How to Clean Up Your Old Cameras


Treasures are often buried under dirt. Well, that’s usually the case, anyway.

Treasures for photographers may mean finding a working copy of their dream camera at a flea market or on the second-hand camera market. However, more often than not, the camera may not be looking great.

Some photographers don’t keep their gear in a dry box, and after years of neglect, tarnishing may appear on the chrome surface, and dust/dirt may get in between the gaps. The light seal may have dried up and crumble into fine, black particles when you open the film chamber.

At this point of time, you may whip out your microfibre cloth and dust blower, and say, “ok, let’s clean this up.”

But after an hour or so of polishing, the tarnish is still there, stubborn specks of dust may still get stuck in the film chamber and between dials. What now?

Let us take you through a quick guide on how to clean up your camera.

Tools You’ll Need

1) Pincer with fine ends. Sharpened or dull doesn’t matter
2) Toothpicks
3) Dust blower
4) Cotton pads or balls
5) Lighter fluid or Isopropryl cleaning alcohol. Both commonly available in hardware stores and pharmacies, respectively
6) Eraser
7) Screwdriver (optional)
8) Magnifying glass (optional)

Step 1

Clean the surface you are going to work on. We wipe it with a damp cloth, allow the surface to dry, then use a handheld vacuum to suck up any remaining particles. Make sure that you have ample lighting for the workstation.

Step 2

Assess the condition of your camera for any loose parts. Take caution of these parts. Detach any lens attached to the camera, obviously, for interchangeable lens cameras only.

Step 3


Open up the film chamber, and while holding the camera upside down (with film chamber facing downward), use the dust blower and blow as many areas as possible. This is to flush out any dust particles in the chamber.


If the light seal has dried up, be careful not to touch it and create more mess. If you need to replace the light seal, make sure you do that after the whole camera is cleaned. Proceed to use the dust blower on the surface of the camera to remove any other dirt.

Step 4


Tear or shred up the cotton pad/ball, then roll the loose cotton onto one end of the toothpick. Don’t make a big ball at the end. Just thick enough like the illustration at the bottom would do. Soak the cotton end of the toothpick in lighter fluid or cleaning alcohol.


Proceed to use the soaked cotton end of the toothpick to clean away any visible tarnishes on the camera. Take caution not to oversoak the cotton.


The fluid should dry up without leaving any residue or marks. If it does, discard the cotton and try again.

Step 5


For stubborn stains and/or tarnish, use an eraser and rub them on the surface gently. We like the Faber Castell Eraser Pen with Brush as the fine tips (after sharpening) allows you to clean the grooves on dials that may be hard to reach. But at the same time, remember that using an eraser will leave crumbs. Use a brush to clean them away.

Step 6

Now that we are done with the external of the camera, let’s go into the camera. Most SLRs of the past have a ground glass, and dust might have settled on it. Use a pincer and gently lift the latch, usually located just behind the lens mount. It should drop down easily.


To clean the ground glass, use a damp cotton pad and wipe it in one direction. Some lint may be left on it, so use a microfibre cloth or a dust blower to remove them.

If your camera’s prism can be removed (usually requiring a screwdriver), take it out and clean the surfaces.

Step 7

Now that is left is to clean the mirror (for SLRs) and the viewfinder. Use a toothpick with shredded cotton on one end and damp it with cleaning alcohol or lighter fluid. Gently brush it across the mirror and/or viewfinder. Remove any lint with a dust blower.

Step 8


If your camera has a battery compartment, open it to make sure that that no previous battery leaks has corroded the contacts. Use a dust blower to remove any dust, and if you want, use lighter fluid or cleaning alcohol to clean the contacts. Remember to let it dry fully before putting the battery back in.

So, there you have it. Quick steps to restoring the outlook of your camera.

When it comes to storing film cameras, it is advisable to remove the battery (if any), set the shutter to Bulb, take a shot but DO NOT advance the film lever. This is to minimize the tension on the springs activating the shutter curtain.

About the author: Make Good Cameras is an online camera shop that sells quaint, handpicked (and sometimes handmade) accessories for cameras. Visit their website here. This article originally appeared here.

  • Nuno Cruz

    Exactly my camera XD, I just did not knew about the mirror access. Thanks!

  • mr poor photog

    “focus screen”

  • agour

    why not just buy earbuds? They’re like £1 for 200… Plus they won’t fall apart as easily as home-made version.
    If your lens has fungus on it (very common for vintage lenses stored improperly), rub some athletes foot cream on and leave it overnight. Wipe it off with lighter fluid in the morning, and all the fungus will be gone. Not just wiped off, but killed completely.

  • G.Arroyo

    Good tips! I will have to try the eraser next camera I get.

  • Takreer

    I got this advise from my Dad, your not supposed to brush the mirror or even wipe when cleaning it. Mirrors are very easy to scratch. Best you can do cleaning them is to use a dust blower.

  • DiseeWise

    Thank you for this article – I have two ‘old dears’ a Balda Super Baldax and a Yashica D (both found dirt-cheap in Charity Shops) – oh…. and not to forget my very first camera, the Agfa Synchro Box Camera. So I think I’ll get my practice in first on my Agfa Box.

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  • Kanenas

    Both Lighter fluid and Isopropryl alcohol act as accelerants in the aging of plastic parts.
    A safer alternative Is glass cleaner fluid. Just a drop on an earbud will do the trick.
    If your camera is Black paint on metal make sure to use A transparent cleaner fluid so as not to leave stains. (if it does leave stains do not worry, they usually come off after a week or two of normal use)