How to clean a CCD sensor

by Nick Kelsh

posted Saturday, April 11, 2015 at 3:50 PM EDT


The CCD chip in your camera is the flat, little device that takes the place of film. One of the advantages of film was that you put a nice new, clean piece of it in your camera every time you took a picture. Your miraculous CCD chip just sits in there and collects dust. That not as bad as you would think, however, but I know that some of you out there are worried about it. OK, so let’s open it up for questions.

Q: Is my CCD chip dirty?

A: Yes. In fact, for many of you, it looks like a small mammal slept on it.

Q: Should I clean it?

A: Not as often as you would think.

Q: How often is that?

A: I clean mine about two times a year.

Q: How do I know if it’s dirty?

A: Photograph a white wall focused on infinity to put it out-of-focus. Shoot at the smallest aperture you have. (That’s the biggest number.) Put the picture on your computer and inspect for little black dots and lines. Watching the attached video helps.

Q: Should I worry about those?

A: If you have even the most basic editing skills, you should be able to easily remove any sign of dust or dirt from your pictures in a matter of seconds…OK, for some of you, minutes.

Q: But what if I want to clean it anyway. What’s the basic method?

A: I use canned air. A bunch of people on the internet say that’s a bad idea. That’s because canned air will shoot cold, mystery chemistry if you shake the can. Don’t shake the can. The other standard method for cleaning a CCD is with specially manufacture little sticks that are able to grab the dust with adhesive. They’re expensive AND that method is not without risk; you really don’t want to be touching your CCD.

Q: I read that I should send my camera back to the manufacturer and let them clean it.

A: I read that, too.

Q: Well….

A: Well, you need to be careful with the canned air. But I believe if you use common sense you can avoid spending lots of money to get your camera clean.

Q: Does the cleaning work?

A: Not really, but it will probably make you feel better . The glitch is that if you think you’re going to get every little piece of annoying dust off of you CCD, I can state for a fact that that is never going to happen. (I have pieces of dust on my CCD that are practically family.) When you come to that conclusion yourself and realize that some stuff on your CCD doesn’t really matter you’re going to be a happier person. It’s a good idea to meditate before you clean your CCD.

Q: What about those tools they sell for picking the pieces of dust off?
A: They’re expensive and you will never get all of the dust.

Q: What if I never clean my CCD?

A: It’s entirely possible you’re the smartest person in the room. If you know how to remove dust from an image in you editing program, you will be fine.

If you don’t see a video here, you may need to refresh this page.

(An exceptional educator and a world-class photographer, Nick Kelsh is the founder of How To Photograph Your Life, an excellent source of affordable photography training and tips. Nick’s courses can be conducted by yourself in your own time, or with feedback from Nick and your fellow students. If you appreciated this article and want to improve your photography, visit How to Photograph your Life and sign up for a course today!)