Your Breath Contains Harmful Acids That Can Damage Camera Lenses

Do you ever clean the front element of your lens by fogging it up with your breath and then wiping it off with a cloth? If so, you might want to stop — Nikon says the practice could be damaging to your glass. Apparently human breath contains stuff that isn’t too friendly toward camera lenses.

Here’s how Nikon’s support website answers the question “How do I clean the camera lens?“:

The best way to clean a lens is to use a piece of lint free lens cleaning tissue and a small amount of Lens Cleaning solution. Do not use anything containing abrasives or solvents, only use Lens Cleaning Solution.

First we recommend taking a small blower brush to blow off or brush away loose dust or debris.

Next, place a drop or two of cleaner on the tissue (never directly onto the lens) and then wipe the lens in a circular motion, beginning in the center and working your way outward, removing any marks or smear.

If the above supplies are not available a clean, dry, soft, lint free cloth can be used to clean the lens. Do not breathe on the lens to fog it for cleaning. There are harmful acids in breath that can damage lens coatings. Just use the blower bulb, then brush, and wipe the lens in a circular spiral from the center outward.

And you thought acid breath was only a spell in fantasy video games…

P.S. Some people fog up their lens intentionally for clouded photographs. If what Nikon says is true, it might be wise to breathe onto a UV filter when doing these artificially hazy shots.

Update: Nikon has updated its support page to remove the acid reference discussed in this post.

Image credit: Reflecting Windows by niXerKG

  • Melka

    Your coating will stay in perfect condition a lifetime even if you would spit on it.
    What about those freaking dust and exposure problems of your D600 mister Picky-Nikon ?

  • Graysmith

    “Don’t use the free [and most likely completely harmless] method, buy our ridiculously overpriced product instead!”

  • Eric Albert

    Can’t tell us why the D800 has focus issues or why the D600 is two stops off; but this sage advice is out there? Fantastic!

  • Joshua Book Cousin

    mmhmm aint that somethin

  • Sarah Bugeja Kissaun

    Well we do breathe out CO2 which can dissolve in water to produce carbonic acid… maybe that’s what they’re referring to?

  • JosephRT

    Some poor guy probably just read this after voraciously spitting on and cleaning the lens on his D600 thinking there was dust on the lens and it wouldn’t come off. Now he’s like ohhh…and is on Nikons site as we speak ordering some Lens Cleaning Solution.

  • Chad Nordstrom

    Now I know all I need to become a world class photog… to think just yesterday I was spitting on all my glass. Whew. Now I know better, thank you thank you Nikon!

  • sum_it

    Came here to see the D600 comment. Totally satisfied!

  • Daniel Lowe

    Show me some science behind this. Sounds like purely a marketing / cover-our-butts news item.

  • NDT001

    What utter tosh. Breath and a cotton cloth is the perfect combo for cleaning light smudges and the like. Dirt or dust should be brushed away then cleaned with a cloth and some lens fluid.
    Anyone that tells you otherwise is just trying to sell you something.

  • Stephan Zielinski

    According to Exhaled breath condensate: methodological recommendations and unresolved questions, what one gets when exhaled breath condenses has a pH in the range of 7.4 to 8.8. This not only is not acidic, it is slightly basic. As far as acids go, rain is acidic, sometimes seriously so: Wikipedia: Rain says, “On Americas East Coast, rain that is derived from the Atlantic Ocean typically has a pH of 5.0-5.6; rain that comes across the continental from the west has a pH of 3.8-4.8; and local thunderstorms can have a pH as low as 2.0.”

    If there’s something in breath that’s destroying Nikon lenses, it can’t realistically be “acids”.

  • John Soulnier

    how would you even get to breathe on the lens, if you have a filter on it, you do have filters on your lenses right?

  • Philip Lemoine

    i fart on my lens then wipe it with toilet paper.

  • tms

    well now, to be honest – your breath does contain amounts of other chemicals that are ‘volatile’ at room temperature, NO2, CO2, organic compounds, acetone and alkanes. A little research will tell you more than most care to know on this topic. So, giving Nikon their due, they are correct. There are substances in your breath, and if in sufficient quantity and concentration could prove harmful. Do we know what concentration is necessary? I don’t. Other than CO2, NO2, N, O2, all the other ‘stuff’ is in the parts per million category and micromolar concentrations. Very very trace concentrations. Measurable for sure, but quite weak. I’m thinking impurities in tap water and rain water are more harmful than your breath could be.

  • michaelp42

    best petapixel comment ever!

  • Peter

    OMG, they can’t be seriously about this. It is so scientifically flawed that it makes the writer looked ridiculous.
    This site is more about sensationalism than factually correct and interesting information.

  • madmax

    The reaction is correct: CO2+H2O= CO3H2, but CO2 is all around us. Then better don´t put your lens near plants, animals, cars, motorcycles and factories. And better don´t use your lens in our atmosphere as it also contains CO2…

  • Christopher Sutton

    Just don’t breath on your equipment with a mouthful of food….its bad for your gear and your dignity.

  • Sam Agnew

    Man, if condensed breathe is the worst thing your front element ever sees then I guarantee you are a collector, not a photographer.

  • tp14

    this is what I hear too..

  • 11

    It is true in the sense it MAY have harmful chems, and it MAY damage the lens. What is left out are the actual numbers (parts per million). These harmful chems are extremely tiny — the lens may get damaged by age rather than the breath itself. 0000 unless someone drink acid and breaths on it for hours.

  • Richard H. Weiner

    Hmmm, this speaks more to the fragility of any coating that Nikon (or any other lens manufacturer) uses. I would think that better research should be done on this rather than any acid we may or may not breath out. This also reminds me of the 2 Nikon lens glasses that I have had in the past. The first’s coating crazed (spider web cracking) which was blamed on heating the lenses…i.e. glasses left in direct sunlight. FAIL, the glasses I wear all the time and in all types of sunlight or not. The second’s coating starting falling apart in one lens but could not be recoated or removed…FAIL. So I ended up buying another pair of glasses without the Nikon lenses. Too much money thrown away.

  • RiccoRaccoRocco

    Now THAT I do not believe for an instant.
    Perhaps on Nikons own newest coatings perhaps, because I dont know whats in them, but the enzymes contained in your breath combined with 99% pure alcohol will destroy lens fungal growth unlike anything else.

  • Roy

    Where in Nikon’s advisory did they recommend their own cleaning products?

  • Roy

    Most hyperbolic response ever!

  • theman233ww

    well… im using a UV filter fo exactly that reason… so my front element is completely untouched.
    and no there is no image degration when you use good UV or clear protection filters.
    you have to use very cheap filters to notice a image degration… and even then you have to be a pixelpeeper.
    there is not even more flare with good filters.
    every polarizing filter has more influence on image quality and nobody says “don´t use them”.

  • canon guy

    Too funny. Two years ago I was at a photo trade show. The Pentax rep asked if I smoked. I replied I did. He said light up a cigarette and take a couple of drags, which I did. He then asked for the cigarette and proceded to butt it out on the front element of a Pentax lens. He cleaned it off and it was fine. The demo was to illustrate the durability of Pentax lens coatings. I was impressed as was those gathered around.

  • Rob Mossinkoff

    Do not breathe when you take pictures and your lenses will last forever….

  • Michael Zhang

    Changed the P.S. Thanks David

  • Jacqui Dee

    Those multi-coatings on lenses are pretty strong. Is Nikon suggesting otherwise for their own lenses?

  • Me

    yeah but a polarising filter does more than protect the lenses u know?

  • Mort

    Lens cleaning solution always streaks- I’ll stick to breath. Besides, I use a uv filter over my lens and rarely need to remove it to clean.

  • Kendon

    Ever had a case of pinklens?

  • Iggy Pop Is Badder Than Thou

    Of course I don’t.


    Yeah but Pentax doesn’t have red rings, or much FX. How can you take good pictures without lots of FX and red rings?

  • Sarah Bugeja Kissaun

    Well, plain CO2 as you correctly said needs water to become an acid, so atmoshperic CO2 cannot affect the lens unless it’s wet :)

    Better to just stick to a soft cloth and clean my lenses with just that :)