How to Clean a Camera Lens

Remove smudges and avoid scratches when cleaning a lens

Close up photo of camera lens


When driving your car, you don't allow dust, smudges, or rain to build up on the windshield because it makes seeing through the window difficult. Driving when you cannot see well doesn't work well, obviously. Think of the lens of your digital camera as the window for your images. If you have a smudged or dusty lens, the camera will have a difficult time "seeing" through its window, and your image quality will suffer. 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

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 the lens could lead to scratches. Gently brush the dust from the middle of the lens to the edges. Then dislodge the dust 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.

Canned Air

Some people use canned air to clean dust off lenses, but canned air can sometimes carry so much force that it can drive dust particles inside the lens housing, especially with cheaply made lenses. In most instances, you'll be better off using a brush or blowing gently on the lens. Some brushes include a small air bulb, which also can work well. Of course, blowing on the lens with your mouth can cause some saliva to end up on the lens, so you're better off using the brush and air bulb if you have one available.

Microfiber Cloth

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. 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

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 fluid 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

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

No matter how you choose to clean your camera lens, you need to make sure you have a good grip on the camera or on 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.