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I've got a couple of spots of dust on the sensor of my Canon 20D - a rocket blower isn't shifting them, and I'm ridiculously scared of some of the more direct methods for cleaning sensors -- what methods/systems have you tried, and how successful have they been?

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11 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

A rocket blower can be worse than not cleaning at all. it inhales air from your environment - which can be dustier than your sensor.

I use Pec Pad (pecpads) and Eclipse cleaning solution, with a sensor swipe. This link has all of these products in the search. It works well to remove spots.

A tip - take a picture of a clear blue sky at f/22 to identify all your dust spots.

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I also use pecpads and eclipse solution. It's not that difficult to do yourself. Good point about the sky picture at high F number. Also take shot after each cleaning step to verify that you indeed removed the spot (sometimes they only move from one place to the other! :) –  Marc Jul 15 '10 at 19:53
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I've used rocket blowers, but I don't blow; I squeeze the rocket away from the camera, and release when it's close to the surface I'm trying to clean. ie. Use it as a vacuum, rather than a blower. –  esm Jul 16 '10 at 15:52
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It can be worse, but if you do it frequently and only in your house and you store your camera in a humidity controlled area (like a cabinet with dessicants), it is often all you need. The Giottos brand claims to have a filter at the bottom, as well. Humidity causes dust to stick. I have dessicants in my camera bag as well as my cabinet and the rocket blower always takes care of them. Dust inside the camera is ineveitable, so I don't bother with wet methods. Sticky dust is preventable. –  Eruditass Jul 29 '10 at 15:12
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Any advice to add to this answer for someone convinced that the spots themselves are abrasive (e.g sand)? Use a dry wipe and 'pat' first to see what you pick up? I don't want to scratch my sensor by moving the stuff on it around during a cleaning. –  Tim Post Dec 2 '12 at 16:05
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If you read the fine print in the guarantee at Photographic Solutions, you will see that they specifically say: "Please note that PEC*PAD is guaranteed for lenses only, and is not intended for use on sensors." photosol.com/store/pc/viewContent.asp?idpage=12 –  Michael Clark Feb 16 '13 at 8:53
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I think the definitive article on the subject is "Cleaning your Sensor" by Thom Hogan, written by someone reputable with a lot of experience. I would disregard most scary personal anecdotes and product reviews by people who have given this one try, quite possibly misused the product, and then ranted about it.

It is safe to clean your sensor yourself with the right products with care. If you are not careful, use the wrong products, or don't follow instructions, it's easy to end up just moving the dust around or picking up oil from surrounding areas and spreading it across the surface and making things worse (and then claiming that the products don't work!)

There are three main contaminants that you have to deal with:

  • light dust clinging to the sensor due to static charge - this is often taken care of by the camera's cleaning function, or can be blown off by a rocket blower

  • heavier dust "stuck" on the sensor, which can usually be removed with a dry brush

  • oil, and dust that is really, really stuck on - these usually require wet wipes to remove

Your camera's built-in sensor cleaning function, along with a rocket blower, will remove most light dust. Most cameras can be set so the cleaning function is run whenever the camera is powered on or off.

For heavier dust you have two options: - dry brush, and wet wipes/swabs

dry brush

this method uses a statically charged, dry brush (such as the Arctic Butterfly) to attract the dust.

A light brushing against the filter surface may be required to dislodge the dust. You must be very careful not to touch the bristles of the brush against any surface other than the IR filter itself, or you may pick up oil or other contaminants and spread them onto your sensor.

The advantage of a dry brush is that it is reusable and effective on most light dust. If properly used it will not leave any residue on the surface.

After using the dry brush, use the camera's in-built cleaning function a few times to pick up any dust that was loosened but not removed off the surface.

wet wipes/swabs

For oil, or really stubborn dust, the final course of action is to use wet wipes, such as "Sensor Swabs".

Again, you must take care not to touch these against any surface other than the IR filter to avoid picking up dirt, dust or oil. You need to buy a swab that is the right size for your sensor, and swipe once or twice across the surface, then do not reuse. These swabs require a solution - make sure to use whatever solution is recommended (e.g. Eclipse) and do not use too much solution to avoid leaving residue on the filter surface.

These swabs tend to be pricey - if you are good and efficient at cleaning, they are worth it -otherwise you may use up 4-6 of these getting your sensor free of dust. So depending on your confidence and steady hands, you may want to consider having the sensor professionally cleaned if a rocket blower or dry brush cannot dislodge the dust.

There are also sensor "pen" products. I have not used them. Be careful not to use a "lens pen", PEC*PADs, or any other device that is made to clean lenses or LCDs. Make sure the product is designed specifically for sensors.

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Also, LensRentals has made video on sensor cleaning. Like for Tom Hogan, I trust that the people at LensRentals know their stuff. –  j-g-faustus Apr 23 '13 at 13:02
    
The LensPen sensor cleaner is identical to the ordinary LensPen, except for the size, shape of the head (more triangular than round) and the articulated handle. The LensPen proper is simply the wrong size and shape to adequately clean the sensor. Keeping separate cleaners makes perfect sense from a contamination POV, but it's contamination, not material, that makes the difference. PEC*PADs are perfectly safe, provided that you don't use them with an inappropriate applicator or re-use them dirty. Lenses are no tougher than the filters sitting in front of the sensor. –  user2719 Apr 23 '13 at 19:40
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Once, while travelling, I ended up with a huge dust spot clearly visible at f5.6 I didn't take my rocket-like blower on that trip. So .... I used the microfibre lens cleaning cloth on the sensor :D

It got rid of the big spot and replaced with with many tiny spots of dust. The tiny spots weren't visible till f11 or so, so it was okay for the meantime.

Upon returning to work I gave it to my work buddy that had a microscope and nitrogen tank. He brought it back clean. Sadly, he's since quit. So, in the future i'll just take it into canon if too many spots appear.

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As you are concerned, you should send the camera to a reputable servicer and have them handle the cleaning.

Personally, Ive used the following:

  • arctic butterfly (AA powered spinning brush to get rid of loose dust)
  • eclipse cleaning fluid + pec pads + little spatula (for getting rid of tough dust, moisture, "sticky substances", etc.)

I don't use blowers, as it doesn't offer any control of where the dust goes.

Read the various guides, practice on a glass surface, and account for the fact that the mirror box chamber is pretty small. :)

Some caveats for whether you use the brush or the pec pads:

  • The sides of the mirror box can sometimes harbor dust
  • The sides location of joints/etc can contain lubrication oil, which the brush and pads can pickup and smear on the sensor. (been there, done that)

Periodically checking the results via an OOF shot will help to determine if you are getting the sensor clean.

But yeah, if you have reservations, send the camera off to a service place.

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While I'm downloading memory cards I give the sensor a brush with an Arctic Butterfly this seems to get the worst off , however when it has been really bad I've used a LensPen SensorKlear (not the same as a lenspen!!!) but I have thrown those out after one use as I'm not too convinced by their self cleaning abilities.

To test the sensor I've always just staken a shot of a plain white wall af the smallest aperture available and reviewed it zoomed in fully on the camera screen, scrolling to make sure the whole screen is covered.

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I highly recommend sending it in directly to the manufacturer's repair shop. The sensor in your DSLR is one of the most critical and sensitive parts of the camera, and should not be maintained either by you or an untrained camera shop employee. If it is under warranty, this service may be covered.

I've actually tried the Eclipse + pecpad solution, and maybe it's just me but I was not able to obtain a clean enough sensor for my liking, and it seemed that it takes quite a bit of practice before you become good at this skill. Not worth the risk, in my opinion.

If you are stuck on location and need to continue taking pictures before you can get the camera repaired, then see if your camera has a "dust reference photo" feature, which requires you to take a picture of a blank sheet of white paper from about a foot away at the highest f-stop your lens will allow. This can then be input into the manufacturer's software (in my case, Nikon CaptureNX/ViewNX) to remove dust spots from any images taken with a dirty sensor. This worked wonders when I was stuck in Thailand with a dirty sensor and no hope of repair before returning to the U.S.

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The focusing screen is generally easier to screw up than the low pass filter :) –  Ryccardo Apr 21 '13 at 13:49
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A blower bulb I purchased once contained release agent used during manufacturing process. When I attempted to clean my sensor, the bulb ejected powder onto the sensor. Least recommended method of cleaning for me. I had to use a wet cleaning method using swabs specially designed to fit my 1.6 crop sensor.

Swabs and a wet solution are relatively expensive and the swab is one time use. After a few packages of swabs were used, the VisibleDust Arctic Butterfly was suggested to me.

The Arctic Butterfly is a powered nylon brush that uses a static charge in nylon bristles to grab on to and pull dust up off the sensor. It works extremely well without using liquid, and it's reusable. In fact, I've only used one swab in the two years since I obtained the Visible Dust system.

A much fancier version of the butterfly:

http://www.visibledust.com/products3.php?pid=3

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what methods/systems have you tried, and how successful have they been?

I bought an Olympus, I simply turn it on and let it clean the sensor - so far very sucessfull.

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One test showed that Olympus has the only internal dust cleaning mechanism that really works. –  Eruditass Jul 29 '10 at 16:43
    
Bit of an expensive option buy a new body, although next time I buy a body, it'll have built in sensor cleaning... –  Rowland Shaw Jul 29 '10 at 18:10
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This was true when this question was asked three years ago, but by now they pretty much all work. –  mattdm Apr 17 '13 at 20:55
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I concur ... go with a camera shop. Additionally, I would recommend going with a manufacturer authorized repair location. Theoretcially they have more training.

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I had a Canon 30D and got a bad dust spot on the sensor ... the only way I was able to get rid of it was to take it to a camera shop and get it cleaned.

I was thinking about cleaning the sensor myself, but decided against it. If the camera shop screwed it up, they had the resources & skill to fix it. If I screwed it up, I would probably have to pay a lot more than $60.

I would suggest taking it to a good CAMERA shop (not a 1 hour photo printing place that also sells cameras) ... you might pay more, but I'm betting you'll get better quality results.

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Just take it to a local camera shop / repair man.

I've done it once and the camera came back pristine. I paid £35 (~$55) in the UK

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Was that a local/independent, or a chain (as I'm in the UK as well) –  Rowland Shaw Jul 16 '10 at 15:11
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