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How to Keep Your Camera Gear Clean (Like, Really Clean)

For those whose profession involves touching, adjusting and carrying camera equipment, it’s vitally important to face the realities that this virus can remain active on metal, plastic and glass… often for days. 

Former physician Roger Cicala on Lensrentals recently posted “How to Disinfect Camera Equipment and Spaces” with some extremely useful advice. With the disclaimer that there are no 100% right answers  at the moment, he offers his “best knowledge and best opinions” about the efficacy of recommended practices and products and adds the additional caveat that when discussing using any kind of disinfectant products not specifically recommended by the manufacturer, it’s important to test a small portion on the gear (and yourself) before going all in.

Of course, he recommends N-95 masks and warns that facial hair can counter the mask’s effectiveness. And, of course, he advocates lots of soap and water for frequent hand washing.

He talks about the pros and cons of isopropyl alcohol (60% or more alcohol for it to actually have any power against the virus). Despite what some manufacturers say about alcohol’s negative effects, Cicala admits, “Every repair shop I know have used isopropyl alcohol in 60% or greater concentrations on camera equipment for a long time and haven’t seen any adverse effects. Some manufacturers said 99% isopropyl might maybe affect lens coatings. I respectfully disagree, although I will say vigorous rubbing can affect some lens coatings, so take it easy and don’t use wire brushes or such.

“Don’t soak [anything in it]; that is asking for trouble and isn’t necessary. Just moisten it. Use common sense to try to keep your disinfectant on the outside and not let it run into the inside. A light mist with a spray bottle, or a cloth or paper towel dipped in alcohol works great for large surfaces. You might want to dip a Q-tip or similar thing to get into small areas or places where you’d rather not spray.”

Read more: Cleaning Procedures for Lenses and Accessories During the Pandemic (Pro Video Coalition)

Chlorine bleach is another product he suggests, with the warning not to mix it with any other cleansers, ammonia, or vinegar because of the dangerous fumes that will result. And, as a bottle of Clorox warns, it can seriously fade dyes, so test bleach before taking it to backdrops or flags or certainly bright-colored clothing. It’s great, though, for metal lens barrels and light stands. Non-chlorine bleach, also various peroxides, like hydrogen peroxide, and  quaternary ammonium products like disinfectant wipes.

Then the post suggests aggressively disinfecting doorknobs, scenery and everything else that you will come in contact with.

Read more: Disinfecting and Cleaning Methods for Broadcast Studios and Equipment (NewscastStudio)

Cameras themselves, he says, can require a more delicate touch but also present the most dangerous item in any studio or equipment package. He strenuously recommends not sharing cameras with other people, and certainly letting them sit for a few days if you must.

“Let’s face it,“ he writes of cameras, “you [or someone else] got your face all up in there, so it’s the most likely place to have received a big viral load. It’s also the place you don’t want to soak and saturate with any of the above solutions. Plus, the areas around the LCD, viewfinder, etc. are full of nooks and crannies, making them more difficult to get to, and according to some manufacturers, LCD screens might be sensitive to disinfectants. [Again, my own opinion is I haven’t seen it, but what manufacturers say can’t just be ignored].” To read the full article, click here.

Solid Advice

The B& H site has a helpful post, Dos and Don’ts for Photographers and Filmmakers

Aimed more at the prosumer than the accredited photojournalist or videographer, Shawn Steiner’s post strongly urges the maintenance of social distancing and avoidance of public spaces: “Now is NOT the time to be wandering out to photograph crowds of people shopping or going to hospitals because even if you don’t feel anything, you could be putting others in danger. There are professionals, especially photojournalists, who are risking going out to photograph these situations to illustrate stories that hopefully have an impact.” 

It also offers tips about cleaning equipment every time you return from any kind of shoot and notes that your smartphone can be the device that holds the most infection risk while getting the least attention when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting.

Oh, and the Camera… in Your Phone

Delving further into this arena, our sister publication Techrader produced a thorough piece titled, “How to Clean your Phone.”

“Sanitize your hands all you like,“ warns Andrew Williams. “Bacteria and viruses sitting on your phone may be transferred right back to those hands as soon as you check WhatsApp or Instagram.

“Few of us clean our phones regularly. And we probably should have done before now.

A 2011 study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found one in six phones analyzed showed traces of fecal matter. And you want your mobile to be free of nasties like Staphylococcus aureus and Acinetobacter spp., as well as Covid-19.

“A professor who studies infectious disease told TechRadar, ’Good hygiene and disinfecting regularly touched items like door handles, surfaces and telephones are essential as it is very easy to transfer the virus onto your clean hands by touching something that someone with the virus has come into contact with or been in the vicinity of.’”

Careful application of soapy water from a clean rag, offers the site, is at least as effective as disinfecting wipes, and can be both more effective and less abrasive to your device. “Wipes and gels with a very high concentration of alcohol can damage the oleophobic layer used to avoid obvious oily fingerprint smudges on your phone’s touchscreen.

“All smartphone makers also recommend avoiding cleaning solutions that contain bleach or abrasives, and the use of any rough cloths. These may spoil the finish of a phone’s metal sides and cause micro-abrasions in glass that will dull its surface. We’re out to clean the phone, not ruin it.” 

Finally, for those seeking the most high-end methods, the site cites companies like PhoneSoap and Homedics for their UV sanitizers for your phone. “These are like little tanning beds that bathe them in ultraviolet light. Even Samsung stores are now offering to sanitize your phone through a similar method for free in some locations.

“‘Sunlight also inactivates coronavirus, which is where the concept of UV-based cleaning kits has come from,’ says the professor. ‘Just bear in mind that this approach will only slowly inactivate the virus over time whereas soap and disinfectants do this almost immediately.’” To read the full article, click here.

Step By Step

But for those not inclined to buy a tanning bed for their phone, the post offers an eight-step procedure for disinfecting your device:

  • Prepare a bowl of hot (but not boiling) soapy water. Don’t use anything other than household soap as it may damage the coating on your phone.
  • Bring your phone to the water and be sure to take it out of its case. Then turn your phone off before you begin to clean it.
  • Do not submerge your phone, unless it’s IP68 water-resistant. Even then, we’d recommend not submerging your phone entirely.
  • Take a cloth and moisten it using the soapy water.
  • Gently rub the cloth around your phone ensuring you get to every area you can find. If you have a case, do the same for that.
  • Ensure you don’t allow the water to get into any of the openings of the phone such as the charging port or speaker grille.
  • Then wipe your phone down again with a clean microfiber cloth.
  • Leave your phone to dry out fully before turning it back on again. Repeat this method as much as you need to.

Bottom Line

We’re in a different world right now and the risks of either getting sick ourselves or making others sick are very high. So take this time off from shooting if you can and, if you can’t, be vigilant about cleanliness and disinfect everything you come in contact with.