How to disinfect your camera and smartphone

By Geoff Harris

With all of us facing a serious threat from the spread of coronavirus, you may be wondering about the best way to keep your camera and smartphone clean of any nasty bugs.

After all, we are being exhorted to wash our hands regularly to minimise the risks to yourself and others, so the same goes for well-handled items like cameras –particularly if you have been shooting in a public place or other people have also been handling your gear. Helpfully, Olympus has shared some tips for keeping your camera sparking clean (the company offers sensor cleaning services at The Photography Show, but sadly this has been cancelled until September). These tips are also relevant for cameras from other makers.

1) If your camera is weather sealed

The easiest way to find this out is to check the manual or do a quick search online. If your camera and lens are weather sealed, the first job is to ensure that all covers are closed fully. These include the battery door (as shown here), the memory card door, USB port oor, grip cover, hotshoe cover, and so on. Basically, close anything that could give access to the camera’s insides (the tripod hole is fine). For lenses, ensure the front cap is on firmly, along with the back cap if it’s detached from the camera. If any of the doors or connection protectors have come away, you can use duct tape, but please be extra careful.

2) What to use?

Olympus recommends spraying your camera and lens with disinfectant solution that contains over 70% alcohol, and dry with a clean towel. “An example of an appropriate solution is Lysol, but any product meeting the requirement of over 70% alcohol may be used.” Lysol cleaner or alternatives are widely available online, though supplies might be limited owing to the current pandemic. If you do find some supplies locally, please be mindful of others and don’t hoard.

3) What about non-weather sealed cameras?

More caution needs to be exercised here, as it’s theoretically easier for cleaning liquid to reach the camera’s highly sensitive innards and electrical connections. Again, check all the doors and connectors on the camera are properly closed, and all caps are on the lenses. Then, rather than blasting away with Lysol cleaning spray, Olympus recommends wiping down the exterior of your camera or lens with alcohol-based sanitising wipes. “We recommend choosing products that are labelled 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.”

4) Keep on cleaning

Olympus recommends that you keep on doing this, particularly if other people get to handle your camera gear. Maybe you passed it around at the local camera club (when it was still meeting) or it was recently examined by airport security staff. And of course, every time you are going out with your camera you are likely to be touching other objects, such as chairs, railings, eating utensils etc before taking any actual pictures...

5) What about smartphone cameras?

Your phone is often always with you and tends to get handled hundreds of times a day, so it’s potentially a much more effective bug carrier than your camera. Apple has also released some useful cleaning advice for its iPhones and iPads, which can also be used on other phones (but check the maker’s website or contact your phone supplier if you are unsure).

"Using a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, you may gently wipe the hard, nonporous surfaces of your Apple product, such as the display, keyboard, or other exterior surfaces. Don't use bleach. Avoid getting moisture in any opening, and don't submerge your Apple product in any cleaning agents. Don't use on fabric or leather surfaces."

6) Hand-washing tips

Just because messages urging you to wash your hands are everywhere, it doesn’t mean they can be ignored. It’s even more important for any readers who are still out and about taking photos. Remember, spend at least 20 seconds washing your hands; Center for the Disease Control in the US recommends timing yourself by singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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