually marked by an icon of a spanner head.
Run the feature a couple of times to dry clean off the dirt. Once you’re done, take another test picture to see if it worked. If it didn’t, move on to the next steps.
Step 2: Lock the Mirror Up
The very first thing to do is to make sure your camera’s battery has a 100% charge. This is important because many cameras won’t even let you access this setting without a fully charged battery.
Go into your menu and browse for a feature called “Lock Mirror Up for Cleaning”. This looks different depending on the brand you’re using, so look for something similar.
This will lock the mirror up and you can go ahead and take off your lens.
Step 2: Using the Manual Air Blower
Remember not to use any compressed air for this step. It’s important to hold your camera upside down so that the opening is facing the floor.
If the blower frees any dirt, the last thing you want is for it to be sitting around nearby. Holding the camera upside down helps to flush the dirt out of the imaging sensor’s cavity.
Blow at the sensor without ever touching it and don’t get the blower’s nozzle too close either.
Do this for a while and try another test image to check your progress (or skip to the next cleaning step if you know it needs a thorough cleaning).
P.S. If you’re going to take a test photo, remember to turn off the camera to reset the mirror. You’ll need to lift it again via the manual settings.
Step 3: Using the Sensor Cleaning Swabs
Make sure they’re fresh out of their packaging and have never been used before. Get your sensor cleaning liquid and dab both corners of the tip. You want it a little damp, but not dripping.
In one clean, firm but gentle motion, wipe the sensor from right to left. Keep the single motion controlled and not too fast. Flip the swab over and wipe the sensor with the opposite side, in the same direction as the first.
Throw away that swab as you can never use it again for cleaning a sensor.
You can take another test photo now. Remember to turn your camera off and back on to reset the mirror.
You should have got all the dirt off the sensor and the photo shouldn’t show any clumps or dark spots.
If you’re still seeing them, you need to take the camera to a camera sensor cleaning service to have it looked at by experienced professionals.
Some Additional Tips and Warnings
There are loads of sites online that say you can clean camera sensors with a Q-tip. You should never do this. These tips shred when you wipe with them.
This leaves behind a residue that can damage the imaging sensor and ruin the quality of your shots. Always use dedicated sensor cleaning swabs that are the right size for your sensor.
You should also avoid using rubbing or cleaning alcohol. Aside from being able to damage your sensor directly, this alcohol sucks in moisture from the air when it’s on a swab.
This leads to streaky finishes on your sensor that’ll mess with the image quality.
Whenever you’re changing lenses or cleaning the sensor make sure you’re in a sheltered, dry, and wind-free space. Always point the open sensor cavity down as reduce the amount of dust floating in.
The most important tip here is to never touch the imaging sensor – under any circumstances – with anything other than the cleaning swap. You shouldn’t even be using the same side of the swab more than once.
Imaging sensors are extremely sensitive and fragile, so all it takes is one scratch or smudge to completely mess up a photo-shoot and cost you a lot of money.
Well done for taking the time to make sure you don’t make a mistake here. Camera sensors are incredibly advanced but this makes them fragile and easy to wreck.
With the right tools and techniques laid out in this guide, you’ll be able to get perfectly clean sensors safely.
Take what you’ve learned here on how to clean a camera sensor and carefully put it into practice. Stick close to our steps and you’ll be taking crisp and sharp images in no time! Good luck!