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Cleaning the CMOS Sensor of the Canon EOS 10D (and other digital SLRs)

by Bob Atkins, 2003

Do you have dust on your DSLR sensor? Have you seen any dark spots on your images. If the answer is no, your best course of action may be to ignore the rest of this article and be happy. If you have an EOS 10D, 300D, D60, D30, 1D or 1Ds or any other digital SLR from Nikon or another manufacturer, then sooner or later you will probably feel the urge to clean the sensor. If you can't resist the urge, read on.

If you don't know if your sensor is clean and want to check, here is how to do it. Put a lens on your camera, set focus to infinity, set exposure compensation to +1, set the aperture to its smallest value (largest number), at least f22, f32 if you have it. Now hold the camera in front a uniformly illuminated target and take a shot. Look at the image. Do you see dark spots? If so you have dust. At wider apertures the dust specs will be much less visible. At f11 they may be very faint and at f8 or wider apertures they may be undetectable.

Now comes the problem. If you're the sort of person who looked for dust, you're likely the sort of person who will be troubled by dust and want to remove it, even if you'd never seen it until you actually looked for it. This could get you into a lot of  trouble.

You now have two choices.

Your first option is that you can send the camera back to Canon or your favorite repair shop. It will probably cost you $50+ and you'll probably be without your camera for 2-3 weeks, but there's a chance it will come back dust free. There's probably a bigger chance it will come back with less dust, but still a few specs. Then what do you do?

Your second option is that you can try to clean it yourself. This would be great if it were not for a chance you could ruin the sensor and end up with a repair bill close to the original cost of the camera. Lots of people have cleaned their sensors themselves without running into this, but you may nor may not be one of them. I am not encouraging you to do this yourself. That's 100% your own decision. If you have doubts about whether you are qualified to do this, my advice is don't.

The third option (I know I said there were two, but I just though of this one) is to pretend you never did the test, forget about the dust spots you'd never actually seen until you looked for them, and live happily ever after.

CMOS Sensor Construction (EOS D60 300D 10D)

The sensor construction on the Canon EOS D60

Technical note: The dust isn't actually on the sensor surface. It's on the surface of a filter which is in front of the actual sensor itself. This is why dust shows up more at smaller apertures. Since the dust spots are some distance from the actual sensor pixels, a wide aperture lets in light which can "go around" the dust spot. It's a bit like using a large softbox for lighting. Shadows (and what shows up in the image is the shadow of the dust spot) are light and soft. At small apertures it's like using a small pinpoint spotlight and shadows are dark and hard edged. The following images show dust spots as f22 and f11. They have been GREATLY processed to show the dust spots as clearly as possible. On the straight images the spots are totally invisible at f11 and only very faintly visible at f22

Dust on CMOS sensor in EOS 10D (D60 300D)

Here's what bad dust looks like at f29. This is a 100% crop from an original image, no processing applied. After cleaning no dark spots could be seen.

Dust on CMOS Sensor of Canon EOS 10D prior to cleaning

Method 1 - The Canon's method of digital sensor cleaning - The Blower

Canon recommend using a blower bulb, with the tip of the bulb held no further into the camera than the lens mount. This is described on page 156 of the EOS 10D manual. The theory is that with bursts of air you can blow dust off the sensor. That's the theory. The practice is somewhat different. Basically what you do is redistribute the dust inside the camera. If there's more dust on the sensor than around it, you'll probably end up with less dust on the sensor. However my attempts at this method resulted in actually more dust on the sensor than I started out with. Not good.

  • Good points - Zero possibility of damaging sensor. Even if the shutter should close you're OK if you're outside the body with the blower.
  • Bad points - Doesn't work well. Can result in more dust than you started out with.

Note: Do not use any sort of "canned air" for this. It may be too powerful and the types that are liquid driven can "spit" liquid in the gas stream and if that happens you can wave bye-bye to your sensor. They may also freeze the sensor, which again could result in damage.

Method 2 - The Vacuum Brush

OK, so if a blower doesn't work, how about a brush - and not just a brush but a mini-vacuum brush. These things are sold as "computer keyboard" vacuum cleaners, however I use one on lenses quite often. The brush is soft and disturbs the dust and the vacuum sucks the dust away from the surface. NOTE Canon state "Do not use a blower brush. The brush can scratch the sensor surface". Thus using any kind of brush goes directly against the Canon advice. Obvious anything which touches the sensor surface could scratch it. You have been warned.

Well, to make a long story not as long, it didn't work well. Though it didn't scratch the sensor surface, it didn't remove the dust either. In fact there seemed to be even more dust. Either that or it was more concentrated in one area. I'm not sure why this happened. Perhaps because the brush is fairly large and so you can't really move it across the sensor very well. Perhaps the brush had dust on it (though I carefully cleaned it before use)

  • Good points - it might have worked?
  • Bad points - it didn't work, in fact it added dust! Physical contact with the sensor could cause damage. If the shutter should close while the brush is inside the camera, not only could you damage the sensor, but also the shutter, adding even more to the cost of repairs.

Method 3 - Open Heart Surgery

At this point things are significantly worse than they were before I started cleaning, so drastic measures were called for. Actually cleaning the sensor with fluid and tissue. This is the photographic equivalent of open heart surgery. If you get it wrong the consequences are pretty serious. Not as serious as open heart surgery, but perhaps serious enough to induce the need for it. If you scratch the sensor you are screwed. You won't be able to fix it, it won't be covered under warranty and you'll end up with a repair bill close to the cost of the camera. Canon will tell you that this is something you should not try at home and I'll repeat that. If you try this you are on your own. If you get it wrong you will seriously regret doing it. You have been warned.

What you need is a soft but fairly rigid support, about 15mm wide by a few inches long and 1-2mm thick.. This could be a Popsicle stick, a modified plastic knife, a modified kitchen spatula (I've seen all three suggested). The idea of a soft but rigid support is that if you should turn out to be physically inept and instead of wiping the tissue across the sensor you tear the tissue and/or scrape the support across the sensor, you'd rather it was soft like plastic than hard like a diamond encrusted file. You then take a sheet of lens tissue, fold it lengthways several times until it's about 15mm wide, then fold it in half and place it over the stick as shown in the figure below. 15mm is the approximate height of the sensor in the 10D. Do NOT touch the tissue in the area which will contact the sensor. Not only will you transfer grease onto it from your fingers, you may transfer dust and grit. Running a greasy, dusty, gritty tissue across the face of the sensor is not recommended.

Sensor Cleaning Tool

You then moisten the end of the "swab" with pure methanol or other high-quality, no-residue cleaning fluid (see below). Do not use Windex or any similar household cleaning fluid. The key here is "moisten". You don't want liquid dripping off. It should be wet, but not that wet. You now hold your breath,  engage the sensor cleaning mode on your camera to expose the sensor and gently wipe the swap across the sensor from one side to the other. The idea is to contact the whole width (height) of the sensor as you wipe across it from edge to edge. If you have to do it again you will use another clean sheet. "Clean" is your friend here.

EOS 10D CMOS Sensor Cleaning Technique

You don't need to "scrub" the sensor or apply too much pressure, but you do want to apply enough pressure that the tissue fully contacts the sensor surface. The trick is that you don't know how much pressure this is until you've done it. Perhaps a couple of practice swipes across a filter might give you a better feel for what's required. Obviously you use a fresh piece of lens tissue before cleaning the sensor.

You now do another dust test by taking a shot of a uniform bright surface with your lens stopped down to f22 or smaller. If you are lucky you will see very few (if any) dust spots. If you are unlucky you will still see multiple dust spots. If you are very unlucky you will see a scratch or other defect at which point you should probably call your psychiatrist for professional help in dealing with your suicidal feelings.

If you do see some dust and you don't see any damage, you have to ask yourself "Well, punk, do you feel lucky?". If the answer is yes, you can repeat the process and hope to remove every last dust spec. If the answer is no, quit while you are ahead. The trick here is not to push your luck. Removing every last tiny spec of dust that's visible at f32 is probably not necessary. Even if you do manage to do it, within a day or two I'll bet you'll find a few dust specs back on the sensor. You do not want to clean the sensor any more frequently than absolutely necessary. You have a finite amount of luck. Don't use it up too fast.

Now you can buy special cleaning swaps for this purpose. They are assembled in a clean room and sealed. The chance that they will scratch the sensor is very, very, very, very, very low (unless you get dirt on them yourself after you unwrap them). The downside is that they are $4 each and sold in packs of 12, so they will cost you $48. However this is perhaps 1/10 the cost of sensor replacement, maybe 1/20 of the cost. They are sold under the name "Sensor Swabs" and are made by Photographic Solutions Inc. You can also buy special cleaning fluid which will not damage the sensor or leave residue, sold under the name "Eclipse Optic Cleaner". This is cheap (relatively) at around $8 for a small bottle. Both items are sold by B&H Photo and (I presume) many other photo stores selling digital SLRs.

Lens tissue is MUCH cheaper of course. About $2 for 50 sheets of Kodak Lens Tissue. You want optical grade lens tissue, not stuff impregnated with silicone used to clean eyeglasses. It's not packaged in a clean room, so there's always a chance there could be a spec of grit on it. There shouldn't be (this stuff is made for cleaning lenses, not scratching them), but you won't know until it's too late. I've used lens tissue on lenses for years without a problem, including cleaning some pretty delicate optics such as dielectric laser mirrors, but if you are the unlucky one who gets that one sheet in 10,000 that may have a grit spec, it's not my fault. Again be sure it's untreated lens tissue, not silicone impregnated lens tissue sold in eyeglass stores. If you smear silicone oil over your sensor you will not be happy.

Caution and Disclaimer

Do I need to say this again? While many people have reported success in cleaning their sensors using these techniques, I've also seen a least one report of someone who damaged their sensor. If you don't have good mechanical skills and a delicate touch you might want to think a few times about whether you really want to do this. I've done it myself using lens tissue supported on a modified plastic knife. There was no damage and the sensor ended up very clean.. If I hadn't managed to do it without damage or it hadn't removed the dust, I wouldn't have written this article. You may not have such a good experience. I've read reports from photographers working in dusty conditions in Africa who cleaned their sensors every day for several weeks with no problems. However, there are no guarantees. You're on your own. If you screw up, don't blame me. Officially speaking I have to recommend you send it back to Canon for cleaning. Is that enough of a disclaimer?

©Copyright 2003 Bob Atkins All Rights Reserved

Readers' Comments

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Fazal Majid , October 08, 2003; 11:20 P.M.

I once tried a variant of the blower technique on my D30 after one particularly careless lens change. I just blew the blower while keeping a vacuum cleaner nozzle close to the lens mount, the idea being the dust blown off the sensor would be sucked by the vacuum cleaner rather than resettling. It worked in that particular instance. You have to be careful not to keep the nozzle too close, of course, otherwise you may damage the mirror mechanism. I also used a compressed air can (NOT canned air, simply a can you refill with a bicycle pump), to good effect.

matt betea , October 08, 2003; 11:22 P.M.

Just one thing, B&H will not ship Eclipse. I noticed Adorama is willing to ship it (along with almost any other store I've seen). Good write up.


Tom Burke , October 09, 2003; 02:17 A.M.

I recently had a strange situation with a D60. I had a very obvious mark, visible at all apertures, and quite large. I followed the guidelines above as thoroughly as I could but it made no difference. I took the camera to an authorised Canon service centre in the UK where I was told that a dust spec (mountain?) had got underneath the low-pass filter and was sandwiched between that and the sensor surface itself. This required a full service to remove. So if you find yourself following the method outlined by Bob above but it having no effect, this might be the reason.

Oh, and one other thing - Robert White are a good mail-order source of Pec-Pads and Eclipse fluid in the UK. Note that my bottle of the fluid came with a small pack of 10 Pec-Pads, so you could just buy the fluid to get you going.

Beepy . , October 09, 2003; 03:33 A.M.

Great write-up!

I use the Sensor Swabs and Eclipse solution. The first few times I did it (though I thought I was being careful) I ended up with MORE dust than I started - and it wasn't bad (in retrospect:-). Argh. In the end, I came to conclusion (1) use a swab once (do not flip and try to use clean side) - I think that was the biggie, and (2) I ended up using more pressure than I expected I would need (but still I was extremely careful) - my first attempts didn't lift dust?

Because EOS 1Ds sensor is big, I do two swipes in the same direction.

And I agree with the author - don't do this at home. I tell my digital SLR friends "be happy".

And about the last thing I needed to hear was dust between the filter and the actual physical sensor. Nope, didn't want to hear that.

The EOS 1Ds seems more dust prone than the Nikon D1x I had (have). I found the comment on the Olympus E-system Supersonic Wave Filter promising in the area of digital SLR dust control in the future.

Justin Lee , October 09, 2003; 05:47 A.M.

Photographic Solutions also offers a product called QuikStik: Self-Dispensing Optic Swab. It is essentially a swab with eclipse fluid in the handle. I was able to purchase these individually for a few dollars each through Technicare in Canada.

The only drawback is that the size of the swab is rather small at approx 1 cm wide and the sensor requires a few passes to cover the entire surface. I also encountered some problems with streaking, but another pass on the back side of the swab removed it.

It seemed to work fine for me. Has anyone else tried this product?

Additionally, CO2 blowers are available as a residue-free alternative to canned 'air'. I personally haven't tried one as they seem a bit pricey.


Justin Lee

Greg S , October 09, 2003; 06:15 P.M.

Hands down the most effective sensor cleaning approach I've used (and many other S2 owners) is...


Quick, easy, inexpensive, and very effective.

Harry Seldon AKA Flash , October 09, 2003; 08:59 P.M.

Excellent article, it reinforces my preference for buying expensive equipment from a dealer that offers a service agreement.

Service agreements, or "Performance Guarentees" usually cover cleaning and maintainence that a warranty does not. Look into it when you are buying a digital SLR or other equipment. Make sure you understand exactly what the service contract does or does not cover.

It does not solve the problem of being without the camera while it is being cleaned, but prevents the liability problem if you let then do it instead of doing it yourself and screwing it up. Assuming they don't screw it up and then deny it.

Rusty Wright , October 09, 2003; 09:17 P.M.

Regarding service agreements, I had dust on my 10D sensor and took it to the camera store where I bought it (it was still under warranty) and the first thing they did was use high pressure canned air. I consider myself lucky they didn't trash the sensor.

I resorted to using Pec Pads and ethanol with the sawed off plastic knife.

Simone Maria Navarra , October 10, 2003; 07:46 A.M.

Why can't we simply use magnetism? Have you ever seen how an hairbrush attracts small things when electrically charged? I think a small paintbrush electrically charged (just rub it on wool) should attract all particles without even touching the sensor. I didn't try becouse my camera is new and my sensor is clean. Actually I didn't do the test to check... and I don't want to find out :)


Csaba Ketszeri , October 10, 2003; 08:07 A.M.

Why can't we simply use magnetism? Have you ever seen how an hairbrush attracts small things when electrically charged?

Static electricity if not too safe for this kind of equippement, so forget this idea ASAP! It may screw up the whole thing if you manage to charge the hairbrush well and push it inside your camera.

Carter Martin , October 10, 2003; 08:40 A.M.

Seems like a design issue to me. Why doesn't Canon, Nikon etc design the sensor to be cleaned? A hardened surface that is designed to be cleaned? Maybe the sensor in a module that can be removed for cleaning. Maybe even for an upgrade when a better sensor is available. For the $8k price tag of a 1Ds a few bucks could be spent on making it maintainable.

Dean G , October 10, 2003; 10:52 A.M.

I didn't do the test. I follow the philosophy of if it works don't fix it, and if you can't tell it's not working, don't fix it. Could someone address the issue of preventive procedures in changing lenses? I think keeping the sensor clean should be the first line of defence. Is it important to have the camera powered down when changing lenses (ie electrical charges that might attract dust to the sensor)? I always power down, but only because I power down any electonic equipment before opening it up. I try to check the breeze, look to see if I can notice stuff in the air, and then go as fast as hell without dropping anything. And I avoid changing lenses as much as possible.. good argument for a versatile zoom that stays put, but I like primes, and especially their price/performance. Does someone have some better advice for avoiding the specks in the first place? And what is an example of a careless lens change?

Mishkin Mishkin , October 10, 2003; 11:45 A.M.

For everything else, there's Mastercard

(or Visa)


Works great. Card's flexibility ensures that you can't apply too much pressure on the sensor.

And if you scratch the sensor, the phrase "keep your credit card handy" gets new meaning.

Mishkin Mishkin , October 10, 2003; 11:59 A.M.

Bob, you may want to add another WARNING for 10D owners: the power switch on 10D is very easy to turn off accidentally while handling the camera. Piece of duct tape over the power switch or simple caution can save your camera from disaster.

Bob Blakley , October 10, 2003; 02:24 P.M.

Actually what you want is the OPPOSITE of magnetism - one reason the blower technique may not work well is that many blowers (and especially compressed-gas blowers) impart a static charge to the gas as it comes out of the blower. This in turn charges the little particles you're trying to remove, with the result that they find a cozy oppositely-charged surface on the camera (/lens/other surface nearby) to stick to.

You can get "anti-static" blowers - someone might want to repeat the blower experiment with one of these to see if it works better than it did in this test.

William Nicholls , October 10, 2003; 05:10 P.M.

Blowers blow. I used a brand-new one for my first experiment with dust removal and it sneezed a wad of goo onto my CCD. Removing the crud took several cleaning cycles that I wasn't interested in learning to do that day. Oh well. I learned the procedure and used tens of dollars worth of the poorly designed Sensor-Swabs to eventually recover from blower-crud.

Since then, I use the Pec-Pad and spatula method Nicholas R. describes in the link citation above. The cost is pennies compared to Sensor Swabs and the method works better. It's worth providing the link again: http://www.pbase.com/copperhill/ccd_cleaning

Pec-Pads are much better than lens tissues for this application. They're thicker and stronger so your wiping blade won't cut through the material, even when it's wet. They also disperse and hold the cleaning solution better.

Eclipse Solution is expensive for alcohol in a bottle, but a bottle will last a long time and you won't have to search around for a suitable container and a source of pure methanol.

I also use a dust removal tool by Kinetronics, the Speck Grabber. If you keep the tip clean, it has a tacky urethane material that won't leave a residue on sensitive surfaces. You can't see typical sensor lint, so don't try to use the Grabber for sensor cleaning unless there's one of the rare big, hairy pieces that you can see without magnification. Instead, I use it to clean up the mirror chamber before swabbing the sensor to help prevent dust accumulation and it's eventual migration to the CCD. It's a great tool for removing focusing screen dust.

Hemendra Chonkar , October 12, 2003; 10:08 P.M.


I was wondering how Dust could get betwen the Low Pass Filter and the Sensor. I am assuming that they would be hermetically sealed.

The reason for asking this question is whether there is some way to get dust inside the sensor while cleaning it. For e.g. does it get inside from the edges ?

Regards, Hemen

Steve Baldwin , October 12, 2003; 11:02 P.M.

I'm interested that so many folks have had good luck with the Pec Pad cleaning method. I was hesitant to try it as the Photo Solutions site states that the Pec Pad is not designed for cleaning sensors. Not as many warnings as in Bob's article though. Thanks for the contribution Bob! Knowledge is good. I will the try the Sensor Swabs knowing I'm taking a calculated risk. But on the other hand you're taking a calculated risk every time you clean your lens, or get out of bed for that matter. Cheers,,,,

Evan Parker , October 16, 2003; 10:04 A.M.

What about those "Staticmasters", the brushes with a radioactive polonium element in it? Would that help get rid of dust on a CMOS or CCD sensor? Do they even work at all?

Doug C , October 16, 2003; 10:10 P.M.

See the link below for an applications note at the Kodak web site on how to clean the glass on image sensors. It may not apply to filters above the CCD or CMOS sensor. Use at your own risk as was stated in Bob's excellent write-up. http://www.kodak.com/global/plugins/acrobat/en/digital/ccd/applicationNotes/cleaningCoverGlass.pdf

Bob Atkins , October 20, 2003; 11:22 A.M.

Why doesn't Canon, Nikon etc design the sensor to be cleaned? A hardened surface that is designed to be cleaned?

They probably do. There's no real evidence that the surface of the sensor is any more delicate than a coated lens. The problem is that if you put a small scratch on the surface of a coated lens, the effect on images produced with that lens will probably be too small to see, i.e. it doesn't really matter much.

On the other hand if you put a scratch on the surface of the sensor, you'll see it in every frame and the effect on the image (and your sanity) will be significant.

So while a lens and a sensor may be equally rugged, the consequences of screwing up are quite different.

I'm just guessing here of course. I'm assuming this is why camera manufacturers don't want users poking around at the sensor itself with sharp objects. It's also possible that the sensor surface is more delicate than a coated lens due to the materials used.

Dale Woolridge , October 20, 2003; 11:53 A.M.

Here in Canada (Toronto), I called Canon about having my sensor cleaned. If you bring the camera to their service center, they'll clean the sensor for free. It takes them all of 5 minutes, assuming they aren't too busy.

I've cleaned the sensor myself and though I did an adequate job, bringing it to Canon was not only less stressful and less time consuming, they did a better job.

John Robinson , October 20, 2003; 05:25 P.M.

Hi ! I went to Iceland recently (see here! - shameless plug) It rained, it was windy, it was foggy, cold and in some parts dusty. What I DIDNT appreciate whilst I was there is that I have to be more careful about changing lenses. I have an EOS3 too. If dust gets in, one quick blow with the duster and its sorted, otherwise, the dust comes out with the film. So I get specs back on a frame or two (or a scratch if Im real unlucky) Not with digital. Its there to stay !

When I got big blurs on every shot whilst out there (some 2,500!) I cringed at the counltess hours I would have to spend with Photoshop. (The whole idea of going digital was to speed up the workflow) I was so annoyed. Least of all because I had no idea what to do about cleaning the thing. A quick chat with the proprieter of an EOS specialist ,upon my return to London, (can I plug the shop on London Bridge?) suggested SpeckGrabber I tried it. Trouble is I rushed it. I was examining the strange stuff on the end of the spec grabber. (Unknowingly loading oils and grease on to its surface) When I picked the specs from the CMOS (sensor, protective film, filter - whatever) I deposited a lovey grease stain 3 to 4 times bigger than the specs.

Horrified, I read the instructions that warned against exactly this. So I carried on reading. "Clean specgrabber with soap and water" .I washed the spec grabber hoping against all hope that if I cleaned the SpecGrabber I could clean the grease from the CMOS too.

I was AMAZED. IT DID. I CAN NOT SEE ANY SPECS! The smudges were lifted. I recommend this. (OK its over priced for what it is, but for £6.95, it makes a £1200 camera work very well again!) Made me very happy ! Hope this helps...


Torben Jacobsen , October 21, 2003; 02:53 A.M.

The SpeckGRABBER is non-conductive, and can be used on active CCDs allowing the technician to monitor the decontamination process. http://www.kinetronics.com/cgi-local/SoftCart.100.exe/online-store/scstore/speckgrabber_product.html?L+scstore+rbhf3184ff151115+1087513934

Skip Gaede , October 31, 2003; 03:24 P.M.

Sensor with dust before cleaning

As an alternative to taking a picture of the sky for detecting dust, you can open a new document in your photo editing program and expand it to full screen. Then take picture of your monitor screen. Voila! I adjusted the color of the background in C1 for better visibility, but here's what I have before cleaning...

Doug Johnson , November 03, 2003; 05:38 P.M.

I am new to this problem, but would it help if a company manufactured a "dust-free bag system"? Sort of like a light-tight bag for the darkroom, could a company develop a bag and a process to keep the bag dust free? Then when it is time to change a lens you quickly slip the camera and lens into the transparent dust-free bag, slip your hands in the bag's glove-inserts, and then change the lens.

Every once and a while you take the bag through some kind of magnetic/vacuum/insert-your-own-method cleaning to ensure that it remains 99% dust free.

Just a thought.

Jon Austin , February 02, 2004; 07:33 P.M.

While I like Mishkin Mishkin's idea of using a credit card slice as the cleaning tool (see his comments dated 10/10/03), it appears that the cleaning "swab" in his photo is a section of a PecPad cut from a whole pad.

Just want to note that in Nicholas' write-up at http://www.pbase.com/copperhill/ccd_cleaning, he recommends against cutting PecPads, because although they are lint-free as manufactured, they can shed lint when cut / cut up / cut into.

It does seem rather a waste to use an entire pad for just one swabbing, but I'd rather do that than introduce unnecessary lint into my camera's sensor chamber. Besides, they're still much cheaper than the sensor swabs.

Bjørn Hell Larsen , July 04, 2004; 12:52 P.M.

I believe that I've got two grains of dust embedded between the filter and sensor on my D30 as well. Repeated attempts to clean the sensor has managed to remove (or at least move...) all other dust specs, but these two stay put. They are darker, sharper and more visible than the other dust that collects, and I generally have to remember to retouch them out whenever I want to post or print pictures taken with this camera. It's a drag, but I really don't want to shell out for a complete overhaul - I'd rather save up for a 10D.

Jean-Daniel Gagne , July 09, 2004; 03:30 P.M.

I have tried a few things mentioned here to clean my 300D CMOS without success. In fact, there was not only dust but soem kind of a film on my CMOS after my great experiment... I then realized that I had to go to Canon. Well beleive it or not, I took my camera at the Canon technical counter and it took 10 minutes and $0 to clean my CMOS. It was FREE!

Conclusion, take an hour to drive to Canon technicians and spare yourself from a scary story.


Kathrin Haderer , August 30, 2004; 07:21 A.M.

Unfortunately, it things are not always as experienced by Jean-Daniel Gagne. I also took my camera (EOS 300D) to Canon service (in Austria) because it displayed a very similar pattern on my pictures. They cleaned the sensor, made me pay a little over 50 ? for it...and then I found out the dust was still there. I took the camera back, reclaimed my money, and have already been waiting for three weeks now for them to fix the problem.

Best Action Shots , December 14, 2004; 04:29 P.M.

Bought some Pecpads and lens solution and cleaned all four cameras: 300D, 10D, 1D, and 20D. All had persistent dusts on them and cleaned at least 4 times per camera. Checking for dusts at f/11 and f/22 each time against the blue sky. I change lenses often since using mostly primes and on monthly cleaning schedule. Now I've sold all cameras and only keeping 20D so cleaning will be easier.

Nick Bencivengo , January 01, 2005; 12:47 P.M.

To remove some persistent and noticeable dust on my 20D sensor, I used an aspirating/Irrigation bulb - like this one: http://www.valleyvet.com/ct_detail.html?PGGUID=30e07788-7b6a-11d5-a192-00b0d0204ae5. You can find one in the baby section of your local drug store.

The long tip and small opening at the tip of the bulb creates a fairly controlled air stream. A few quick bursts from outside the camera removed the dust.

Tim Chakravorty , February 04, 2005; 10:11 P.M.

OK, I am writing this before I proceed to perform "Open Heart Surgery" on my D70 with Eclipse and SensorSwab. If everything goes well I will come back in an hour, remove my surgical mask and give a big thumbs up. If not, and there is no update from me here, I have probably jumped out of the balcony.

Niels Olson , March 11, 2005; 10:45 P.M.

I checked with Tim Chakravorty; he's still alive and his D70 is well. I just finished the Copper Hill procedure on my D100 and I'm quite pleased with the results. There's still one small fleck of something, but one fleck is about two orders of magnitude better than it was. Get powder-free latex or nitrile gloves. Similarly, read this entire thread and the entire several pages on the Copper Hill site. You'll feel better when the mirror flips up, the shutter opens, and you get your first glimpse of the sensor (the D100 sensor appears about the color of sapphire) and your hand has to start guiding that tissue-wrapped stick into the cramped little box. Copper Hill will sell you the complete kit (sans tape and gloves). When mine arrived the swipe was already properly wrapped (I used that for practice swipes), the bag of pec-pads was already slit open with a razor, and the next pad was slightly exposed. Everything was in ziploc bags.

Niels Olson , March 11, 2005; 11:07 P.M.

You'll see this if you read the Copper Hill tutorial, but it's worth reiterating here. Canon may not officially support the Copper Hill method, but it doesn't hurt with the Canon USA director of technical information, Chuck Westfall, says it's the best method he's seen without sending to the factory.

Gordon Logue , May 03, 2005; 04:54 P.M.

I just performed open heart surgery on my 20D with a Sensor Swab. It works perfectly and is easy. Used 3 swabs and it is perfectly clean. I changed lenses in pollen and got spots everywhere. Showed up in macros at f22. This thing really works.

Gordon Logue , May 04, 2005; 05:58 P.M.

I think I am going to start taking a large, clear trash bag with me and change the lens inside of it. That should be an improvement.

Ken Krueger , September 18, 2005; 02:07 A.M.

20D senser cleaning I'm on hol�days �n Greece and Turkey and a b�g black speck has appeared �n the top left of the �mages and not�cable �n the sky port�on of photos. I;ve tr�ed the hand squeezed blower to clean the mirror and sensor w�th no luck and then out of desperat�on took it to a camera store who used compressed a�r. Even though he shouldn;t have. He got r�d of everyth�ng except for this one nagg�ng heart break�ng speck. Upon return�g home I suppose that I w�ll need to use photo shop to f�x my hundreds of photos... what a n�ghtmare...

Steve Wroe , June 12, 2006; 02:43 A.M.

Cleaning my 5D

My 5D is, like the rest of the world's it seems, prone to dust on the sensor. Here's what I did and it worked.

I found that getting a Gitzo rocket blower and household vacuum cleaner helped hugely with loose bits of dust. First, I just took the lens off, held the vac near opening (but not inside the body - you really do not want to suck the mirror off) and gave a it a couple of blows with the Gitzo. Then I did the 'sensor clean' thing so the mirror retracts and actually put the nozzle of the vac just inside the body (but was VERY CAREFUL). I was rather nervous so was pretty careful. It worked really well.

The other things you need to do: - ensure rear lens caps are clean - ensure the rear of your lenses are clean (I used canned air) - clean your camera bag! - turn camera off when changing lenses - take care when changing lenses - especially outdoors

I then spent 5 weeks in North Africa and I had specks that were bloody hard to get off. Visible dust's product (make sure you get the 1x) worked well.

I recommend semi-regular and VERY careful vac/blower treatment and if there are bits that won't budge, use the visible dust wipe things. And keep your gear clean coz I reckon most of the 'dust' (usually specs of lint or cloth or whatever) comes off the back of the lens, which may have come off the rear caps (from leaving it in your pocket or whatever).

Hope this helps...

Craig Graham , July 28, 2006; 05:25 A.M.

I had a really bad speck that was bothering me for over a year...just kept using photoshop to get rid of it...that was a pain.

Anyway, I used Sensor Swab and the Eclipse cleaner from Keeble & Shucat in Palo Alto. Held the camera sensor facing down, used blower to blow dust free. Then used the swab technique. Worked like a charm - I must be LUCKY!!

William Genske , February 15, 2007; 05:34 P.M.

Thank you so very much for your tips on this subject. Everybody I ask about this begins with something that sounds like this: "If I were you, I probably wouldn?t...". Well, I am the type that probably would, but after learning from experience that it pays to do some research on any delicate subject, I came across your helpful comments. I just spent 4 days in Northern Africa and there is a tremendous amount of dirt and dust in the air there. Some of it got onto my sensor, and so most of my shots were marred with large spots. I live in Southern Spain, and there is little in the way of help around here with respect to such matters, so I decided to take the plunge. I am glad I did. I too must be lucky. The spots are all cleared up. One happy customer. Thanks again.

Image Attachment: IMG_6512.JPG

Kenneth Buk , April 17, 2007; 11:55 A.M.

How about if the camera producers added a hard, removable filter in front of the sensor? Then amateurs like myself could scratch around on the filter without fear, when trying to get some clean shots. If I managed to damage the filter my camera dealer could simply replace the filter. Much like with lenses covered by inexpensive filters.



Sarah Fox , June 25, 2007; 12:29 A.M.

Hi all,

Great information on sensor cleaning! Thanks! I'm about ready to do open heart on a camera of mine, and the advice is greatly appreciated! Fortunately the camera is a bit older (10D) and therefore less valuable. As yet, I have no need to do anything so invasive on any of my other cameras.

I just thought I would echo what another contributor suggested and say that my 10D's sensor is not too awfully dirty, even after years of (light/medium-duty) use, and I wouldn't even attempt the open heart surgery, were it not for the fact that I'm very compulsive about the specks I do have. (I've cleaned from time to time via Canon's instructions, using an air rocket.) The secret to my success is that I'm very compulsive when I change lenses. Yes, it slows me down a bit, but I do the following compulsively with every lens change:

(1) Find a clean room/area that is fairly quiet, with a minimum of drafts. A car interior works well.

(2) Clean the outside of the camera and lenses with a soft brush. I use a retractable sable makeup brush.

(3) Use the air rocket to blow any remaining dust from the base of the lens and camera mounting flange, as well as from the base of the lens that will be mounted on the camera.

(4) Remove the base cap of the lens to go on the camera, and blow it off with the air rocket. Blow any dust off of the base of the lens. Set the base cap over the base of the lens (not tightening it), and stand the lens up on a flat surface.

(5) Stand the camera on its back on the same flat surface. Wait 10 or 15 sec for any larger dust to settle. (Yes, I know it doesn't do much good, but...)

(6) Unlatch the lens on the camera, and twist it free, leaving it sitting atop the camera. Turn the lenses with the alignment marks in the same direction.

(7) Holding one lens in each hand, lift the lenses off of the camera and base cap, swap them quickly and smoothly, and set them down in the other location, as though playing a shell game. Then tighten the lens on the camera and the base cap on the removed lens.

Believe it or not, this technique eliminates a lot of headaches. I also try to pre-plan which lens I will be using before I get to the shooting location, and I place that lens on my camera at home, in my cleanest location. Finally, I favor zooms over primes because of the minimization of lens changes.

But... It's still time for open heart. I guess I'll start assembling the surgical instruments. <sigh>

Douglas Munsinger , June 28, 2007; 08:54 P.M.

Excellent advice. I have a 300D I had never cleaned in the three years of heavy use, I only took care not to add dust and had no issues - when I finally cleaned it it took a single swipe with copperhill equipment and it was perfect.

On the other hand I just returned a 30D that had either a dead sensor site or a speck between the filter and the sensor, and came fully equipped with a load of dust specks from the factory. If it hadn't come with a load of crap inside I might not have discovered the manufacturing defect until after it was too late to return. The replacement I will check immediately.

One thing to add - turn the camera OFF when changing the lens - this is an electric component, electrified it attracts dust readily. Even without that, you never never hot-swap a component unless absolutely necessary.


Douglas Munsinger , July 03, 2007; 12:04 P.M.

Just a follow up - I finally have a clean copy of the Canon 30D body - I ordered the first one from a Texas supplier. Checked images, found dust specks, alot actually for a brand new camera, including one section that was almost certainly either dust between the sensor and filter or a dead sensor site. Returned said camera. Ordered a second from a supplier in New York - checked, I found fairly minimal crud, but another suspicious immovable spot. I agonized over returning this one, but on checking the sensor against images of the sky at f22, even f16 - the spot was visible. I returned it and got yet another copy - this one was only very light dust, no spots, finally a good copy. I love the controls on the 30D, the spot metering, the ease of manual operation - but the quality control on the manufacturing line for this camera must at one point have truly sucked. A brand new camera should have no dust at all. How many consumers don't check and just wonder about the spots that show up sometimes in their images?

I'm NOT going to check again until something shows up in an image and requires retouching. Or I change lenses in the desert in a sandstorm.

Pete Millis , July 10, 2007; 02:31 P.M.

Before cleaning

Well, I've just picked up a used 10D with 28-80mm lens for ?250 yesterday from the local "cash converters" pawn shop type place - been well looked after but can tell it's been used from the scratches and scrapes (which I like - means I worry less about scratching it!). Have taken lots of pics and I'm pleased beyone belief. Then I read what's been written above, took some test shots of a vlue screen and saw perhaps a dozen small to medium dust specs and one larger one toward the top of the screen. The only one that bothered me was the larger one. So I got some analytical grade methanol (borrowed from my lab at uni!), a lens wipe, made myself a small bendy spatula from a piece of a spatula I nicked out of the kitchen (still usable for cooking though), and followed the instructions above - VOILA! Next test shots clean as a whistle! Took all of 30 seconds once I decided to give it a go. Cheers folks.

Pete Millis , July 10, 2007; 02:33 P.M.

after cleaning

Here's a pic after cleaning

Sylvia Stanat , February 23, 2008; 04:42 P.M.

before and after cleaning

I took the very easiest and least invasive route to cleaning my sensor. I used an ear bulb (or baby nose sucker) to blow the sensor off and a vacuum cleaner to suck as much of the dust out of the sensor area that I could. I am left with some insignificant dust spots but I've rid myself of the worst culprits. I'm stopping with that. What's left is not worth worrying about. It took about 10 minutes and I wasn't in danger of damaging anything! I recommend trying this method first.

Greg Coad , May 01, 2008; 12:00 P.M.


I spent $150 on a sensor cleaning kit that came with a scope, swabs, solution and a mini vacuum and I wish now that I had taken a lighter to that cash. Canon will clean your sensor for free... while you wait!!! (I guess that only works if you have a Canon place where you live). I had 3 small specks of dust on my sensor when I started and after using these super expensive swabs, I have more lint on the sensor from the swab than I can count. My sensor is a mess. The vacuum that came with the kit doesn't pick up anything. If the people selling these kits want happy customers, don't give them the scope with the kit! All the scope does is reveal, in heart-stopping fashion, what a mess the super-expensive swabs have made of the sensor. I don't know if other brands of swabs work better or not, but stay away from Delkin Devices sensor swabs. I'm not about to find out either since the store suggested that I try VisibleDust's sensor swabs for about $10 per swab. The only suggestions I get from the store where I bought the Delkin Devices kit and from the 1-800 number on the box are that I am not using it properly. I have tried every suggestion they make, following all the directions that come with the swabs and the sensor just keeps getting dirtier and dirtier. When I went back to the store they suggested I try the "Arctic Butterfly" for $100. I didn't buy one but I tried it out in the store and it didn't do a thing. Smoke and mirrors people. Smoke and mirrors. Get it done by a professional and then just keep it clean.

Greg Coad , May 08, 2008; 10:15 P.M.

Just as a follow up....

When I took my camera to Canon to get cleaned, they say that the shutter is damaged and it will cost me $150 to get it fixed.

Once again... DON"T DO IT.

Matthew Dollinger , August 03, 2010; 11:58 A.M.

Don't know if this was mentioned already or not...if so, sorry. :-)


If you wrap tape (scotch would be best because it is static prone) sticky side out on a stick and put it in the body (don't touch the sensor!!!) it may collect dust that is blown free during cleaning.


Great write up!  Thanks for the info.

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