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7 Steps to Clean Your DSLR Camera’s Sensor Yourself

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A dusty DSLR camera sensor is one of the worst photographer’s enemies. If you have ever spent time cloning out those endless ‘dust bunnies’ from a sunset sky on ten photos in a row, then you know what I mean. Dust gets inside the camera every time you switch lenses, or simply use your zoom as particles get sucked in the lens and finally end up on the camera sensor. All photographers face this issue, let alone travel photographers who spend most of the time outdoors. Knowing how to clean your camera’s sensor is something important that deserves special attention.  

There are two ways of getting rid of all those frustrating specks and blobs: have your camera serviced for a thorough professional cleaning or do it yourself. In the first scenario, you are guaranteed to have an impeccably clean sensor, however, you will also be separated from your camera for a few days and pay a price comparable to that of a sensor cleaning kit, if not more. On the other hand, if you learn how to clean the sensor yourself, you can do it whenever needed at home or while traveling, and you will save money. 

Note that the sensor is the most important and sensitive part of your camera. If you are not completely sure to do it right and prefer not to take risks, opting for professional help might be a better idea. You can also go to your favourite camera store and they will usually be happy to show you how to do it.

1. Check if the sensor needs cleaning

If you have already noticed those annoying blobs on your images, then your sensor definitely needs to get cleaned. It is recommended to do a test shot before the cleaning, so you can compare it with the final result. Simply close down the aperture to the maximum (for example, f/22) and take a photo of a blank white wall. Do you see the lovely ‘dust bunnies’? If so, then the sensor definitely needs cleaning.

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2. Try the built-in dust removal

Most DSLR cameras have a dust removal feature built in. Try this option (run it 2-3 times) and take another test shot. While this may help for some light dust particles, others may be stuck to the sensor and won’t go away that easily.

3. Charge the battery to the maximum

When cleaning the sensor, the mirror inside the camera is lifted up and therefore is using battery power. It is very important to make sure the battery is fully charged before the cleaning as you do not want the mirror to go down in the middle of cleaning and thus to damage the sensor. Connecting the camera to a power outlet might also be a good idea.

4. Prepare the tools

Find a clean indoor spot with good lighting and prepare all the tools before you proceed. My sensor cleaning kit contains Sensor Swabs, lint-free ultra-soft wipes (also known as PEC-PAD) and Eclipse cleaning solution. Make sure you are comfortable and everything you need is easily accessible.

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5. Lock the mirror up for cleaning

Find ‘Lock the mirror up for cleaning’ in your camera’s menu (refer to the manual if you cannot find it). Then remove the lens from the camera, turn the camera on and lock the mirror up. Do that only when you are ready to proceed with cleaning to avoid more dust getting into the camera.

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6. Clean the sensor

Put 2 to 3 drops of Eclipse cleaning liquid on a swab - you definitely don't want to make it soggy or too wet - and gently wipe across the sensor once, from one side to the other while applying a light pressure. If you need to repeat, use a new swab to avoid the dust particles getting back to the sensor. Sometimes it takes several cleanings to completely get rid of all the dust. After you’re done, simply turn the camera off and the mirror will go down automatically. 

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7. Check the results

Put the lens back on and take another test shot. Notice the difference and repeat previous steps as necessary. Identify where the particles are accumulating and apply just a little more pressure with a clean new swab in that area. To help with the dust particules that might move and accumulate in the corners, you can also get special swabs that are made specifically to handle those difficult corners.  

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After the cleaning is done and there are no dust signs in your test image, it’s time for new outing and trips, and amazing photos.

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About the Author

Nadia Gric

Nadia Gric

Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.