Cleaning Your DSLR Sensor

July 2006


(no...this photo has nothing to do with sensor cleaning...nor there are dust on the photo. I just happened to found a photo I took last autumn, hence sharing it here with you guys to make reading not so boring. Life is colourful :))


Dust on sensor has always been the problem to DSLR since the first release. Whenever you change lens or expose the mount of DSLR to air, dust are bounded to go into the camera and rest on the DSLR sensor.


Sensor, when activated creates static charge that attracts dust. Dust that are initially resting inside your camera will move to the charged sensor whenever you use your DSLR. Even if you do not change lens and use only one lens from day one...dust will still find its way to go into your DSLR. Why? Dust are so tiny and light that wherever there is air...there sure have dust. Hence, dust is a common problems to DSLR.


Some manufacturers have a dust free sensor solution, by introducing a anti-static filter in front of the sensor, or by using a ultra-sonic shake filter that places in front of a sensor. Some companies even use both method to keep the dust problem to the minimum. Sony and Olympus...etc. are incorporating these technologies into their DSLR, but not Nikon or Canon (yet...). Nikon and Canon are still the top brands in photographic market, and with millions of Canon and Nikon DSLR out there that don't have the anti-static filter or ultra-sonic filter, there are still problem of dust that needs to be taken care of by Nikon and Canon users. Even if Canon and Nikon are coming out with new DSLR with dust problem solved, those previously sold DSLR (D2X, 1DMKII...etc.) that cost $$$ should still not to be forgotten.


I have received many enquiries on the sensor cleaning products that I am offering at, hence I decided to write up an article sharing my little knowhow... :)

In general, cleaning DSLR sensor can be divided into two categories:


●  Dry Cleaning

●  Wet Cleaning


Dry Cleaning

What is dry cleaning? As the name has suggested, it means cleaning your sensor without wetting it.


Most dust on the sensor are light and flyable. They settled on the sensor mainly due to the static charge on the sensor that works like a magnet holding firmly the metal pieces. Hence, to remove the dust, you need a stronger charged device to attract the dust onto it. Hence the sensor brush (a brush that has a very strong anti-static charge on it that will attract dust onto it).

In the market, there are a few sensor brush makers. One can cost from as high as US$100~200 (VisibleDust), or low as US$10 or less (search ebay). Choosing the right sensor brush is important, as you do not want to buy a bad item and damaged/scratched your sensor.


After much search in the market, I have come to decide the SensorSweep II that is being offered by CopperHill Images ( Nicholas from CopperHill Images has written some very good articles on sensor cleaning, and he sure know a lot about dust on sensor. He is also a very well respectable photographer in the net, hence I have confident in the product that recommend and make by him. Another reason is of course the affordable price (read reasonable, especially for the Asian market), which doesn't cost you hundreds USD for just a brush, but less than USD20.


There are many other sensor brushes offered at ebay, some might be just as good or better...but I would rather source from a reputable person with good knowhow in what he is doing. In fact, SensorSweep II is the 2nd generation SensorSweep, which is a better and improved version of the which is already very good and well-known SensorSweep. SensorSweep II is being offered at various places in USA and Europe, proven and being used by many professionals around the world.


For your convenience, each SensorSweep II has been pre-washed and rinsed with distilled water, and then sanitized even further to remove oils, grease, glue and other heavy particulates that the manufacturing process has introduced. The only thing you'll need to do is to blow off the tips of the filaments and you're good to go.


You can use practically any type of blower to charge the SensorSweep II. You'll also get a carrying/storage tube that can be tossed into your camera bag.


Here's some simple steps that I use to clean my sensor (just a reference, yours might vary):

  1. Take a photo of a white wall at aperture f22, check how bad is your sensor with dust or where are the location of the dust mostly.

  2. Charge the SensorSweep II with a blower, just blow air onto the SensorSweep to charge it up. This will create anti-static charge on the brush hence able to attract dust onto it later. Blowing also helps to remove the dust that are rested onto the SensorSweep if you have used it previously.

  3. After charged up the SensorSweep II, set your camera to mirror up and shutter curtain UP position (read the instruction manual of your DSLR, varies from makers one and another). MAKE SURE YOU DO NOT HAVE THE SHUTTER CURTAIN DOWN WHILE YOU ARE DOING THE CLEANING JOB!

  4. Brush the SensorSweep II onto the sensor of your DSLR, depending on the size of the sensor, you should brush from left to right (or right to left depending on your own hand preference), horizontally sweep from top till the bottom. You can also sweep the sensor based on the location of the dust as you saw in step 1.


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  5. Blow/Clean your SensorSweep II after the first brush by blowing air onto it to remove the dust that has been attracted from your sensor.

  6. Repeat step 3 again if necessary, this should remove most if not all dust from your sensor.

  7. Take a photo of a white wall at lens aperture f22, check the photo on your computer monitor and compare with the photo you took at step 1.

If there are still stubborn dust (or dirt), use the wet cleaning method.


Wet Cleaning

Wet cleaning method means using some soft of fluid + tissue to touch and clean the sensor of your DSLR, like cleaning the window of your house. Use this method only if there are stubborn dirt on your sensor, as most dust should be able to be cleaned away by the dry cleaning method, and only stubborn dust (read dirt) that requires the wet cleaning method. If you have not cleaned your sensor before and has been using it in flying dusty/dirt environment, then you might need the wet cleaning on your sensor.


I recommend not to use the wet cleaning method all the time, reason is because it is time-consuming and requires passion and skill in doing so. Just like your precious lenses, if there are just dust on it, you should just blow it away by using a brush or blower, not fluid + lens tissue. Most of the time you will make your problem worse. If you keep your sensor clean by using the dry method often (once a week), then very seldom you will need the wet cleaning method.


When there are stubborn dirt, there is no way for you to lift them up by the SensorSweep II, hence you need to wipe them away by tissue (wet tissue). So, what tissue? What do you need?


The most popular one in the net that are being used worldwide and even Nikon personals are PhotoSol SensorSwab, PecPad and Eclipse.



SensorSwab is the specially made sensor cleaning tool that is being made by PhotoSol for cleaning sensor. It comes in a ready use stick type, drop a few drops of Eclipse onto the SensorSwab and you are ready to go (DO NOT DROP LIQUID DIRECTLY ONTO THE SENSOR!!!) Swipe your sensor in horizontal direction to the left (two times), then to the right (two times). Then you are done, so as the SensorSwab. Do not reuse the SensorSwab and they are now "dirty". Each box of SensorSwab contains 12 pieces of swab, cost around RM150 per box, which can be quite expensive to some...but considering that you have spent $$$ on a DSLR, just RM15 per stick and your sensor is back to clean should be quite cheap and reasonable :)




PhotoSol do not recommend using PecPad on the sensor. In fact, they stated this clearly on their website and warn people not to use PecPad but only SensorSwab. For those who are not experience or confident in cleaning sensor yourself, then SensorSwab is the most convenient and easiest way that you should first try. After you have practice enough cleaning with the SensorSwab on your sensor, you can then DIY your own sensorswab for your DSLR cleaning.


There are already many good articles on the net explaining (with illustrations) on how to DIY your own swab and the steps in cleaning, hence I will just share the links here and you can learn from there:


Hope this helps... :)