Digital photo camera with cleaning tools

It is inevitable that every now and then you camera’s image sensor is going to get dirty and need cleaning. If it doesn’t then you need to use your camera more and get out of the house!

As I was learning photography, the author of every tutorial I watched on YouTube had a different view when it came to camera sensor cleaning, but most tended to fall into two different camps. One camp is telling you never try cleaning your own image sensor, you can do damage and make your pride and joy dslr or mirror-less camera into junk. The other camp was screaming at you through the computer and TV screen to save your money and do the job of sensor cleaning yourself. Proving you are sensible and follow simple rules, the job is easy and over years will save you a fortune.

Camera Image Sensor Cleaning

There is a right and wrong way to do most things!

While I decided which way to go; send the camera away for cleaning or do the job myself, I found myself spending longer and longer in post production removing dust spots and marks from my images until enough was enough, the sensor needed cleaning and needed cleaning now.

I asked myself a few questions and in the end the decision was quite simple ..

  1. Do I want to spend a fair bit of money having the job done professionally? No
  2. Do I know a trusted camera shop close to here that will do the job? No
  3. Do I want to be without my camera while the job is being done? No
  4. Will who ever cleans my camera treat it like their own and be as careful as I would? Doubtful
  5. I have 2 cameras that need a sensor clean, do I want to pay for both? Hell no!

Decision made.

Before and after a camera image sensor clean

Before and after a camera image sensor clean.

Having made the decision to clean my own image sensors it was time to go shopping online for things I didn’t have and would need to carry out the job, this turned out to be not a lot ..

  1. APS-C (DX crop sensor) cleaning swab kit
  2. Eclipse cleaning solution

I also needed but already had a small craft brush and a rocket air blower to clean the body of the camera prior to sensor cleaning. All in all I spent less than £20 for enough kit to do many cleans in months and years to come.

Digital photo camera with cleaning tools

(Stock photo, not my camera)

So, you have the kit you need – time to find a good spot to do the job then steadily and methodicalally get down to some camera and sensor cleaning.

A good place to clean the image sensor is a room with least dust, never easy regardless of how much you clean and scrub your house! I simply found a room in the house that was used less than others and had just been cleaned the day before.

I placed the camera and cleaning kit on a clean and light window ledge. With the lens still attached to the camera I went to the other side of the room and gave the camera body a good brush down and blow with the air blower, taking care to clean off sand and dust that had accumulated under the pop up flash and around the various wheels and buttons on the camera body. Once I was happy the camera body was clean, I turned the camera upside down and unclipped the lens, again using the brush and air blower I cleaned around the steel lens mount and finally used the air blower to blow out the light box where the sensor is housed and blow away any loose dust and debris on the image sensor its self.

A word of caution when using an air blower to blow dust from your image sensor. Do not stick the end of the air blower right into the light box as pictured below. The mirror and sensor can be damaged if you accidentally catch them with the long end of the blower. As a rule, I never let the blower nozzle go past the steel lens mount, with a good blower there is simply no need to go in any further.

Wrong way to use a camera air blower

Do not stick the end of the air blower right into the camera light box!

For the next step (sensor swabbing) I went into the camera menu and locked the mirror up for cleaning. The camera was then placed on the window ledge on it’s back so I could easily see and get to the image sensor. The outside light coming through the window was enough to see the sensor, but next time I will use a head torch to see even better.

I carefully opened and removed the first sensor swab from the foil wrapping, taking good care to hold the swab by the plastic handle and not the cleaning end (never touch this bit).

My sensor had not been cleaned for some time so I put 3 drops of eclipse fluid on one side of the swab, it almost instantly migrates around the other side. Using the side of the swab were I had applied the drops and applying light and even pressure (just enough to slightly bend the end of the swab), I started a slow sweep from one side of the sensor to the other. Making sure I did not touch the sides of the light box, I carefully turned over the swab and did a sweep in the opposite direction. This swab must not be used again and was put in the bin. Again because I knew my sensor was dirty, I then proceeded to do 2 more sweeps of the sensor with 2 more swabs, this time with one drop of eclipse on each side. Lastly, with the mirror still locked up, I turned the camera body upside down and blew a little air at the sensor before locking the mirror back down and clicking on a lens.

To test all dirt and oil drops were gone from the image sensor I switched the camera to f/22 and took a shot of the blue sky. If the weather is not good you can always use a pure white computer screen to do a test shot. If spots still show, do another sweep with another swab.

In my case all was perfectly clean and 100% in working order. Result, I had cleaned my own image sensor and saved myself a packet!

I will always be careful but never intimidated again when it comes to cleaning my own sensor, it’s easy, honestly it is.

To end, here are a few do’s and dont’s when it comes to cleaning your own camera image sensor ..

Do:

  1. Buy the correct size swabs for your sensor (crop or full frame).
  2. Buy Eclipse cleaning fluid, it is not the cheapest but very good and evaporates immediately leaving a dry sensor. A small bottle will last forever!
  3. Pick a clean room to do the clean to minimise dust contamination.
  4. Give the camera body a good clean first to prevent sand and dust migrating into the light box during cleaning. Don’t forget to clean under the flash if you have one.
  5. Lock the mirror up (if you have one) before cleaning (of course).
  6. If you sensor is really dirty, start with 2 or 3 drops of Eclipse on one side of the swab, do not touch the felt sides of the light box on the way in. For further swabs use 1 drop of fluid.
  7. Apply gentle even pressure from one side of the sensor to the other then gently turn the swab and swipe back again.
  8. Take a test shot at f/16 to f/22 at blue sky or a white computer screen to test all the spots are gone. If not do one more swab and test again.
  9. Make sure the screw top is firmly on the cleaning fluid to stop it all evaporating away.
  10. Feel the satisfaction of doing the job yourself and saving lots of money 🙂

Do Not:

  1. Use the same swab twice or even the same side. One use only!
  2. Touch the felt sides of the light box on the way down to the sensor with a swab.
  3. Use excessive cleaning fluid, 3 drops on one side of the swab maximum. One drop either side is the norm.
  4. Stick the nozzle of the air blower past the lens mount and into the light box.
  5. Use excessive pressure on the swab when sweeping the sensor. Only practice will determine the correct pressure but don’t let this put you off.
  6. Touch the cleaning end of the swab with greasy fingers. Only touch the plastic stick.

I hope this article helped some of you who may be in the same dilemma as I was regarding sensor cleaning. Care must be taken at all stages but it really is not hard, in fact its very simple and will save you a ton of cash.

If you need advice or have any further questions about cleaning your own camera image sensor, please do not hesitate to ask in comments below, I will gladly answer as soon as I see your comment. Also, is there something I have missed out that could help others, again, please comment below, thank you.

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