You Can Do It: Clean Your DSLR's CCD

UPDATE #1: There is a Flickr thread with stories of people who have had problems doing this. Ditto someone that got the anti-aliasing filter messed up by the manufacturer's guys, too.

To clarify, I used only the weight of the tool itself as pressure as I pulled it across my sensor. I felt like that was a very safe practice and I would do it repeatedly without fear. But this is a personal decision.


UPDATE #2: While the Copper Hill method works well for most cameras, apparently the Canon EOS 5 has potential problems. So if you use that camera, you will probably want to consider another chip cleaning method. Details of the Canon 5d/Eclipse fluid issues are here.

Original post:

DSLR sensor chips collect dust. That is a Photoshop-time-consuming fact of digital life. At The Sun, whenever we send in our DSLRs to be otherwise repaired, one nice little bonus is that (along with the obscene repair bill) they come back with a freshly cleaned CCD.

Which, of course, lasts for about a week. Two if you are lucky.

You may not even notice that you have dust at all, until you stop down and shoot with a wide lens or macro. Then, all of a sudden it looks like you are looking through an electron microscope or something. Eww.

Heck, I used to even keep a little sticker on one of my bodies to denote which one had the "cleaner" (and I use the term in the relative sense) CCD. That was so I would know which one to use if I needed to shoot something at f/11 or higher.

Truth be told, I was scared to death of the idea of cleaning my own sensor. But finally screwed up the nerve and did it myself with the help of a $32 kit from Copper Hill Images. I don't think I have to tell you that the ol' pucker factor was running at about f/64, if you know what I mean.

But I read through the site's tutorial, which over-explains every step to the point that even a numbskull like myself feels as if he has a fighting chance. Then I spread my gear out on the table, along with their Basic Sensor Cleaning Kit, and took the plunge.

NOTE: Read the tutorial before you try this. Don't be a “guy” about this. These instructions are there for your protection. This is not something you can just breeze through like, say, birth control. THIS IS YOUR SENSOR.

The basic kit is a package of Pec•Pads, some Eclipse cleaning fluid and a cool little tool best described as a cross between a windshield wiper and one of those things you use to get the last of the mayo out of the jar. Make sure you choose the one sized for your sensor.

First result: I was very successful at moving the dust from one part of the sensor to another part of the sensor. But I did not eff up my sensor, which I saw as a victory.

Ditto on the second attempt.

Third time was the charm: A clean sensor. A brand, spankin' new clean sensor.

Schwing! Why did I wait so long to try this?

After my sensor-cleaning deflowering, I would now clean my own sensor without a second thought. Heck, I'll clean yours for half of what Nikon charges – heh, heh.

Not really, but the point is (a) that it is easy and effective if you follow Copper Hill's instructions as listed above, and (b) the camera manufacturers charge way too much.

Look, I am not going to sit here and guarantee that you wont spaz out and do something bad to your camera. But what I can say is that I found the tutorial to err on the over-cautious side and this kit worked just great for me.

That said, the decision to go into your digital baby is yours and yours alone. But I have been to the promised land. And I can report that it is dust-free.

Since I have started cleaning my own Copper Hill also has a new method (called "Dust-Aid") that looks even easier if your sensor only has dust as opposed to stuck-on grime. If anyone has real-world feedback on that, I'd love to hear about it.

Do any of you guys already clean your own sensor? What do you use? Yak back in the comments section and let us know what works – or doesn't work – for you.

UPDATE: There is a Flickr thread with stories of people who have had problems doing this. Ditto someone that got the anti-aliasing filter messed up by the manufacturer's guys, too.

To clarify, I used only the weight of the tool itself as pressure as I pulled it across my sensor. I felt like that was a very safe practice and I would do it repeatedly without fear. But this is a personal decision.



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Blogger Eli said...

I clean my sensor myself.
My tools:
- a cosmetician brush
- a vacuum cleaner

Why? How? (and) Where? all those answered here:
(Sorry, don't know how to link, yet...)

Only I don't get into the shower, I clean the sensor in my living room. But, I think, you have to do "the Filter Test".

I believe there should be no worry to clean the sensor. You're actually cleaning the AA filter in front of your sensor and that stuff is tougher than most UV filters (and you clean those with the end of your shirt, without leaving marks).


February 19, 2007 12:50 AM  
Anonymous drug123 said...

SpeckGRABBER works perfectly for me. I have choosed it because it doesn't need liquids like Eclipse, have affordable price and can be cleaned using cheap ($.05 per piece) medical spirituous tissue. And it doesn't leave stains like Eclipse sometimes.

February 19, 2007 1:44 AM  
Blogger Djof said...

That's one big advantage of Olympus SLRs, they can go years without any dust.

February 19, 2007 1:58 AM  
Blogger Dion said...

I've cleaned my sensor once. Eclipse fluid and some special sensor swaps (can't remember the brand). That was a year ago, currently when stopped down to f22 I can see 3 small blobs.

I am however a bit obsessive when changing lenses. Camera always off, 2nd lens ready to be screwed on, take lens off with camera facing down, immediately screw in second lens. 2 seconds on average with the lens not attached to my camera.

February 19, 2007 2:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been using the Sensor Brush from visible dust. They are obscenely expensive, but do a good job of removing dust that is not "welded" on. I have a speck or two of dust that is welded on, and at some point will need to take the plunge and try a wet cleaning method that you outlined.

Finally, I seriously doubt djof's comment that Olympus SLR's can go dust free for years. I'm sure its quite effective at removing non-welded dust, but I highly doubt it does much for the more stubborn variety.

February 19, 2007 2:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did buy the cosmetic brush also. Tried it but it wasn't powerful enough. Then I got some pads and isopropanol alcohol (I remember it said something about cleaning your cassette recorder's parts on the bottle) from the local pharmacy. Cut a tool from old credit card. And then the same treatment than David described. I've done it at least 4 times and works for me.

February 19, 2007 2:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been cleaning mine sensors for awhile following Copper Hills directions. Its important to use a charged battery so the mirror does not close unexpectedly. I found no need to purchase the AC adapter for cleaning, BULB and mirror lockup work fine.

February 19, 2007 2:47 AM  
Blogger Heron said...

I second the Olympus dust-buster effectiveness. I've had mine for two years, taken over tens of thousands of photos with it, changed lenses daily in all kinds of conditions and nary a speck to be seen. That sucker works and works great! I've never once had to touch my sensor or photoshop out a blob. It's not marketing hype, dust simply doesn't even get a chance to get "welded" on there. I'm astonished that other manufacturers didn't do something similar to their cameras long before now.

February 19, 2007 4:04 AM  
Blogger darin said...

I've had good luck with a regular lens tissue and a plastic fork.

You are NOT cleaning some delicate electro-something--the thing is hard glass!

Question--has anyone actually damaged their sensor via cleaning? Do you actually know of anyone who has damaged their sensor?

The danger may be grossly over hyped...


February 19, 2007 4:09 AM  
Anonymous Manxman27 said...

Since Copper Hill Images, can't ship the Eclipse fluid internationally, for UK Strobists Warehouse express have the components of the kit

Would be nice to see a copy of those instructions though.

February 19, 2007 4:10 AM  
Blogger Andreas said...

I use statically charged brushes, never had to resort to liquid cleaning.
The link to Peteris site that Eli posted explains it nicely.
Uncoated Nylon brushes can be obtained via e-bay very cheaply. No need to buy overpriced brand labels.


February 19, 2007 5:30 AM  
Anonymous gewitterkind said...

well, i've been using Oly DSLRs since the e-1 came out, working with them pretty much non-stop since then, and i have never ever seen even a single spot of dust. believe it or not, but it's working. and if someone thinks i'm just not able to see the dust: I'm working with a 1ds from time to time, and boy, _that_ cam attracts dust like crazy.

February 19, 2007 7:58 AM  
Blogger Roberto Iza Valdes said...

Thanks for the info. The prospect of
cleaning the sensor terrifies me.

February 19, 2007 9:00 AM  
Blogger dudlo said...

This is a rather charged topic (many fights and passionate discussions). I used Copper Hill's SensorSwipe for three years. Similar experience to David's (other than it really becomes routine and the sweating and cursing subsides after two sessions). It takes two to three attempts to get everything off. Overall, it's less then five minute chore.

I purchased SensorSweep (brush) later and have not had much luck with it. No matter how much I charged and swiped, the "sticky" mess would not budge. I do not use the brush anymore. The wet method is so quick and easy. I am not too worried about the fluffy dust - it moves anyway. I'm after the permanent spots and no amount of brushing (sans wire brush) would move those.

February 19, 2007 9:16 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

I know this isn't the best place to be posting this question (i.e. I can't access Flickr at work) but I was wondering if anyone here could help me.

Anyhow, long story short I'm an amateur and I'm loving this off-camera flash stuff. I want to get Pocket Wizards (Plus II) but haven't been able to find the info I need about using them with my Nikon D50 and SB-600. Can it be done? If so, what "extras" do I need? If not, I guess I'll save my $750 for a new camera/flash?


Alex :)...

February 19, 2007 10:01 AM  
Blogger alan said...

I read this article over a year ago...

Petteri's Pontifications - Pixel Sweeper

and was motivated to find a soft brush for a DIY attempt. I ended up with a brush from a local craft store that I statically charged with a few blasts of canned air and then lightly brushed across the sensor...barely even touching it.

It usually takes me 2-3 tries to remove 95% of the spots, but they has been no damages whatsoever. YMMV

I'm sure I'll need to eventually try one of the wet methods when I get those more difficult to remove spots.

Here's my brush FWIW.

DIY Sensor Brush

February 19, 2007 10:30 AM  
Blogger Troy said...

After finnally getting fed up with all the dust bunnies on my D70's sensor, I cleaned it with a kit very similar to the one you mentioned here. I was terrified of wrecking my camera, but in the end, the process worked flawlessly. I think the key words here are: Be Gentle! You do not need to apply a lot of pressure to get rid of a few minuscule spots of dust.

February 19, 2007 10:56 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

Oh, man, the keywords in this post (and the comments) are making for some seriously weird google ads-- ferret potty pads, chimmney sweeping services... very strange.

February 19, 2007 11:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, scary stuff in the comments.

I use the copperhill method, it rocks. They covered all the bases, plugged most of the "this might scratch your filter" problems (or at least told you about them).

I think the big difference is that scratching a lens is a lot less of a problem than scratching the filter over your sensor-- you can't just swap it out.

February 19, 2007 12:07 PM  
Blogger mrtim said...

I bought that same Copper Hill kit over a year ago, but haven't had to use it yet. At the same time I picked up one of those Rocket Blower thingies, and so far that alone has gotten rid of all the dust I've come across.

I'm sure there are weldable bits of dust out there that this wouldn't solve, but I would certainly recommend at least trying the blower before resorting to more intimate methods.

February 19, 2007 12:08 PM  
Anonymous tmoreau said...

I just use sterile swabs (giant individually packaged polyester q-tips), and I use 'em dry. Someday I might invest a paycheck in one of those fancy brushes, but until then this method gets my sensor 98% clean and is super easy. I keep a few in my camera bag in case I need to do it while away from home.

I find that I only have to clean my sensor every few months (and its really not bad then), after thousands of frames and hundreds upon hundreds of lens changes. The trick? I use primes. I think most dust trouble comes from pumping those zooms.

February 19, 2007 12:53 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

blower bulb, works every time. It is also the only method that nikon officialy supports

February 19, 2007 1:24 PM  
Blogger Debbi_in_California said...

I use the CooperHill method with no problems at all.

February 19, 2007 3:05 PM  
Blogger Donald said...

I tried the blower bulb and blew a big bunch of... I don't know what... maybe talcum powder... all over my sensor - not a good scene. Then I tried the really expensive swabs that are individually sealed... good for the centre of the sensor but not the edges.

Finally I decided to order up a kit from Copper hill. It is nerve wracking the first time, but it only took me three passes to have a sensor with two very small bits of dust... and I had some really stuck on bits around the edges that had been there for more than a year.

February 19, 2007 3:27 PM  
Blogger kurt said...

I have a Canon 20D. Use the Copper Hill. No problems. I think the key point is that you are not actually touching the sensor but the glass shield over it. It works great for me. I do it about once every 3 months.

February 19, 2007 3:52 PM  
Blogger Marshall said...

Hm. I'm a careless, inveterate lens-switcher, and thus have dust issues from time to time. But I've always gotten out of it using nothing more than a medium-sized Rocket Blower and the Bulb setting. Maybe I've been lucky and I'm headed for a sales-worth image with a blob of snot right across the key part of the image...

February 19, 2007 4:33 PM  
Anonymous daniel said...

Copperhill's method was nice before the sensor brush was invented by VisibleDust. I used PecPads and the sensor swap before, but now I think the gear of Visibledust is much more better and safer and a much more advanced technology. It's quite more expensive too, that's true. But it's worth it for your expensive sensor.

Or, of course: Use the new Canon digital Rebel with sensor cleaning. Can't wait for the next 5D with sensor cleaning built in too...

February 19, 2007 5:47 PM  
Anonymous Alistair Windsor said...

I guess that Daniel is right. A brush is more advanced that a piece of tissue but calling either advanced technology is pushing it a bit.

I use dry methods of cleaning (blower and sensor brush). Never yet had to resort to a wet cleaning.

The latest Canon DSLR, the Rebel XTi (400D), also features sensor dust removal. Hopefully we will see it on more and more DSLRs.
I think the Visible Dust products are overpriced. Go with either the Copper Hill Brush or follow Petteri's recommendations.

It is not difficult.

February 19, 2007 6:36 PM  
Blogger Steve Leibson said...

I have used the Copperhill method as well, when I needed to because the dust bunnies were showing up in my sky photos. I was pretty apprehensive, for no good reason. The instructions are clear and the procedure is easy. The sensor filter is pretty tuff and you're not scrubbing, you're sweeping so damage is unlikely. If you start to use a little elbow grease to scrub off something really nasty, you're not following the Copperhill method. I suppose if I got a goober I couldn't remove, I'd either give my camera to Canon for cleaning or research further.

February 19, 2007 7:33 PM  
Anonymous dominique said...

I ordered the Copper Hill stuff but have never used it because I also ordered the Visible Dust 1.6 econo kit with the brush spinner. Yes it's expensive, yes it's an awful web site, but totally worth every penny. No fluid, just a super soft brush. 30 sec. and your done.

I will only try using the Copper Hill stuff if I get a welded on spot. Has not happened yet in a year and a half.

February 19, 2007 8:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the Strobist Flicker list I'm Gerry.m250.

I clean with Eclipse and the Sensor Swabs from Photographic Solutions.

I spent a fair amount of time on the Copper Hill site, but I think the following one is probably better. Less selling and more staight information. They cover most methods, including what the camera company repair technicians use. You can decide for yourself which ones you want to use.

February 19, 2007 8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got exactly what was presented here.My experience was good except for one thing. The fluid comes with a with a small cap and a foil pull off sealer. Also comes with another lid. Worked great the first day I got it, but then when I went to use it a month later all the fluid had evaporated even though the second cap was on tight. The stuff is good, just take care that it's there.

February 20, 2007 3:58 AM  
Blogger Tom Warner said...

I have used this kit for several years now and have had no adverse effects whatsoever.

It may take several attempts to get the sensor / filter completely free of specks. I generally do a swipe, go outside, set the camera to f/22 and shoot the sky. That will show any specks. If there are any, I swipe again. This continues until the sensor is completely free of microscopic debris.

Ditto on following Copperhill's instructions. Follow them carefully. There are enough pec-pads to last seemingly forever. This is probably the most cost-effective sensor cleaning kit available.

February 20, 2007 7:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, sensor cleaning and dust maintainence is part of digital photo life, and is doable by most anyone if the proper proceedures are followed.

A couple of points to aware of:

Using "bulb" and mirror lock-up functions on most cameras means the electronics and sensor are ON. Really not a good situation when cleaning, ie. static and blasting the sensor with light. Use the manufacturer's recommended method, even if it means buying an A/C adapter (Nikon).

Use of "too much" fluid of any kind could allow it to seep behind the AA filter and damage the sensor.

FWIW, Copper Hill's stuff works fine for me.


February 20, 2007 8:02 AM  
Anonymous John Dohrn said...

I have been cleaning my sensor for quite some time and to think of it, should probably do it again today. I use a giottos rocket air blower, and it is quite frankyl amazing if used properly. The first time i used it, i screwwed up and blew dust from near the lens mount onto the sensor (DOH!), but once i got the hang of it i had significantly cleaner images which is very important at macro ranges because it's very difficult to replicate parts of a fly's eye in photoshop

February 20, 2007 10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Been cleaning sensors for some time. - d70(,s) d1x, d200, dcs760, pro14n, etc - . Ive found the best results (for me) as follows:

blower bulb (bigger, better) with the nozzle that concentrates the air. Hold body UPSIDE down whilst using bulb. disrupt dust so it can fall down and out of body.

I usually sacrifice one sensor swap to clean any remaining offending dust from AROUND the sensor. All the flat bits that can accumulate dust that will eventually find itself back on the sensor once you think you're done.

Start on the sensor. I worked with a guy that ruined a sensor using too much pressure and too much fluid on the swab. (we're talking an early model dcs sensor, not cheap) I use the three or four recommended drops of the ultrarefined eclipse liduid and wait a few seconds for it to evaporate a bit off the edges. Using a new swab swipe twice. once in one direction, once in the other, making uniform efforts for the duration of the swabbing.

test shot: white background, f22, out of focus. in photoshop make b/w and adjust levels to ultracontrasty to bring out any and all remaining spots (if any) I print a 8x10 and mark any remaining spots (keep in mind the upside down view from the mirror) for ref and repeat with a new swab. repeat until the sensor is spotless.

For especially stubborn spots ill bust out a minimaglite and work it with a new swab.

I clean the sensors in the studio about once every 2 weeks (about 6 cameras) It may seem timely but fort we pay our retoucher we'ed rather have him fixing teeth than dust ;)

February 20, 2007 11:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I second the opinion that is a great place to buy a sensor cleaning kit. (This is a portal for The price for a basic kit is so reasonable that I ordered a second kit to give a friend. I was surprised that it came with some neat foam swabs to clean the inside of your mirror box. Don’t tell anyone, but I used one to remove several annoying specks off of the focusing screen. I KNOW this is not recommended because the screen is soft plastic, but it worked great for me.

I have placed many orders with in the past and have always been very pleased with their service.

I can’t believe that I endured a dirty screen for so long. If I only would have known how easy and effective it is to clean your own sensor, I would have started doing it a long time ago.


February 20, 2007 11:34 PM  
Blogger ... t said...

Visible dust does require an investment of just under 10% of my camera's value. I'm comfortable with that since the impact on the camera is so slight, it doesn't involve volatile fluids that require an MSDS with serious health hazard warnings or spreading conductive fluids inside my 'spensive eeelectronical deevice. And I only have to buy it once... t

February 22, 2007 4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Important Indium Tin Oxide coated sensor update:

April 07, 2007 3:16 PM  
Blogger Brandon Foster said...

I took a lesson that I learned from when I used to clean computers and other sensitive electronics. If there is not really any grime, and just dust, you can use a product called "Dust Off", it is basically air in a can, and it will blow most of the crud off of the sensor, unless it is caked on...

June 10, 2007 6:53 PM  
Blogger Stan said...

Have to back up the copperhill guy. Got the swap and the brush kit and had my sensor spotless in a couple of tries. Great products and very clear directions. Also got a neat Slinky which my son confiscated immediately :)

December 05, 2007 4:22 PM  
Blogger Whitt said...

This article was very helpful. My D200 looked like absolute crap before I did anything. It was horrendus. The culmination of my anger was when I took pictures of an air show on a nice clear day (yeah, you can only imagine).

I was about to give in and buy the kit, but I decided to give the blower and brush a whirl. So with the combination of the blower first and a fine artists brush going over it afterwards, I am 99.9% dust free. What a difference... night and day!!!

So I guess my point is, go for the blower first, then the brush, and then try this kit. The first two worked for me, and I'd consider my sensor dirtier than normal.

May 17, 2008 8:59 PM  

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