Disclaimer: It is possible to permanently damage your sensor by exposing and touching it. You need to be extremely careful while your sensor is exposed. Clean your camera at your own risk.

This article is a detailed, step-by-step version of the dry-cleaning method described here.

I photograph a lot of landscape photos, which means that I’m out in a lot of extremely dirty conditions on a regular basis. My camera spends quite a bit of time on the seat of my filthy farm truck; if I left it in the bag I would totally miss my shots! Living in a small town where the nearest camera service available is a two-hour drive, I have learned to clean my DSLR myself.

Supplies

My D7100 is pretty dirty here, and these are the tools I use to clean it:

clean your dslrTools for cleaning a dirty DSLR

You will need:

  • Lint-free cleaning pads: I find that those little cloths that come with cleaning kits are NOT lint-free. They tend to absorb the oil from our fingers and attract the lint from our camera bags, and I just don’t use them. Instead I use a product called Pec Pads (found on Amazon) that you use once and throw out.
  • A bulb blower
  • A small, soft-bristle brush
  • And maybe some rubbing alcohol: but be very careful when you use alcohol. You could damage your sensor, and you must let it completely evaporate inside the camera. Do not use water or glass cleaner, and never use canned air! Canned air contains a wet propellant which can squirt onto the sensor. Moisture in a camera equals mold and can ruin your camera and your lens.

Cleaning your DLSR

1. First, take a photo (jpegs are fine for this) of pure blue sky or a plain white sheet of paper to determine just how dirty your sensor is.  Now load the photo on to your computer. What do you see; polka dots or the odd spot? If you see a lot of spots, then you may have to repeat this process more than once.

2. Next, make sure you have a fully-charged battery. You don’t want the mirror flipping down; or even worse, getting stuck open because your battery died!

3. Remove your lens and set your camera body aside. Examine the lens. It may be the culprit! If it’s clean, you can proceed to the next step. If not, wipe it gently with a Pec Pad, and then gently brush around the edge. Check the caps; are they clean? Look in the threads. You can clean the caps with the brush. Once the lens is clean, cap it and set it aside. Why put the caps on? To keep it clean while you clean the camera body.

clean your dslr - Cleaning the lens with a soft brushCleaning the lens with a soft brush

3. Now, flip up the mirror in your camera. This function is found in your menus.

clean your dslr - Mirror lockup in menu of cameraMirror lockup in menu of camera

Still can’t find it? Check the manual. If you can’t find your manual, Google your camera’s make and model. The manufacturers have most of their camera manuals online – I have found one for my granny’s Kodak Brownie! Once your mirror is up and you know how to lower it (I personally hate leaving the camera open any longer than necessary), examine the inside of the camera. Can you see any dust?

clean your dslr - Mirror locked up in camera bodyMirror locked up in camera body

4. Take the bulb blower and hold your camera face-down so any dirt and dust will fall out. Very gently blow air around inside the camera body. Lower the mirror, replace the lens, and snap another photo of the sky or a white piece of paper.  Any spots left? If the answer is no, then pack up your cleaning kit and pat yourself on the back!

5. If the answer is yes, then repeat the process again. After using the bulb blower, take a Pec Pad and wipe the inside of your camera. Do NOT let your fingers touch the sensor or mirror; we have oil on our fingers and that will make a smudge. Now blow away any lose particles the Pec Pad loosened and flip your mirror down. Put the lens on.

clean your dslr - Blow out the dust and debris with the bulb blowerBlow out the dust and debris with the bulb blower

6. If for some reason you still have a tiny speck, repeat the process, but moisten the corner of the Pec Pad with rubbing alcohol. Do NOT saturate it. Very gently wipe and repeat with a dry Pec Pad. Let the camera sit open for a couple minutes. Why? You have just introduced a moist substance to the inside of the camera, and while rubbing alcohol evaporates quickly, you have to give it time completely dry. Now try snapping your photo. It should be clean now. If not, then you may have to get it professionally cleaned. I have never had any of my cameras professionally cleaned; this method has worked just fine for me.

clean your dslr - Wipe the inside with a lint-free PecPadWipe the inside with a lint-free Pec Pad

Article and photographs ©Sherry Christensen, Rr1photography.

About The Author

Located on a farm north of Irma, Alberta Sherry started her journey in photography after raising her children and retiring from the IT field. Born and raised on the farm on which she and her husband now own and operate, Sherry has a very distinct feel to her landscape photography. “Beauty of the land should be shared.” Her approach is casual. She says “having your photo taken should be fun.” This shows in her portraits. “I’m a small town girl with an small town attitude.” But what does that mean? “It means you are more than just a number, you are my friend and more than likely my neighbour.” Sherry has been published in Popular Photography magazine.

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  • Lyndon Mansell

    As a student of camera repair we learned a lot about cleaning and repairing film-type cameras, which were a lot more mechanical and actually wore out. Now the worst culprit is dirt. And Sherry is correct, the sensor is very sensitive to damage, even static could cause a problem. I would suggest using a grounded surface to ensure you do not introduce a static charge into sensitive electronics. At least repeatedly touch a metal grounded surface to discharge any static.Otherwise an excellent article.

    • any electronic device can be a victim of static electricity. If you simply touch the counter before picking up the camera each time you should be fine, this is very important if you are working in a carpeted area. Thanks for the reminder Lyndon!