Classic Camera Cleaning Guide


by Bellamy /

11 min read

JapanCameraHunter’s Classic Camera Cleaning Guide
Recently I saw a camera cleaning guide online and I thought to myself ‘I can definitely do better than that’ so I have decided to put together this guide to the techniques that I use when cleaning cameras. I hope you find it useful.

This is my camera. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My camera is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. My camera, without me, is useless. Without my camera, I am useless. I must shoot my camera true….

Many of us consider our camera to be an extension of ourselves. Part of us that we are so used to, it becomes second nature. So is really surprises me to see people not taking care of their gear. Cleaning lenses with T-shirts, leaving a camera on the shelf for months, forgetting to take batteries out when storing, the list goes on.
Camera care is not something that should be a chore to do. In fact it should be something that relaxes you and gives you a better understanding of how your equipment works. If your camera is clean, you are going to be in a much better position to get that shot you are after.

For me, cleaning cameras is one of the reasons I got interested in photography. Many moons ago, young JCH found out his dad had a Minolta XG-1 and a barrage of lenses stashed in the wardrobe (I believe I was playing hide and seek when I found them). I was fascinated by the camera and how it could be put together and taken apart. But the damned thing was dusty and mucky. So, JCH senior told me that I may use the camera, if I could clean and care for the camera. Well, that was it, I was off. I cleaned that camera until it was gleaming and used it solidly for about 10 years. I still have this camera and it still works. This was how it started for me and it gave me a really good grounding in keeping my cameras spick and span.

Over the years I have lost count of the cameras that I have cleaned. But I still remember that feeling of making sure that this machine, this object of visual collection was free of dust, and functioning in tip top condition. I still take the time to sit down with my cameras and make sure that they are clean and working well. And you should too, so here is my guide to cleaning your camera. This guide is applicable to all classic cameras (apart from wooden ones, they are something else). And some of the tips are also good for modern digital cameras. But if you are looking for sensor cleaning tips, you are on your own, I have no idea.
This is my guide and I am not going to make claim that it is the ‘best’ or ‘definitive’ guide, it is not. This is what works for me and has given me good results.

So here are the things you will need for my guide:

A camera (duh)

Dusters. I use two different ones. One for main dust and one for pinpoint stuff. The head size is different, as is the strength of the duster. If you have one of those crappy grey ones with the brush on the end, shame on you. Don’t be tight, spend some money of getting good cleaning kit.

A soft hand towel. I use this to clean the leatherette on the camera.

Microfibre cloth (Not pictured) this is really important as the microfibre cleans without leaving dust or marks. It can be used on the lens or the body too.

Lint free cleaning tissues. These are also important. They are designed for cameras and don’t scratch lenses, like kitchen paper does.

Chamois leather. This is actually really good for the body of the camera.

Cotton ear buds. I think Americans call them cue tips. Anyway, these are great, cheap and immensely useful.

Special camera cleaning buds. You can get these in decent camera shops. They have pinpoint tips and are good for getting into the nooks and crannies.

Magic camera cleaning soup. Actually, it is soapy water. Mildly soapy water.

Lens cleaning fluid. I use alcohol and non alcohol. You will see why.


For this piece I am using a tatty QL17 that actually no longer works. It has been gathering dust, so I thought it would be the ideal candidate for showing you how I clean my cameras. This one has surface dust, years of grime and dirt on the body, stains on the metal and filthy leatherette. But that doesn’t matter, all of this can be cleaned….shame the camera can not be repaired.


So let’s get started. First things first I like to go over the camera with the larger duster and blow away as much of the surface dust as I can. Take your time and really get it off the camera. This is easier than using a cloth, because the cloth could wipe or push dust into places that will be a lot harder to clean later. If you have canned air then you can use that. But it is insanely bad for the environment and sometimes the propellant can come out and freeze the surface it is being sprayed upon. Not cool.

Now that I have blown away as much of the dirt as possible, I take out the cleaning tissues and get them top mop up the rest. I find them better than a cloth, as they will attract dust. These are tissues, not ‘cleaning papers’, there is a big difference in quality. If you are spending some decent money on a camera, you owe it to yourself and the camera to spend a bit more and get decent quality cleaning materials. You can also a microfibre cloth if you want, but I prefer the tissues.


Next up I want to get the body of the camera clean and tidy. For this I use the lens cleaner alcohol. There are tons of different brands, but they are all basically ethyl alcohol or something similar. It evaporates quickly and is very very good at cutting through grease and grime. I use cotton buds at first and wipe down the whole camera. I take special care to get into the spots and corners.


This stuff is really good and suitable for just about any camera surface. Though for plastics you should really check to make sure that it doesn’t stain or change the plastic surface. It will cut through the grime on the camera in no time. And you will be surprised at how much gunk comes off a camera. I was given a Minolta a few years back that stank of smoke. After about 4 hours it no longer smelled and looked stunning.


Now this is where it gets fiddly. All of the spaces in between things. These spots gather crud over the years and keep it there. Many people will just give a camera a cursory wipe, so the spaces keep on building up until their either stop working or shame you into cleaning them.

Fortunately, that is where these little beauties come in. They are pinpointed and made of slightly harder cotton. So you can really get into those fiddly areas and get the gunk out. If you have not got access to these, make your own. I used to use toothpicks with cleaning tissues wrapped around the end. I think this is better than using something metal, as the metal could tear through the tissue or cotton and scrape the camera.


And as you can see, they really do the job. They get in there and get it all up. Make sure that they have lens cleaning solution on them, to cut through the grease and you will soon see results.


Once all of the rubbish has been removed, a quick blast with the air cleaner and then I wipe the body of the camera with the microfibre cloth. This will clean up the stains on the body caused by the acids and grease on the hands.
If the stains are really stubborn I use the Chamois leather. It really gets into the metal and will remove even the stubborn stains. This takes time and elbow grease. Don’t expect immediate results. I generally spend at least an hour cleaning a camera this dirty, sometimes 2 hours. But if you sit there and rub away, the camera will be gleaming.


See, loads better.



The leatherette on your camera picks up grease and grime over the years, and fades. This is usually because it is under a layer of grime, which can be cleaned. Now there are a number of different schools of thought on this. Some people like to use ethyl alcohol, other use kerosene, some use water. I like to use old fashioned soap and water. I would use leather cleaner if I had it, but I don’t. Try not to use dishwashing detergent, it is too harsh and not good for the leather as it could make it crack. Just simple soap is fine.


I use a cotton bud, and take my time to lightly rub the surface of the leatherette with the soap solution. I don’t use much and I make sure not to go to the edges of the leatherette, as I don’t want water seeping underneath and damaging the glue or the camera. For really really valuable old cameras, you don’t clean the leatherette, you just don’t, because it is irreplaceable and easy to damage. But for regular cameras this method is great. Gently rub the leatherette and check to make sure you are getting the gunk out. Once you have done that area you can dry it off.


Yep, good old lint free tissues to the rescue. Slowly and firmly rub the water soap mix off the camera, making sure you get everything out of the ridges in the leatherette. Make sure it is completely dry. You should not have soaked the leatherette anyway, so this will not take long. Once you have done the whole camera you will be very happy with the results.


Now that the outside of the camera is clean, you can get on with making sure the inside of the camera is clean too.

Inside the camera


Open the camera up and get that duster blowing. Make sure you get into all of the corners. Use the pinpoint duster for the trouble spots. Some cameras have parts that can be removed, if you can, do this and make sure to get into all of the parts with that duster. There should not be any dust anywhere.


With that done, it is time to do a bit of spring cleaning. I like to get the film runners cleaned with a cotton bud and some alcohol. Same with the rear of the lens if it is a camera like this one. But we will get to that later. Can you see all of that gunk and dust below the film runner? That is particles from the light sealing foam. On this particular camera it has basically disintegrated over time, so now it is all over the inside of the camera. But this is a home repair. You can get a replacement foam kit for pocket money and replace the foam yourself. It is very easy and quite rewarding to do so. It also saves you having to clean all of that crap out every time you open the camera.

So what is left? Ah yes, the lens.


I leave the lens until last. That way I don’t have to clean it again after I have dislodged all of the other gunk from the camera. There are tons of different schools of thought on this one. But the retaining principles that are found in all are simple. Be gentle, be careful, be thorough. If you make sure you follow these rules you should have clean lenses.


For cleaning I like to use one of the fancy cotton buds, but a regular one will do. The funny thing is, I don’t use alcohol on my lenses. As I have found a really good alcohol free cleaner. Unfortunately it is not available outside of Japan. So, if you cannot get something like this, then get some decent cleaning fluid. I used to like the Kodak brand stuff, but it has become hard to find here. Just don’t get that generic crap in the red bottle, it is rubbish.

First of all I wipe the lens with the cleaning fluid on the bud. It do it slowly and carefully to make sure I get all of the lens. But don’t soak the lens. Just use enough to make the suggestion of being moist.


Next comes my lens tissue again (obviously a fresh one). I use this in a slow circular motion, being sure to get the edges and not miss anywhere. Don’t press too hard. again, you need to be gentle and patient. Take you time and make sure that you are not leaving cleaning marks. On older lenses there may be either a very old coating, or simply none at all. Many old lenses has very soft glass and are very easy to scratch, so you need to take extra care when cleaning classic glass. Take your time and don’t rush.


As a final gesture, I use the blowers to get rid of any dust particles that may tried to join the action since the cleaning. This should then leave my glass looking great. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but I like to do this once a week if possible. If you are on the move, doing this is impossible. But not having a microfibre cloth in your bag is a crime and you should definitely carry one. How would it feel to miss a shot because you have a smudge on your lens that you cannot remove?


And that is pretty much it. By now your camera should be looking spiffy and shiny. It should also be working a treat and happily clicking away.

Camera maintenance is important and part of being a photographer. You need to make sure that your machine is working at all times. Check the batteries and make sure they are good. If you are not sure, carry a spare. And always keep a cloth in the bag.
Many cameras are like handmade watches, they are precision machines and need to be re-adjusted from time to time. But you can prolong the time be keeping good care of your gear. When you are not using them, keep them in a dry box. If you have a humidity cabinet all the better. You want to keep things at around 36-44%. That stops the grease drying out and the seals deteriorating, yet keeps the lenses and parts from getting mould and haze.

A clean camera is a happy camera. And a happy camera makes for a happy you. And anyway, it is a good excuse to while away a couple of hours without anyone bothering you, plus you get to know your cameras better.

If you have any tips or comments please be sure to share them below.


27 comments on “Classic Camera Cleaning Guide”

    Xiao Lu October 2, 2013 at 2:30 am / Reply

    Thanks for this, Bellamy! BTW, Americans call those cotton ear swabs “Q-tips” (the “Q” stands for “Quality”). A “cue tip” would be found on the end of your pool cue! Another classic case of two peoples separated by a common language! :)

    Rogério October 2, 2013 at 7:33 am / Reply

    thanks a lot for this, JCH. awesome guide!

    Barry October 2, 2013 at 10:16 am / Reply

    Great article. Now that I have a few collections of film cameras I need to start cleaning them and start using them. Your right I find it relaxing sitting at a cafe and just listening to music while you clean your cameras.. Will be heading to Starbucks today to clean my Nikon F4 I just got…

    camera squid October 2, 2013 at 2:25 pm / Reply

    Thank you so much for posting this, Bellamy–as a newb, I really needed it!

    And lovely Canonet ^^ Shame it doesn’t work!

    And Barry: you clean your cameras at cafés??

    Lotta October 2, 2013 at 5:30 pm / Reply

    Great tips but I still have a trouble spot in my canon ae 1!
    When I look through my viewfinder I see really bad black strains, when I open the camera I can the piece inside but I don’t know how to flee not up. Tried different liquids none helped and most made it worse. I’m desperate! The black spots appeared while taking pictures on Fiji so maybe the humidity and the heat caused it.
    Any ideas how to fix it? Would be really appreciated!
    Greetings from Australia

    David K. K. Hansen October 3, 2013 at 3:07 pm / Reply

    Good article Bellamy! Though this section about alcohol on cameras:

    “This stuff is really good and suitable for just about any camera surface. Though for plastics you should really check to make sure that it doesn’t stain or change the plastic surface. It will cut through the grime on the camera in no time. And you will be surprised at how much gunk comes off a camera. I was given a Minolta a few years back that stank of smoke. After about 4 hours it no longer smelled and looked stunning.”

    I’d give your readers a little warning not to try this with painted cameras. Depending on the chemical composition of the alcohol solvent and the paint, you may end up rubbing the paint off the camera!!

    This isn’t always the case with ever camera brand. Say, you have a black paint Leica MP6 laying around, could you do us a favour and see if alcohol removes the paint layer? For science, Bellamy… :-)

      DVH October 31, 2013 at 9:29 am /

      As David K K Hansen wrote, alcohol-based cleaners can take paint off. I have not seen this happen with the general black paint on the body of a camera, but tragically I have seen alcohol take off the white paint in the lettering on a lens. If anything, that’s worse since it’s functional, not merely cosmetic. It was on the distance scale of a 1970s Pentax-M 2.0/50, which fortunately is a cheap, common kit lens. Still, I hate to ruin any kit of any price! I now keep alcohol cleaners well away from the lettering on any lens.

    Brett Patching October 3, 2013 at 6:39 pm / Reply

    Also thanks from me for an excellent and very helpful article Bellamy.

    Martina October 4, 2013 at 12:05 am / Reply

    Great article! My cameras could use some cleaning, thanks for the reminder :-)

    joe October 31, 2013 at 4:17 am / Reply

    Great tutorial pal!

    Which brand of lint free cleaning tissues do you suggest?


    Andrew November 29, 2013 at 10:37 am / Reply

    Thanks for the article, it’s given me inspiration to go and clean my dad’s old canonet too, however his camera viewfinder is very grimmey and hard to see through. Any tips on how to clear this up?

    Hal March 15, 2014 at 10:15 pm / Reply

    It is great to see people still interested in film photography. I read your artlcle and it is just the thing for people bringing their old stuff out of the closet.

    Just a couple of additional notes: Never touch anything to a reflex mirror, These are silvered on top, not behind the glass. They will scratch very easily. Only use the manual blower.
    Don’t use compressed air on or near the focal plane shutter. They are too delicate for this.

    Thanks for providing this information with great pictures.

    Jason April 14, 2014 at 10:44 am / Reply

    Excellent and very informative. Thank you for sharing Bellamy!

    Alex Ibasco May 30, 2014 at 4:30 pm / Reply

    Nice tutorial Bellamy :-)

    I have a 53 year old but beautifully functioning 100mm f2 minolta lens where some of the black body paint has worn out and you see bare metal peeping out… on the filter and aperture rings… What do you suggest to use for painting them?

    Also the aperture markings look dull. How do I bring back their bright white and orange colours? I’m tempted to rub them but concerned I might rub them permanently off! Any suggestions?


    Antonio Bunt July 6, 2014 at 8:55 am / Reply

    I found some Carl Zeiss moist cleaning wipes that are amazing and very practical. The main problem is that so far I have just found them on B&H.

    Robert Kittel July 18, 2014 at 6:10 pm / Reply

    I also would be careful with cleaning the body with alcohol as mentioned before. The paint on some older cameras e.g. in engraved meterscales on lenses could be possibly removed, as I experienced too.

    Instead I use for cleaning the exterior a concentrated kitchen cleaner sprayed on a tissue. It easily removes the dirt from engraved numbers and characters without removing the original paint – after the treatment it will look like new.

    Hubert August 6, 2015 at 9:59 pm / Reply

    Hi Bellamy!
    The article is great, but I would love to see it supplemented with any tips & hints about cleaning the ground glass/focusing screens. This topic seems to be very serious and common among the SLR users, and it’s very easy to screw it up (ex. using agressive liquids, alcohol etc.). I personally have still some troubles with cleaning my Nikon F3 type K (red dot) screen from dust, especially around the split and micro-prism field… I’m sure more people will welcome the update about this problem – I think it’s very common, and if we have perfectly cleaned camera, but with very dusty screen – well, it may ruin our reputation in a second ;)
    All the best!

    Zoran Milosavljevic May 5, 2016 at 7:47 am / Reply

    For those living outside Japan you could try Rosco labs lens cleaning fluid (I belive it’s alcohol free), it’s used in Hollywood to clean some of the most frighteningly expensive cinema lenses in the world, I have used for years with no problems. Here is the link,

    Adrian J. May 16, 2016 at 8:42 am / Reply


    Rosco lens cleaning fluid appears to be a solution of ethanol, so it does contain alcohol.

    Ken Thomas July 1, 2016 at 5:03 pm / Reply

    For the general ‘tap and water stage’ I use Baby Wipes – they are very mild obviously and do not deliver too much liquid to the surface. They are really good for the general overall clean and are superb for the leatherette. Obviously, something that is suitable for a newborn baby’s sensitive skin is fine for leather or similar. They’re also quite inexpensive – in the UK I use Mamia brand sold by Aldi at a cost of just under one UK penny per wipe. I prefer to use the ones for sensitive skin as they’re obviously milder. I’ve jus cleaned up a Voigtlander Bessamatic and the leatherette is now a deep rich black – just like new. Yes, I’m old enough to remember these new, indeed I sold them from new over fifty years ago.

    Ken Thomas July 1, 2016 at 5:05 pm / Reply

    Correction to above:

    For ‘tap and water’ read ‘soap and water’

    Liz Elmore October 13, 2016 at 5:36 pm / Reply

    Thanks so much for this guide! I have a Yashica EE which my great uncle gave me – he bought it while working in Asia in the 60s. I’m off to Japan in a couple of weeks so I want to bring it back to photograph its homeland! It needs a good clean first though, and this guide is exactly what I needed. Can’t wait to get it looking its best for the trip!

    Robert Korn January 23, 2017 at 10:43 am / Reply

    Rosco lens cleaner is certainly not alcohol free, it lists ethanol as an ingredient on the MSDS

    Joe J. September 12, 2017 at 6:08 am / Reply

    This is a great article on camera cleaning. I’d like to add two notes. First one to add: use McGuire’s automotive #7 polish which is an excellent plastic polish, a very mild one used on very expensive cars’ plastic parts. Tiny tiny amounts are useful on camera plastics. Buff vigorously with lint free tissues to remove. Secondly, after cleaning a lens exactly as you described here, use ROR lens cleaner. This stuff will take a layer of pollution off your lens and improve light transmission up to a stop. It will not harm coatings at all. (I’ve used it hundreds of times with excellent results.) You will see a mucky film rise off the surface of the lens. Repeat above mentioned cleaning again when done. Yes, you are cleaning your lens three times. You only need the ROR stuff once, then continue your normal cleaning regimen as needed. Thanks for this article!

    DavyBea September 13, 2017 at 8:30 am / Reply

    Very informative. Thank you! In my experience, for returning (non sticky) plastic or metal camera bodies, and camera lens barrels to their former glory, a modest amount of WD40 applied with a lint free cloth works an absolute treat. As regards lenses, l always use a Lenspen on the front and rear elements initially. Then l always attach a Skylight filter (similarly treated) to protect the front element. Periodically dust and clean as necessary. No longer any need to clean the front glass element. Obviously replace filter if it becomes damaged, and use lens cap(s) when not in use.

    N M February 17, 2018 at 6:45 am / Reply

    Great article, I actually really enjoy getting my “new” old cameras home & cleaning them up. The results are so rewarding. I tend to use a tad of sorbolene on the leatherette to remove grime and remoisturise it. Just make sure not go too close to the lens area. Finally, make sure to clean out the battery chamber as well . NM.

    Theo April 23, 2018 at 6:35 pm / Reply

    This may sound funny but OLIVE OIL is great on leatherette on old cameras and on old (or even new) leather camera cases. Olive oil is very mild and has been used as a natural moisturizer for 1000s of years.

    Just dab a bit on a soft tissue and rub it into the leather. Let it seep in for a couple of minutes and then polish it with a microfiber cloth. It is even good for polishing the metal parts.

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