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How to Clean Binoculars

Binocular Cleaning Tips

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Dirty Binoculars

Dirty lenses give poor images.

Melissa Mayntz

Binoculars are one of a birder's most critical tools, and knowing how to clean binoculars properly can keep their images clear and crisp for many years.

How Binoculars Get Dirty

Any time binoculars are used, whether out in the field or just to get a closer look at a backyard bird, they can get dirty. Dust accumulates on the lenses, and an inadvertent touch will deposit grease and oil on the glass. Fog or rain can leave water droplets on the binoculars, and even a light breeze can bring dirt, dust and other debris into contact with the most well protected optics. Unfortunately, birders cannot safeguard their optics from every speck of dust or dirt, but knowing how to clean binoculars properly can minimize any lasting harm.

Why Clean Binoculars Matter

Clean binoculars offer the clearest, most highly detailed images with the purest color. Even the tiniest scratch – one that may not be visible – will scatter light as it enters the optics, resulting in a blurred image. Over time, many such scratches will degrade the quality of the binoculars and they will be useless for discerning subtle field marks and color variations necessary for proper bird identification.

How to Clean Binoculars

Cleaning binoculars can protect this necessary field equipment from damage. Before beginning, birders should always read the manufacturer's guidelines for their specific optics and follow any specific recommendations for cleaning to prevent damage. If no cleaning guidelines are available, cleaning both the body and lenses is a matter of a gentle touch and delicate care.

To clean the body of a pair of binoculars…
  1. Gently wipe off the barrels, focus wheels, eyepiece rims and other parts of the binoculars with a damp cloth, but avoid touching the lenses.

  2. Use a can of compressed air to blow dust and debris from around the focus wheel and other crevices, but only use small puffs of air. A sustained blast can create moisture that will damage binoculars.

In general, the exterior of most binoculars requires very little care. Sturdy coatings, waterproofing and other manufacturing techniques help keep good quality optics protected and clean even with heavy birding use. The lenses of the optics, however, require much more attention to maximize binoculars' performance.

To clean binocular lenses…
  1. Gently brush loose dust and dirt away from the lens with a special lens brush or a soft, clean paintbrush. It is helpful to hold the binoculars upside down when doing this so particles will fall away from the delicate surfaces. Alternatively, use small puffs from a can of air to blow off dust, but avoid breathing on binoculars – the moisture in your breath will add to the dirt on the lenses. If the binoculars are waterproof, the lenses can be held under a gentle stream of water to rinse dust away.

  2. Use a wet cotton swab to gently soak up any remaining dust or visible particles, but take care not to press the swab into the glass or rub it across the surface. The swab should be wet with water or optics cleaning solution, not glass cleaner or formulas for eyeglasses. Using improper chemicals can degrade binocular lens coatings.

  3. Use a lens cleaning pen or a lint-free cloth to gently wipe the lenses with a circular motion to remove smudges, fingerprints or stubborn dirt. Do not apply more force than necessary, and clean the entire lens. If the dirt persists, change direction and keep wiping gently until it disappears. Microfiber cloths or special lens cleaning cloths are best to avoid unintentional scratches.

Tips to Keep Your Binoculars Clean

To keep your binoculars clean as long as possible…

  • Use lens and eyepiece caps to protect delicate surfaces when not in use.
  • Store binoculars in a soft case and keep the case itself clean.
  • Always use clean tools – a lens pen or polishing cloth – when cleaning binoculars.
  • Do not apply sunscreen or insect spray near binoculars.
  • Only clean your binoculars when the visual quality is impaired – less frequent cleaning means less risk of accidentally scratching the lenses.

Proper bird identification often relies on having the best possible view of a bird to see tiny markings, subtle behaviors or unusual colors. Knowing how to clean binoculars properly can help birders ensure their equipment is always in the best possible shape so they never miss seeing a bird.

Photo – Dirty Binocular Lens © Melissa Mayntz

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