How to clean your camera lens

A hand using a cloth to clean a camera lens
(Image credit: Future)

It’s often said that a clean home is a happy home, and that's definitely the case with camera lenses, too. When you’ve spent a small fortune on the best glass you can afford (or a flagship smartphone), there’s no point in falling at the first hurdle by allowing your lens elements to become dirty.

Whatever subjects you shoot, it’s always best to carry cleaning equipment in your camera bag, because you never know when you’ll need it; a lens blower, Lenspen, microfibre lens cloth and lens cleaning solution will allow you to effectively clean all types of dirt from your lenses wherever you are.

Rain spots, fingerprints, smears and dust will all negatively impact image quality, so keeping your lenses dust and dirt free is an absolute must. So, here are six ways that you can protect and clean your lenses to help you to maintain the best image quality possible. And one final note: while these tips are largely tailored towards cameras and DSLRs, steps three, four and five are suitable for smartphone lenses, too.

1. Use UV filters

Prevention is the best cure when it comes to lens cleaning, so attaching UV filters to the front of your lenses is the perfect way to keep dust at bay as well as adding an extra layer of protection.

A hand adding a UV filter to a camera lens

(Image credit: Future)

Filters are very much an accessory where you don’t want to go for the cheapest option available, because the quality of the optical glass used varies drastically according to cost and brand. 

Stick with well-known filter companies such as B+W, Hoya and Tiffen to ensure the highest optical quality. When UV filters do get dusty and dirty, the cleaning options below are aimed at both filters and lenses.

2. Use a blower to remove dust

The first port of call for cleaning is to use a blower to remove dust and other loose particles from the lens front and rear elements. Lens blowers like the Giottos Rocket Air Blower come in different sizes, with the larger versions providing more power to blow dust away while the smaller options are less powerful yet more portable.

A hand using a blower to clean a camera lens

(Image credit: Future)

Whether you opt for a smaller or larger blower will often depend on how much room you have in your camera bag to store one, but for many photographers carrying a smaller blower in their camera bag and having a larger more powerful blower at home is the perfect combination. 

3. Try a lens brush

When a lens blower can’t remove stubborn specs of dust, a lens brush is the next cleaning option to try. These brushes use super soft bristles that won’t damage your lenses and are ideal for removing trickier dust specs, but if there’s oil or water on the lens they would smear the liquid over the lens or filter.

A hand using a brush to clean a camera lens

(Image credit: Future)

If this is the case, it’s best to skip to cleaning with a microfibre lens cloth and lens cleaning solution (step five below). Carrying a dedicated lens brush becomes yet another accessory, so you could opt for a blower brush combination or a Lenspen (step four) which has a lens brush at one end.

4. Remove small marks with a Lenspen

Lenspens use a carbon-based cleaning compound that’s held in the cap and replenishes the cleaning pad every time the cap is screwed on while the Lenspen isn’t in use. These handy accessories are ideal for removing small marks and fingerprints where the whole element or filter doesn’t need to be cleaned.

A hand using a Lenspen to clean a camera lens

(Image credit: Future)

The advantage of Lenspens is that they can often do the job required quickly and easily with no need for cleaning solution. After using the cleaning pad to remove dirt, you can either use the lens brush or a blower to remove any carbon particles if they’re left behind.

5. Deep clean with solution

With the toughest marks, the only option is to use a lens cleaning solution with a dedicated lens cloth. Lens cleaning solutions typically come in sprays that can be applied directly to the lens or filter, or as a liquid that needs to be applied to a lens cloth. 

A hand using a cloth to clean a camera lens

(Image credit: Future)

Spray the lens/filter or add a few droplets of cleaning solution to a lens cloth and clean the lens or filter by moving the cloth in a circular movement, while moving from the centre to the edge of the lens element, repeating the motion if required. This will remove all types of dirt from the lens and is essentially a deep clean.

6. Clean your lenses as little as possible

The best approach to lens cleaning is to keep them as clean as possible, so they need to be cleaned as little as possible. The front and rear elements of lenses are sensitive and cleaning too much could negatively affect their coatings.

A camera lens with its lens cap on

(Image credit: Future)

Always keep the front and rear lens caps attached when lenses are stowed away in your kit bag, and attach the lens cap to the lens that’s attached to your camera when it’s not in use. 

Doing these will drastically reduce the amount of dust that can settle on the lens elements and reduce the overall need for cleaning, not to mention it will protect your lenses.

James Abbott

James Abbott is a professional photographer and freelance photography journalist. He contributes articles about photography, cameras and drones to a wide range of magazines and websites where he applies a wealth of experience to testing the latest photographic tech. James is also the author of ‘The Digital Darkroom: The Definitive Guide to Photo Editing’.