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Camera Reviews How-to's

To Clean or Not To Clean: Steps to Sensor Cleaning Made Simple

Joseph Gamble (JCGamble)


Keywords: sensor, maintenance, diy

You’ve seen them in photographs and videos, often hours after a photo shoot when your fresh images are full screen on a large monitor. They appear as circular dark blobs, unnatural discs in an otherwise perfect blue horizon. They are called dust bunnies (or dust mice) and  they are the bane of all DSLR owners.  At some point during the life cycle of your camera, you’ll have to combat them if you change lenses.

The easy route is to ship your camera back to the manufacturer and have them do a full cleaning. This is often time consuming as it can take weeks to get your camera back from the service center. Provided you have a local camera shop with knowledgeable people, they may provide this service for a nominal fee and turn it around within a few days, if not hours.

If you travel for your photography and often find yourself shooting in locations that may not provide access to this type of service, you may need to service your camera in the field. It’s not terribly difficult provided you have patience, average dexterity and one of the cleaning tools mentioned below. The one critical caveat is that a careless application of any of these tools could potentially damage the protective optical glass that often sits above the photoreceptors on your sensor. So, proceed with caution.

Dust bunnies and lint

Dust bunnies and lint appear in this image captured at f/14
Photo by the author, click on the image for larger view

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11 comments

Michaela Perata (mikiSJ) on June 26, 2015

Previously, I was into astrophotography with professional equipment. Because of special coatings on lenses and sensors I seldom cleaned either. What I would do is take an image of the blank sky around dusk and save the image as a master 'flat'. If the dust bunnies were very noticeable in an image, I would take image i wanted to clean and subtract the flat in Photoshop or a dedicated astro image processing program. Has anyone here tried this approach?

Tom Thomson (tthomson53) on June 3, 2015

I've had great success with SensorSwabs, though it took 2-3 swabs to fully clean my D800's sensor - something was pretty firmly adhered! I now carry a supply at all times.

David Kilpatrick (Dave_K) on May 26, 2015

I have been cleaning sensors since the days of the D70 and now routinely clean them on my D300, D700, and D5100. Never had a problem as these are skills anyone can master. I use my cameras extensively both in the woods and the beach and if you have to change lenses you are going to contaminate the sensor no matter how carefully you do it. Sending the body(s) back to Nikon is not going to cut it. I use both the wet cleaning method and the dry cleaning method. For a good tutorial on how to do some of this visit Copper Hill Images at http://copperhillimages.com/index.php?pr=tutorials

Alan Del Ponte (clovis29) on May 25, 2015

Question, I've used the Visible Dust wet cleaning method with good results on my D7100. Using there sensor clean solution & green 1.6x V Swabs I was able to remove the 6 or so dust bunnies although it took several swabs to accomplish the mission. When using the V Swabs I'm assuming they can only be used one time & then tossed in the trash??? There not cheap & I'm wondering if they can safely be used more then once???

John D. Roach (jdroach) on May 25, 2015

Fellow Ribbon awarded. John exhibits true Nikonian spirit by frequently posting images and requesting comments and critique, which he graciously accepts. He is an inspiration to all of us through constant improvement in his own work, keen observations and excellent commentary on images posted by others. Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017

I follow this regiment for cleaning my equipment. I have a Giotto Rocket Blower always with me as well as other cleaning tools in all my equipment. I will tell you something has happened a couple of weeks ago that really aggravated me. I always carry the blower in all my bags and one is always with me whenever I travel. When I left Mexico, recently, it was confiscated by the Mexican equivalent of the TSA. They said that since it l"ooked" like a Rocket or a Bomb, I could not carry it. I have flown all over Europe, South America, Mexico, US and never had that stupid response. Thank good they are inexpensive to replace. Just stupid. But I never leave home without one!

Ed Hall (Ed911) on May 25, 2015

I, and many of my photographer friends, have been wet cleaning our sensors for years...no problems. This includes a lot of my retired lady friends...with no mechanical background...that I wouldn't think would want to take on wet sensor cleaning. In fact, that's why I decided to give it a try. Thanks, Susan. Not saying that you can't cause damage, but if you follow the directions, it's easy peasy...and works like a charm. Once you see the dust spots, it's likely that they won't blow off. And, no, I don't want to send my camera off to Nikon for two or three weeks. Cleaning the sensor myself takes all of 15 minutes. And, if you have a shoot coming up...what send your camera off for cleaning...or spend lots of time cleaning dust spots from images, or clean it yourself in less time than it takes to fill up your car with gas. I choose the latter. Don't be afraid...

Laddie Crisp (laddad) on May 24, 2015

I have been following a similar routine for many years. I have never had any issue with cleaning the sensors of my digital cameras. Over the years I have cleaned: D70s, D200, D300, D800 and D810 cameras. If you own a digital camera it is a skill you should learn. It goes with ownership. But then again I can change a flat tire, change oil & filter in my car. But like fixing a car you need the right tools!

Jean Hardy (eliot3b4) on May 24, 2015

Great article. Thank you.

Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg) on May 24, 2015

Ribbon awarded for his multiple contributions to the Articles section

I know two people who have. Very few people are in dust storms in Africa. For most, this sort of thing is a very bad idea, and potentially a very costly one. This is not something that you can just easily do or take on lightly. It can have major consequences.

William Rounds (William Rounds) on May 23, 2015

I've been cleaning my sensors for a couple of years now with no problems. Others that I have spoken to about it haven't had any problems either. I don't suppose there are any statistics on it, but I wonder how many people actually damage their camera's sensor using any of the articles systems. When you do a lot of photography on trips to Africa, as I do, the "send it to Nikon" option isn't very satisfactory. These are simple techniques that I think almost anyone can master.

Jon Nadelberg (jnadelberg) on May 23, 2015

Ribbon awarded for his multiple contributions to the Articles section

Nikon charges you $40 to clean your sensor. And it takes about 2-3 weeks. If you mess up your sensor, they will fix it for you and charge you several hundred dollars. Around a thousand bucks for the higher end models. They can have my camera for a couple weeks.

G