Sensor-Cleaning Information

Accessible Photography

Q) Could you advise me on products and techniques for cleaning a D-SLR sensor?

A) Many photographers are very nervous about cleaning their sensors, but it’s an important part of basic camera care for any camera body, even those with an automatic sensor-cleaning feature. They all get dirt, hair, pollen and lint on them, and these show up in your images. It probably helps if you understand that you’re not really cleaning the sensor itself, but rather a glass cut-off filter mounted in front of it. That said, replacing a scratched filter is a serious and expensive undertaking, so it pays to be careful when cleaning in the sensor area of the camera.

There are a number of approved cleaning methods that you can apply to clean a camera’s imaging sensor. First, I’d invest in a Sensor Scope from Delkin ( or the Visible Dust Sensor Loupe made by Visible Dust ( These tools really help you to inspect your sensor and see what needs to be done. But if you don’t have them, you can check your sensor by capturing an image of a white piece of paper or clear sky with the lens at its smallest aperture—ƒ/16, ƒ/22). Look at the image on your computer at 100%, and it will show you where the debris is located on your sensor.

To clean off most dust and debris, you can use one of several dry methods—small tools, vacuums and air blowers remove specks that aren’t adhered to the filter. It’s not recommended that you use canned air; it’s too forceful and may expel some liquid propellant that leaves a residue. For stuff that’s stuck to the filter, you need to use a wet-cleaning method, typically a swab of some sort and a liquid cleaner. For specific product information and techniques, I highly recommend you visit for a number of excellent tutorials and a place to purchase any of the necessary tools. The people behind this website know what they’re talking about.

This is the Delkin Sensorscope placed in the lens mount of a Canon EOS 5D. With this tool’s magnification and light, I can see where I might need to either blow off loose debris or use a wet swab to clean smudges and/or adhered debris from the filter covering the camera’s sensor.

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.

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