Be honest, has this ever happened to you? You’ve gone out to take some photos on a perfect day and captured some spectacular images. Feeling pleased with yourself, you head home to review what you’ve snapped, but are horrified to see those annoying little black dots all over your wonderful portrait and landscape shots. Look, this can happen to the best of us, especially if you’re working in the countryside or on the street and have to change the lens, adjust it, or remove it. When out on a shoot, it’s inevitable that dirt gets into the sensor. The only solution is to clean it.
Getting the sensor cleaned by a specialist is a good idea, but it’s also expensive. It’s also annoying that you have to hand in your camera, so won’t be able to work for several days or even weeks.
That’s why I put together this guide to show you how to safely clean the sensor on your camera in the comfort of your home.
Table of Contents
- First things first: uncover the sensor and choose the right place to clean it
- OPTION 1: using an air blower or dust blower
- OPTION 2: using a sensor cleaner
- #BonusTrack: trick to see how dirty the camera sensor is
First things first: uncover the sensor and choose the right place to clean it
It may seem obvious, but we first need to know the best way to expose and access the sensor manually. This varies by model and type of camera. Here are the methods for two standard models:
On a mirrorless camera, just remove the lens to expose the sensor, as in the image above.
On a DSLR camera, go to the menu, find the “Sensor cleaning” option, and select “Clean manually”. By activating this function, the camera uncovers the sensor. We can now see the sensor to clean it easily. Check it out and turn off the camera.
Always remember this rule for cleaning: camera off and sensor open.
Important: Try to clean the sensor in a closed, secure environment that’s free of dust. Don’t try cleaning it on the patio or terrace. It’s better to do so in your living room or study at home.
Now, I’m going to go over each method for cleaning the sensor, from the simplest to the most complex:
OPTION 1: using an air blower or dust blower
I’d strongly recommend always having an air blower in your camera bag. This will help you remove any dust or dirt from the sensor. But before you get started, be sure you’re cleaning it in the right position: Always flip the camera over to have the sensor facing downwards, and pump the air from that position.
I’m highlighting this issue because it’s a common mistake to hold the camera in what would otherwise be the most “intuitive” way. These images show you the wrong and right way to clean the sensor:
You can also clean the inside of the lens with the dust blower following the same instructions.
OPTION 2: using a sensor cleaner
If those black dots still haven’t gone away, the air blower may not have been enough to thoroughly clean the sensor on your camera. This is when I’d recommend using a sensor cleaner.
It usually comes in a kit containing a liquid solution with dropper and long swabs (you can search for them on Amazon by typing in “microfiber sensor cleaning swab”). Keep in mind that these swabs can be used for smaller APS-C sensors or for Full Frame sensors. Buy the one that best suits the sensor or model of your camera.
How to use the kit: Carefully remove the swab from the packaging and add two drops of the solution, one for each side of the mini brush. You can add more drops if needs be, but apply the solution little by little because it shouldn’t be too wet.
Just make sure the swab is completely covered in the solution. When that’s the case, lightly swab the sensor, from left to right, as if you were very delicately “painting” its surface. Don’t push too hard, just give it enough pressure. Next, flip the swab and run it over the sensor surface again, this time from right to left. That’s it, nice and easy. Your sensor should now be clean.
Remember that using a dust blower is the most common method, as it’s quick, simple, and safe. That’s why it’s always best to try cleaning your sensor with the blower first. If the dirt won’t go away with the dust blower alone, go ahead and use the swab with the solution. I hardly ever need to do this, just in exceptional cases. The less you touch the sensor, the better.
I must reiterate how important it is to clean the sensor with great care in a quiet area. Don’t take any risks by being distracted.
Last but not least, never clean the sensor with water, alcohol or any liquid other than the one indicated. And never blow on the sensor with your mouth – that’s a big no-no!
#BonusTrack: trick to see how dirty the camera sensor is
Here’s a good way to see how dirty your camera sensor is:
- Turn on the camera.
- Close the lens aperture as much as you can. On my camera in this instance, it’s f22. Set the shutter speed to 1 second.
- Set manual focus.
- Take a photo of a lamp, the sun or any very bright object so that the image is overexposed.
- The photo should be totally white.
- Open the photo in Lightroom (Adobe’s digital photography program). Click on the “Visualize Spots” option shown in the lower left, just below the photo. Move the slider to the right and you’ll be able to see all the dirt marks on your sensor.
If you only see small particles, don’t worry – that’s normal. But if you see larger white spots, then it’s a clear sign that there’s too much dust and you should clean the sensor.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Remember to check out my YouTube channel to find more tutorials like this one to help you with the maintenance of your camera and to take better photos.
Until next time!