During COVID-19, Cleaning My Camera Has Taken on a New Meaning
I used to clean my cameras and lenses before every shoot. Now that washing my groceries has become common place, cleaning my camera gear has taken on new meaning. This isn’t likely to change any time soon – even if the world opens back up. How are you dealing with this?
This Has to Come With Disclaimers
Almost every source I looked at stated in big bold letters that information about this particular coronavirus is changing almost daily. Make it part of your process to check back with the authorities in your jurisdiction as often as practical. To be clear, you should not rely on this article as medical advice. I have canvassed and collected information from a series of experts. I have no medical background.
Like any other surface disinfection process, you should consider the recommendations from the U.S. Centre for Disease Control, Health Canada, UK’s Public Health, or the equivalent public health organization in your jurisdiction.
Coronavirus, CDC. Public Domain.
Because we’re talking about surface cleaning, it’s important to start with the premise that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 can remain infectious for several days after finding its way on to your equipment. Reports indicated that the virus can remain active on plastic, metal, and glass for up to several days, but that it loses potency within a few hours on paper, fruit, and skin. Basically, the more porous the surface material, the faster SARS-CoV-2’s envelope degrades. Once the virus’ envelope is damaged, the virus loses agency and is unlikely to infect you. Since most camera equipment is hard plastic or glass, the virus is likely to remain viable toward the longer end of the scale. Perhaps more than 72 hours.
I don’t think that this can be stressed enough:
If you can afford to leave your gear isolated for a few days, the virus should lose its ability to infect you. If you can’t leave your gear alone, you’ll have to depend on disinfection. Few of us have access to a clean room. Any attempt to clean your gear carries with it a degree of risk.
The CDC sets out the following cleaning summary for electronics:
For electronics such as tablets, touch screens, keyboards, remote controls, and ATM machines, remove visible contamination if present.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products.
Consider use of wipeable covers for electronics.
If no manufacturer guidance is available, consider the use of alcohol-based wipes or sprays containing at least 70% alcohol to disinfect touch screens. Dry surfaces thoroughly to avoid pooling of liquids.
Cameras and lenses hold a special place in photographers’ lives. It makes sense that you’d want to make sure that cleaning your gear with 60-70% alcohol or a bleach compound isn’t going to damage its fine and fragile components. For example, cameras, media, and lenses contain exposed electronics, rubber seals, and plastic or rubber grips. Likewise, camera bags are usually made out of relatively fragile dyed fabric.
Olympus has provided cleaning information for both its weather sealed gear and gear that isn’t weather sealed.
This process could likely be applied to any manufacturer’s gear:
Use a camera body cap if no lens is attached, and ensure all covers are closed and sealed (including battery door, SD card door, USB door, grip cover, hot shoe cover, sync cap, etc.). For lenses detached from the camera body, ensure that the front and rear caps are on. Wipe down the exterior of your product with alcohol-based sanitizing wipes. We recommend choosing products that are labeled as effective for killing 99.9% of bacteria and viruses and are also bleach-free. Lysol or Clorox wipes are examples of suitable products, although any product meeting the above requirements may be used.
Use a camera body cap if no lens is attached, and ensure all covers are closed and sealed (including battery door, SD card door, USB door, grip cover, hot shoe cover, sync cap, etc.). Ensure the lens is weather sealed as well. For lenses detached from the camera body, ensure the front and rear caps are on. If the lens attached to the camera body, ensure the lens cap is on. To reiterate: if a lens is attached, please ensure it is a weather sealed lens. Spray with a disinfectant solution that contains over 70% Alcohol, and dry with a towel. An example of an appropriate solution is Lysol, but any product meeting the requirement of over 70% alcohol may be used.
I have been unable to find similar information about cleaning (non-medical) imaging equipment from any of the other major camera manufacturers. If you have found this info, please leave it in the comments below and I will update the article.
Lens Rentals published a great article back in March discussing how to disinfect camera equipment that we talked about here on Fstoppers. Given the volume of gear that moves in and out of Lens Rentals, they’ve certainly developed some keen insights. For example:
Use alcohol as a disinfecting agent. 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.
Building on this article, Lens Rentals released another a podcast early in April discussing their cleaning and disinfecting process. In this podcast, they discussed a few more critical ideas:
Give electrical components time to dry before running electricity through them Ensure that you’re not leaving residue on lighting equipment (particularly oils) as the residue could heat up and explode.
Practices to Consider
In my research, I also found a few items that photographers should consider when trying to disinfect their equipment of SARS-CoV-2:
Make sure when you’re disinfecting your equipment that you’re not moving it around too much (focus on not shaking the virus off of your equipment’s surfaces). Ensure that you disinfect your workspace when you’re done with the equipment. Most cleaning products that mention the novel coronavirus are piggybacking on testing results versus older coronavirus envelopes. Few, if any, products have been tested against the current virus and any claims otherwise are the result of the United States Environmental Protection Agency labeling process, not actual test results. Many cleaning manufactures are being less than honest. However, check out Canon’s honest comment on this:
Canon Medical has not tested the chemicals listed for efficacy, the information provided has been referenced from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and who have released a list of disinfectants that claim effectiveness for use against SARS-CoV-2. Sodium hypochlorite, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol from that list are recommended in the guidelines.
Bleach will destroy fabric. Using hydrogen peroxide or a similar chemical has not been proven to destroy the virus. Bleach may pit and ultimately damage even metal components. This pitting can actually protect the virus if it lodges in the pits. Pitting your equipment may lead to long-term damage. Tread with care. Alcohol may cause fogging of your LCD screens if you use enough to ensure that it doesn’t evaporate before destroying the virus. Alcohol may damage rubber sealing if you use enough to ensure that it doesn’t evaporate before destroying the virus.
Analogizing Canon’s and Nikon’s Medical Imaging Practices
Both Canon’s and Nikon’s medical departments have provided advice to the users of their medical diagnostic equipment. It’s interesting to note that Nikon clearly sets out that bleach, peroxide, quaternary ammonium, and benzalkonium chloride are not compatible with their eyepieces, lenses, or even their metal components.
Similarly, Canon’s materials clearly set out that alcohol should not be used on any rubber or synthetic rubber parts. Further, Canon’s materials note that no chlorine-based disinfectants should be used on metal, plastic, or rubber coatings. This means no bleach. Though they do note that benzalkonium chloride can be used.
The Last Word
It would seem to me that the safest process would be to set your equipment aside, without too much jostling. Anything else is going to mean significant risk to you, your family, or your equipment.
Background for lead image used under Creative Commons HFCM Communicatie.