What is the best way to clean the sensor on a interchangeable lens camera (mirrorless or digital SLR)?

I've got a couple of spots of dust on the sensor of my Canon 20D. A rocket blower isn't shifting them, and I'm ridiculously scared of some of the more direct methods for cleaning sensors — what methods/systems have you tried, and how successful have they been?

Answers 15

  • A cheap rocket blower can be worse than not cleaning at all. It inhales air from your environment, which can be dustier than your sensor. If you use one, make sure to get a high-quality model which includes a filter.

    I use Pec Pad (pecpads) and Eclipse cleaning solution, with a sensor swipe. This link has all of these products in the search. It works well to remove spots.

    A tip: take a picture of a clear blue sky at f/22 to identify all your dust spots.

  • I think the definitive article on the subject is "Cleaning your Sensor" by Thom Hogan, written by someone reputable with a lot of experience. I would disregard most scary personal anecdotes and product reviews by people who have given this one try, quite possibly misused the product, and then ranted about it.

    It is safe to clean your sensor yourself with the right products with care. If you are not careful, use the wrong products, or don't follow instructions, it's easy to end up just moving the dust around or picking up oil from surrounding areas and spreading it across the surface and making things worse (and then claiming that the products don't work!)

    There are three main contaminants that you have to deal with:

    • light dust clinging to the sensor due to static charge - this is often taken care of by the camera's cleaning function, or can be blown off by a rocket blower

    • heavier dust "stuck" on the sensor, which can usually be removed with a dry brush

    • oil, and dust that is really, really stuck on - these usually require wet wipes to remove

    Your camera's built-in sensor cleaning function, along with a rocket blower, will remove most light dust. Most cameras can be set so the cleaning function is run whenever the camera is powered on or off.

    For heavier dust you have two options: - dry brush, and wet wipes/swabs

    dry brush

    this method uses a statically charged, dry brush (such as the Arctic Butterfly) to attract the dust.

    A light brushing against the filter surface may be required to dislodge the dust. You must be very careful not to touch the bristles of the brush against any surface other than the IR filter itself, or you may pick up oil or other contaminants and spread them onto your sensor.

    The advantage of a dry brush is that it is reusable and effective on most light dust. If properly used it will not leave any residue on the surface.

    After using the dry brush, use the camera's in-built cleaning function a few times to pick up any dust that was loosened but not removed off the surface.

    wet wipes/swabs

    For oil, or really stubborn dust, the final course of action is to use wet wipes, such as "Sensor Swabs".

    Again, you must take care not to touch these against any surface other than the IR filter to avoid picking up dirt, dust or oil. You need to buy a swab that is the right size for your sensor, and swipe once or twice across the surface, then do not reuse. These swabs require a solution - make sure to use whatever solution is recommended (e.g. Eclipse) and do not use too much solution to avoid leaving residue on the filter surface.

    These swabs tend to be pricey - if you are good and efficient at cleaning, they are worth it -otherwise you may use up 4-6 of these getting your sensor free of dust. So depending on your confidence and steady hands, you may want to consider having the sensor professionally cleaned if a rocket blower or dry brush cannot dislodge the dust.

    There are also sensor "pen" products. I have not used them. Be careful not to use a "lens pen", PEC*PADs, or any other device that is made to clean lenses or LCDs. Make sure the product is designed specifically for sensors.

  • I had a Canon 30D and got a bad dust spot on the sensor ... the only way I was able to get rid of it was to take it to a camera shop and get it cleaned.

    I was thinking about cleaning the sensor myself, but decided against it. If the camera shop screwed it up, they had the resources & skill to fix it. If I screwed it up, I would probably have to pay a lot more than $60.

    I would suggest taking it to a good CAMERA shop (not a 1 hour photo printing place that also sells cameras) ... you might pay more, but I'm betting you'll get better quality results.

  • I highly recommend sending it in directly to the manufacturer's repair shop. The sensor in your DSLR is one of the most critical and sensitive parts of the camera, and should not be maintained either by you or an untrained camera shop employee. If it is under warranty, this service may be covered.

    I've actually tried the Eclipse + pecpad solution, and maybe it's just me but I was not able to obtain a clean enough sensor for my liking, and it seemed that it takes quite a bit of practice before you become good at this skill. Not worth the risk, in my opinion.

    If you are stuck on location and need to continue taking pictures before you can get the camera repaired, then see if your camera has a "dust reference photo" feature, which requires you to take a picture of a blank sheet of white paper from about a foot away at the highest f-stop your lens will allow. This can then be input into the manufacturer's software (in my case, Nikon CaptureNX/ViewNX) to remove dust spots from any images taken with a dirty sensor. This worked wonders when I was stuck in Thailand with a dirty sensor and no hope of repair before returning to the U.S.

  • I ordered a sensor cleaner from eyelead in Germany. It's a gel pad on a stick, that the dust sticks to. The pad is then cleaned using adhesive paper which is more sticky than the pad.

    It's a bit tricky to reach into the corners because the pad has rounded corners, but other than that it works great to get dust away from the sensor.

    As there is no cleaning fluid, I suppose that it won't work on spots that actually needs dissolving, but I have never had a need for that.

    eyelead sensor cleaner

  • A blower bulb I purchased once contained release agent used during manufacturing process. When I attempted to clean my sensor, the bulb ejected powder onto the sensor. Least recommended method of cleaning for me. I had to use a wet cleaning method using swabs specially designed to fit my 1.6 crop sensor.

    Swabs and a wet solution are relatively expensive and the swab is one time use. After a few packages of swabs were used, the VisibleDust Arctic Butterfly was suggested to me.

    The Arctic Butterfly is a powered nylon brush that uses a static charge in nylon bristles to grab on to and pull dust up off the sensor. It works extremely well without using liquid, and it's reusable. In fact, I've only used one swab in the two years since I obtained the Visible Dust system.

    A much fancier version of the butterfly:


  • There is no single "best" way to clean the sensor of a digital camera. To put it more precisely, which way is the "best" can depend on a number of variables. The most significant variable, by a fairly large margin, is determined by what, exactly, needs to be cleaned from the sensor. The same method that is most effective and safest for removing lightly attached dry dust particles is not the best way to remove a sticky wet substance that has managed to get onto the filter stack in front of the sensor.

    Another consideration that can affect what is the "best" way to clean a sensor can be summed up by answering the question, "How clean does it need to be?" A less risky method that is effective enough to shoot 'complex' scenes with lots of detail at wide apertures with long focal length lenses may not be the best answer if the camera needs to be used with wider angle lenses at narrower apertures shooting fairly uniform fields of brightness and color. For the second scenario a more risky but more effective method might be a better choice.

    There are more effective methods, and there are safer methods. They are generally inversely proportional to each other. The methods, in order from the lowest to highest risk factor are:

    • Automatic dust removal system
    • Air blower (with a filtered intake). Be sure to use a blower that doesn't spray dust into your camera's light box. Good blowers have a one-way intake valve with a dust screen to prevent sucking dust into the blower along with the air.
    • Dry brush
    • Electrically charged brush such as those made by Arctic Butterfly.
    • Dry cleaning products, such as the LensPen brand's SensorKlear that use a combination of microfiber and microscopic carbon beads to remove oil and smudges.
    • Wet cleaning systems that use swabs and cleaning fluid
    • 'Tape' method that uses a cleaning instrument with a sticky surface that attempts to capture hard to remove dust without leaving residue behind.

  • I concur ... go with a camera shop. Additionally, I would recommend going with a manufacturer authorized repair location. Theoretcially they have more training.

  • Personally I don't worry too much about dust unless it is obviously visible in images, which is more likely in photographs of clear skies stopped down completely than in photographs of more complex scenes wide open.

    1. If you want a chance at getting your sensor "clean", you need to work in a clean environment.?Otherwise, your sensor may still contain numerous dust specks despite 15+ cleanings.?Consider filtering the air.

      You can use an ordinary HEPA air filtration system, but a water-based vacuum cleaner can clear the air much more quickly and thoroughly.?Just keep checking and replacing the water until the water stays clear.?Let it continue processing the air while you work on the sensor.

    2. Use a blower to remove whatever dust you can from the camera and sensor.?Leave the sensor alone if it is clean enough after this step.

    3. If you feel the need to use a wet process, understand that you risk making it worse by getting fluids into the sensor stack, leaving residues behind, or cementing dust to the sensor so that it will be impossible to blow off in the future.

    4. Once your sensor is perfectly clean, attach your favorite lens to the camera and never take it off.

    To demonstrate, here are images taken at F36 to demonstrate sensor dust before and after blowing out the dust and a single cleaning with a wet-process, as described above.?I spot two specks in the after image.?There may be more, but it's less than the before (more than ten).?Rather than chase down every speck, I'm quitting while I'm ahead.

    before after

  • Air blowers will work fine for removing dust that isn't "welded" to your sensor. Dust that is "welded" in place, usually happens by moisture getting inside the camera while there is dust on the sensor and then dries, needs to be wiped off with sensor wipe. The one time it's happened to me, I used vdust http://visibledust.com/products3.php?pid=305. They are one time use wipes on a stick with a solvent. If you can't find your size just a smaller size, I did this without any streaking (the store I was at didn't have the APS-c size :( )

  • While I'm downloading memory cards I give the sensor a brush with an Arctic Butterfly this seems to get the worst off , however when it has been really bad I've used a LensPen SensorKlear (not the same as a lenspen!!!) but I have thrown those out after one use as I'm not too convinced by their self cleaning abilities.

    To test the sensor I've always just staken a shot of a plain white wall af the smallest aperture available and reviewed it zoomed in fully on the camera screen, scrolling to make sure the whole screen is covered.

  • Once, while travelling, I ended up with a huge dust spot clearly visible at f5.6 I didn't take my rocket-like blower on that trip. So .... I used the microfibre lens cleaning cloth on the sensor :D

    It got rid of the big spot and replaced with with many tiny spots of dust. The tiny spots weren't visible till f11 or so, so it was okay for the meantime.

    Upon returning to work I gave it to my work buddy that had a microscope and nitrogen tank. He brought it back clean. Sadly, he's since quit. So, in the future i'll just take it into canon if too many spots appear.

  • what methods/systems have you tried, and how successful have they been?

    I bought an Olympus, I simply turn it on and let it clean the sensor - so far very sucessfull.

  • As you are concerned, you should send the camera to a reputable servicer and have them handle the cleaning.

    Personally, Ive used the following:

    • arctic butterfly (AA powered spinning brush to get rid of loose dust)
    • eclipse cleaning fluid + pec pads + little spatula (for getting rid of tough dust, moisture, "sticky substances", etc.)

    I don't use blowers, as it doesn't offer any control of where the dust goes.

    Read the various guides, practice on a glass surface, and account for the fact that the mirror box chamber is pretty small. :)

    Some caveats for whether you use the brush or the pec pads:

    • The sides of the mirror box can sometimes harbor dust
    • The sides location of joints/etc can contain lubrication oil, which the brush and pads can pickup and smear on the sensor. (been there, done that)

    Periodically checking the results via an OOF shot will help to determine if you are getting the sensor clean.

    But yeah, if you have reservations, send the camera off to a service place.

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