When the time comes to clean your lenses, it's always best to use dedicated camera lens cleaners. After all, while a dusty or smeared lens cannot produce the best image quality, you want to use specialised tools to avoid making the problem worse. Using a household cloth or a sleeve can result in just making the problem worse, or even damaging the coating of a front element.
Lens cleaners can come in many forms, but the standard tools are usually a microfibre cloth, cleaning spray, or disposable wet wipes that are specifically designed for lenses. These can take many shapes and forms, but the go-to cleaning tools of choice are usually a microfiber cloth and some cleaning spray, or simple wet wipes suitable for lens cleaning.
There are other products used for a slightly different purpose; squeezy blowers, for instance, allow you to gently remove dust particles without actually touching the lens, and are definitely worth having. Ultimately though, if you have a lens for a few years, you are at some point going to need to clean it properly, especially if you have to get rid of fingerprints or oily residue. The good news though is that all lens-cleaning products are well priced, and none will leave you out of pocket.
Five things to look for...
- Dry cleaning: Just need to clean some dust or light fingerprints? Try a blower, tissue, or microfiber cloth.
- Wet cleaning: To shift lots of fingerprints, smudges and oily residue, you'll need wet wipes or a liquid spray.
- Space-saving: Nobody wants to carry unnecessary bulk - consider wipes or a microfibre cloth for convenient on-the-go cleaning.
- Safety first: Don’t use any old cleaning fluid on a lens - only products designed for precision coated optics will do.
- The extra mile: Add a protector filter to a frequently-used lens to protect the front element from excessive dirt and scratches.
Best lens cleaners in 2021
You could clean your lenses with the tried and tested combo of a microfibre cloth and specialist cleaning spray, but there’s a risk the cloth will pick up dirt in your kit bag, while the spray takes up valuable space. These pre-moistened lens wipes, on the other hand, are extremely handy. Each wipe comes in a small 5cm-square sealed sachet and unfolds to 15x12cm – just the right size for cleaning a front or rear lens element.
Right out of the pack we found our wipes to be slightly too moist, leaving some initial streaks due to the excess fluid on the lens. However this does eventually evaporate to leave a clean, streak-free and crystal-clear finish. The wipes pick up dust particles effectively, though it’s advisable to first blow away excessive amounts of dust away with a squeezy blower.
These wipes are also great value when purchased as a box of 200.
The basic LensPen design has been around for many years and now comes in various sizes to suit lenses from large DSLR optics down to tiny phone camera hardware. This NLP-1 variant is the original design, suitable for larger lenses. Its standout feature is its 12mm diameter tip. This has a slightly concave surface to follow the curvature of your lens’s front element, and is coated in carbon to enable it to remove grease and fingerprints without resorting to a liquid cleaner.
Amazingly, the system works. Lenses with lots of fingerprints will require around 10 seconds of wiping with the carbon tip to achieve a perfect finish, but more typically marked optics come up gleaming in moments.
The carbon tip can be ‘recharged’ by rubbing it against the inside of its protective cover, and should be good for around 500 cleans. The other end of the pen houses a retractable brush - useful for an initial sweep if your lens is particularly dusty.
We've drummed this point in already, but it bears repeating: when cleaning sensitive surfaces like lens elements, you want to get a specialist cloth that's designed for the job. Something like the Visible Dust Magic Cleaner is the perfect tool for the job: made up of ultra-fine 0.1 denier microfibers, the cloth is the perfect way to gently clean a lens without damaging it. Gently apply to the surface to remove dust and other unwanted particles.
The cloth comes at a pleasingly affordable price, though it is best paired with the Visible Dust's bespoke cleaning solution, which does bump the cost up a bit. We'd say it's worth it though, as it's still one of the most affordable way to keep your lenses and other glass optics in tip-top condition.
Squeezy blowers like this are a simple but effective way to remove loose dust and dirt from your lens, and what’s more, they’re equally useful for blowing dust off your camera’s image sensor, or even giving a dusty computer keyboard a quick spruce-up.
This particular blower works exactly as advertised, directing a powerful, focussed jet of air right where it’s needed. The ‘rocket’-inspired design also lets you stand the blower up on end so it won’t roll away.
High-pressure air won’t do anything about smears and oils on your glass - so wipes or a spray cleaner will still be required to shift these.
The Spudz is something of a classic, providing you a 6x6-inch (15x15cm) microfiber cloth which folds into the attached neoprene pouch. It is small enough to fit into any gadget bag – but has a clip on the outside, so can be attached to your backpack or camera bag, so it is easy to find and ready to use. A wide range of pouch colors and designs are available, to add some fun to this worth, if simple, accessory.
When a simple microfiber cloth just isn’t enough to perform a perfect clean, try pairing it with a lens cleaning spray. There are many available, but if you’re going to trust a fluid on your prized optics, you can be fairly sure a spray from Zeiss will be a safe bet. You get two 120ml spray bottles in this pack, though capacity and bundle options may vary according to country and retailer.
Of course, a spray alone isn’t much good, so you’ll need to combine it with a good microfibre cloth. With this combo, Zeiss’ spray works a treat. One or two squirts onto the cloth is enough to clean a larger diameter front lens element, and the final result is flawless. No streaks, and no residue left from the spray itself.
The only real downside is even at a modest 120ml capacity, each bottle still takes up valuable space in a smaller kit bag, and we’re not overly keen about storing a bottle of liquid next to sensitive electronics.
Microfibre cloths are the go-to cleaning product of choice for many photographers. They’re great for cleaning not just lenses, but also your camera’s LCD screen, as well as filters, phone and tablet screens.
These Eco-Fused cloths use an especially tight weave so are better suited to cleaning fine dust and smears. The slick fabric also resists picking up dirt and debris when stored in your kit bag. Excessive dust on your lens is best blown away first, but otherwise the cloths clean well and remove most smudges and oily marks. For a truly crystal-clear finish, however, they’re best paired with a specialist lens cleaning spray.
Each pack contains ten 18x15cm washable cloths, plus an additional pair of 14x8cm cloths. We opted for the discreet black and grey colour option, but blue cloths are also available, and if you’re really fed up with losing small items in your bag, go for the yellow and green pack.
Tissue paper doesn’t immediately spring to mind when thinking of ways to clean your lenses, but that’s exactly what you get in this kit, along with a 16cm-square microfibre cleaning cloth. The theory goes that you use a sheet of tissue paper to pick up loose dust and lint, then follow with the microfibre cloth to clean away any remaining residue and smears.
Though it may seem strange, the system actually works. The paper sheet also does a pretty good job of removing oils even without the cloth for backup, though neither quiet leaves the same spotless finish as a wet cleaning system. The combo also consumes more kit bag space than a few handy wet wipes.
Camkix offers the kit with 300 papers and a single microfibre cloth, 550 papers and two cloths, or 800 papers and three cloths. The latter works to be very inexpensive on a per-clean basis.
PEC Pads are widely respected in the photographic industry for their ability to clean up all sorts of photographic problems. The lint-free cloths are disposable - and are really robust so don't tear or break. They can be used dry to clean things like screens and the front of lenses - but come into their own when used in conjunction with a suitable cleaning liquid. Photographic Solutions' own Eclipse solution is what is recommended for cleaning lenses – but has to be bought separately (see below). PEC Pads can also be used for cleaning fingerprints, sticky residues and mold from slides and negatives prior to scanning – although for this you will have to use Photography Solutions PEC-12 liquid.
• See also Best film scanners
Specialist optical cleaning solution designed for professional photographic use. Eclipse can be used with PEC Pads to clean lenses and other camera surfaces – but can also be used as a camera sensor cleaner if applied to the right-sized Photographic Solutions SensorSwabs.