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I recently came across a clip on youtube which showed the process of making camera lenses. I noticed them using acetone as a lens cleaner. My question is how effective is acetone as lens cleaner? Will acetone damage the coating on the lens?

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Here's Bob Atkin's answer on the topic and I generally agree. In a nutshell, don't use it unless you really know what you're doing and have it sourced. As a general rule of thumb, use lens cleaning supplies specifically made for lenses and don't get too paranoid about the front element being clean. Seriously, it takes quite a bit to really mess your image quality and it isn't necessary to be fastidious about it.

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+1, I would say Bob Atkin's answer is definitive. Acetone is a powerful solvent and should never be brought near a lens assembly. Ethanol is hygroscopic and will often contain quite a lot of water which leaves drying marks. One can buy the pure, reagent grade, water free form of Ethanol, but it is rather expensive. We used this in the metallurgical laboratory when preparing polished metal specimens for viewing under a microscope. It has to be critically clean in this case. – labnut Apr 20 '11 at 13:24

Acetone is an excellent solvant for some plastics. I've tested it with styrofoam once here :)

It does clean pretty good though.

For my filters (polarizer etc.) I was most successful with liquid soap and water. Not everything works, but there are liquid soaps which do not leave any stains (and which I'm using for my glasses as well now :)). Also works for lenses, but then you should not pour water on them directly but use a wet towel.

Edit: Generally about alcoholes for cleaning. I tested them a little bit, Alcohol and Isopropyl alcohol, mixed with water.

  • Isopropyl always smears. Iff you hold the cleaning towel with your hands. The reason is that it will solve grease from the fingers and evenly distribute it on the surface. The solution is to use something grease-free for holding the towel (or whatever it is).
  • Alcohols alone dry too quickly and leave stains.
  • Water alone does not solve greasy particles.
  • The best way to clean with alcohol based liquids I've found so far is to use water with some drops of alcohol (one of the above); the alcohol will bind greasy particles, the water will prevent the liquid from evaporating too quickly, so the drops can be removed easily and without stains using a dry towel.
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You'll note that at the point they did that, it was just a glass blank. What will the acetone do to the glass and coating? Pretty much nothing. What will it do to the rubber gaskets that seal the dust out of the lens? That's the real question to me. Having worked around fibre-glass for a few years, which uses acetone in pretty large quantities... well, I wouldn't be putting it into contact with anything rubberized that I cared about keeping the rubber in good shape... it just seems to dry it out way too fast and lead to cracks. Just not worth it to me, especially when we are talking about the outer surface of the front element.

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I'd also be worried about the glues used to hold things together in many lightweight (plastic) lenses, as well as the lens barrels (which are often plastic or coated in plastic). – jwenting Apr 19 '11 at 9:23

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