Photog Tip of the Week: Cleaning Your Lenses with

Today’s Photog Tip of the Week comes from our friends at They’re the perfect service for any photographer who wants to try before they buy, or for getting that special lens rental for a single assignment, event or trip. Best of all, Smuggers get a discount off any rental through ClubSmug. Your loaner arrives brand-spankingly clean, because keeping glass in good working order is a hallmark of their business.

We all know lenses must be kept clean to ensure maximum performance, but what’s the right way to clean a lens? Here at BorrowLenses we do hundreds of these each day, so we have some experience with this subject. Here’s how we do it.

Three things you’ll need:

Compressed air – We use air compressors from Home Depot (<$100) but the smallest compressor you can find is likely up to the task. If you don’t want to splurge on a compressor, there are the ubiquitous cans of compressed air available at any computer store. When using these cans always keep the can level and upright to avoid blowing its liquid propellant onto your lens elements. These chemicals can do weird and potentially harmful things to lens coatings, so please be careful. If you want to avoid chemicals all together, get a bike pump style canister that you pump up then use, or try a simple manual pump like a Giottos Rocket Blower.

Lens cloth – Our favorites are cheap, Promaster-branded microfiber cloths. You’ll notice that some types feel very slick and smooth against the glass and others gain some traction and drag more. We like the kind that has some drag and feels sticky against clean glass.

Cleaning fluid – You shouldn’t need any cleaning fluid except for the most stubborn and difficult cases. Again, we like the Promaster brand because it’s cheap and cheerful. The stuff we use comes in a clear plastic bottle with a pump atomizer spraying attachment.

Your lens is dirty. Now what?

It’s now time to touch the front element of your lens and clean it. If you are worried about rubbing the coating off, don’t be. We’ve never seen it happen, ever.

To clean a lens’ front element all you need is a set of lungs and a lens cloth.

1. Breathe on the lens enough to fog the whole element, then wipe the lens with a good amount of force in a circular fashion. You’ll likely be left with a smudge where your wipe stopped and some junk around the edge where the glass meets the body.

2. Make a little point with the cloth, breathe on the lens again and wipe the edge in one 360+ degree motion. Now you should be left with a mostly clean lens.

3. Now repeat the wipes, but with ever decreasing pressure. The last few swipes should be done very lightly. The trick is to buff the lens, which will pick junk up rather than moving it around forever. Keep rearranging the cloth so that you are using a virgin bit of material and not re-contaminating your almost-clean glass.

4. The final step is examining – and cleaning – both front and rear caps thoroughly before affixing them to your now-clean lens. A dirty cap will undo all your hard work in an instant, so examine both caps closely, blow on them from many angles with compressed air and only when you are certain they are clean can you affix them to your lens. If you use a UV filter, also make sure it is clean before you put it back on.

And with that, we’re finished. If you enjoyed that you should consider working for – You could be cleaning gear all day long and getting paid to do it!

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I'm a freelance documentary photographer who loves travel, rangefinders, medium format film photography, and everything in-between.

24 thoughts on “Photog Tip of the Week: Cleaning Your Lenses with”

  1. Awesome post! I’ve been wondering the best way to clean my lenses for years. I’ve found that automotive quick detailing spray is also a very good (and cheap) glass cleaner. I found out by accident on a household mirror.🙂

  2. John, breath fog is distilled water, completely harmless. If you should happen to discharge some spit, well, that’s just another harmless cleaning agent.

    I would not recommend hocking a loogie onto your lens, but that won’t actually harm it, either.

  3. Hi borrowlenses,

    Is is okay if I use isopropyl alcohol to remove grease or oil on the lens? I got that idea from nikon help online at youtube.


    1. The folks at BorrowLenses say that you don’t want to use liquids of any kind: “Even the cleaning solution we show in the article, should always be done as a last-ditch solution. For 99% of cases you will be able to clean it just fine with some dry air and a cloth. If not then use a lens cleaning solution like the one we recommend.”

  4. I have a friend who is responsible for cleaning highly-coated lenses used by lasers. Even small bits of surface dust can gather heat that can damage the coatings, so cleaning is critical. She suggests using isopropyl alcohol (and not water from any source, especially your mouth) and clean micro-fiber cloths on photographic lenses, in a circular motion as described above. Never dry-wipe a dusty or dirty lens, and clean the cloth frequently.

  5. Dixon :
    I’m thinking that a laser focusing lens would be a different animal than a camera lens…

    The coatings are remarkably similar–that’s what you’re trying to clean and not scratch.

  6. I was also wondering how to clean the cloth? Do you just put it in the washer with a load of clothes?

  7. I was also wondering how to clean the cloth? Do you just put it in the washer with a load of clothes or do you do it by hand? And what kind of soap do you use?

  8. I am curious what amount of air pressure is being used? I already have a compressor but since it can be set from 100 psi to 20 psi, does it matter where it is set?

  9. Sorry for the late reply.

    @Darci, We just throw the cloths in the washer with our laundry once a week.
    @Bradford, There is no optimal setting. It has to be strong enough to blow dust and grit away. Every technician has his own preferences, and we do not dictate.

  10. I would add, NEVER touch any glass with anything until you first blow off any particles. This especially includes before fogging.

  11. What do you recommend for beer & alcohol spilled on lenses? Not just the glass but for the exterior for the stickiness. I shoot a lot of bar, nightclubs & beer festivals. The kind with real ingredients pisswater like the Bud/Corona isn’t to bad to wipe off it’s the other ones that do real damage.

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