How to Clean a Camera Lens

Remove smudges and avoid scratches when cleaning a lens

Close up photo of camera lens

WLADIMIR BULGAR / Getty Images

As we all know, a windshield with dust, smudges, or moisture makes seeing through the windscreen difficult and even a bit dangerous. Consider a camera lens. While it isn't hazardous if it gets dirty, it certainly makes it challenging to take photos.  Cleaning a camera lens requires some special care, though, to avoid scratches and other damage to the camera lens. These tips should help you learn how to clean a camera lens properly and safely.

Dusty Lens

Eyeglass lens with a brush.
 PXHere/Public Domain CC0

If you've used the lens in a dusty environment, it's a good idea to first remove the dust from the lens using a soft brush. Wiping the lens with dust still on it could lead to scratches. Gently brush the dust from the middle of the lens to the edges. Then dislodge the dirt from the edges by holding the camera upside down with the lens glass pointing toward the ground, allowing the dust to fall toward the ground as you brush. Be sure to use a brush with soft bristles.

Bulb Blower

A bulb blower for a camera.
Piotr Siedlecki/Public Domain Pictures 

If you'd rather have something that doesn't make any contact with the lens, try using a bulb blower or air bulb. It can deliver a small puff of air without adding harmful moisture. Don't use your mouth or canned air. Blowing on the lens with your mouth could dispense saliva. Canned air can sometimes spray liquid difluoroethane, the liquid form of the gas used to deliver the air. Also, canned air can sometimes carry so much force that it can drive dust particles inside the lens housing, especially with cheaply made lenses. With a few gentle puffs from the bulb blower, you should be able to get most of the debris off your camera lens.

Microfiber Cloth

Three microfiber cloths.
 David Bicker/Pixabay

After removing dust, probably the best tool for cleaning a camera lens is a microfiber cloth, which is a soft cloth that you can find for less than $10. It's made specifically for cleaning the glass surface on camera lenses and even glasses. It works well for removing smudges, with or without lens cleaning fluid, and a microfiber cloth can clean other parts of the camera, too. When using the microfiber cloth, start wiping in the middle of the lens, using a circular motion as you move toward the edges of the lens. Wipe gently with the microfiber cloth.

Cleaning Fluid

A blue bottle spraying liquid.
 George Hodan/PublicDomainPictures

If you cannot clean the lens adequately with the brush and a microfiber cloth, try using a few drops of lens cleaning fluid, which should be available from a camera store. Always place the liquid on the cloth, rather than directly on the lens. Excessive fluid could damage the lens, so start with a few drops and increase the amount of fluid only if needed. Most simple smudges will come clean easily after just a few drops of liquid.

Plain Water

Water droplets on a window.
Axelle B/PubicDomainPictures 

In a pinch, you can use water to dampen a piece of tissue paper to clean the lens. Try to avoid using a rough cloth, such as you find with some types of t-shirts, or a rough paper towel to clean the lens. Additionally, do not use a tissue or cloth with any lotions or scents in it, as they're more likely to smear the lens than clean it properly. 

Get a Grip

A person holding a camera in front of them.
ATC Comm Photo/Pexels 

No matter how you choose to clean your camera lens, you need to make sure you have a good grip on the camera or the interchangeable lens. If you're trying to hold the camera or lens one-handed so you can clean the lens surface with the other hand, you could potentially drop the camera, leading to a broken lens, as depicted above. It's best to hold the camera or lens directly above or even resting on a table or counter surface, so if the camera does slip from your hand, it won't fall to the ground.