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How to Clean an Image Sensor: The extreme test!


If you are noticing dust spots on your photos, it’s probably time to clean the image sensor on your camera.  Some photographers pay $70 for Canon or Nikon to clean the camera, but I personally think that’s a gigantic waste of money.  Cleaning an image sensor is very easy, and if you follow the directions and use the right materials, you won’t have any trouble.  I’ve cleaned my image sensors dozens or hundreds of times without issue.

Materials You’ll Need

Most photographers who clean their own image sensors purchase expensive kits to do the job, but I have never found that to be necessary.  I can easily remove the dust with far less expensive materials, and the process only lasts a few minutes.

  • Pec Pads – These things are amazing!  I have been recommending cheap Pec Pads for years.  A pec pad is simply a disposable lintless cloth that is soft enough for use on camera equipment.  I like that you can get a pack of 100 of them for $10 on Amazon.  They work great for wiping your lenses as well, so I always have a pack of Pec Pads in my camera bag.  Always.
  • Cleaning Solution – Frankly, most of you can skip this.  Almost every single time I clean my sensor, I just use a dry Pec Pad wrapped around my finger and it does the job.  Most of the time, when I teach someone how to clean an image sensor with the “wet method” using cleaning solution, they end up using too much and leave streaks on the image sensor.  Unless you have an extremely dusty Nikon D600 or some other sticky substance on the image sensor, you really shouldn’t need the cleaning solution.  Most of you should just get the dry pec pads and call it a day.  But if you are going to use cleaning solution, this is the stuff I use.
  • Blower – This is another one that most of you can skip.  A blower can be effective at helping you to remove some of the dust from the image sensor.  But every time the dust is bad enough that I need to do a cleaning, the blower never does the complete job.  So if you’re going to have to use pec pads and touch the sensor anyway, you can skip the blower.  But most people like them.  A photography cleaning blower is different because it has an air intake at the back so that the dust does not circulate in the camera as the bulb sucks and blows air.

That’s it!  Don’t get fancy and spring for an expensive kit.  I’ve used these materials many times without issue.


About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. Jim travels the world to shoot with readers of Improve Photography in his series of free photography workshops. See his portfolio here.

Comments

  1. Elvis

    Thanks for sharing. I haven’t had to clean my imaging sensor yet but you did a nice job at demystifying the process as I always thought it was a very complicated and required almost a operating room type of environment

  2. Hans-Henrik Andersen

    Hey, great description! Would love to see the after-result after the cleaning.

  3. Robert K. O'Sullivan

    Jim,
    Super appreciate this video. The extremes in which you/your son contaminated the camera body gave me more confidence to open mine. I would like to pass along one “lesson learned”: I followed the steps exactly, but it kept coming up with a “constellation” dirt pattern. Switching lenses, the blue screen test was clean. In short, my sensor is clean, but my testing lens is all but clean. I am not surprised as this lens has endured more hardship than the manufacturer ever intended.
    In short, when checking for cleanliness of the camera sensor, first make sure that the lens being used is not the issue.
    My best,
    Robert

  4. Brian Pex

    The Vsgo cleaning kits with solution and swabs work amazingly well and I’ve never had an issue with streaks at all.

    They are available for both full frame and crop sensor cameras. The swabs fit the sensor perfectly. Happy shooting!!

  5. Tim Evans

    I used a dry pec pad–straight out of the pack–to clean my sensor, and I actually got more dust on there than I had before. Even worse, repeating with a dry pec pad isn’t helping. Looks like I have to order some solution.

  6. Jim

    I’ve never seen anyone stick their finger in the camera body to clean a sensor. I can’t even imagine doing this with a $7000.00 Leica M camera body. They sell dust pads with extenders on them for this purpose.

  7. Ameba

    I fully agree with Jim. Never clean the sensor in the camera, so that the peeling finger on the sensor. NEVER, or say goodbye to CAMERA.
    And secondly to see how much you dirty chip or sensor are, you need to install the aperture stop on – F16; 22; or 32.Point camera to the sky or uniform or a white background.
    And number three, it is very important what kind of chemistry use.
    The sensors are very, very fragile, and the sensitivity, so I believe that the photos are formed with the test Nikon will be quite full of various stains.

  8. Les Clements

    This works well for fixed sensors but what about cameras with built in image stabilization? Would you use your method on those cameras?

  9. Dragan

    can you use a vacum cleaner ? what to do when those pads are not available ???

  10. Milos

    The way I see this: 70$ is way cheaper than new sensor or camera. So if you really do not know what you are doing here, I recommend not to try it yourself. Of course, that’s my view on this topic, and frankly I am considered to be a handy person 🙂

  11. ELLIOT

    al i can say is I am begging anyone who watches this video not to clean the sensor the way he does. I beg you.

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