You've done it. We've done it. There's no point in denying it.
We're all guilty of blowing on our binoculars and rubbing away with our shirt sleeves. Tsk Tsk.
Not to mention having thrown them in a bag with other gear and no lens caps on.
What about the quick snack you took during the hunt where bread crumbs and juice dribble made its way onto the lenses while your hunting binocular was still around your neck?
We've been witness to many head-smacking mistakes that costs us the quality of our glassing, and we can't stand it anymore.
Let's get you up to speed on how to correctly and safely clean your binoculars.
These instructions are idiot-proof, so there's no excuse to use a snotty rag on your glass ever again!
The Underrated User Manual
First things first. Just take a quick read of your user manual. You've probably never even looked at it before or it likely got thrown into the garbage once you opened the box.
The thing is, you put down a lot of money on your binoculars, and it's too nice to accidentally and ignorantly damage it by using the wrong cleaning products. Good intentions used inappropriately won't bring back the awesome glass you started with.
While many user manuals may be basic and vague in nature, some will point out various chemicals to avoid and may even recommend an in-house cleaning product specific for your needs.
Don't Clean Your Binoculars
Sounder counterproductive, right? Well, this is aimed more towards those with OCD tendencies to obsess over cleaning their binoculars. Less is more. If it's just dust, a simple blow, dusting, or wipe down with the appropriate tool or cloth will get the job done.
Going overboard on cleaning, especially if you don't know what you're doing, can cause damage to your coatings and glass. So, don't do it more than you must.
More optics have been ruined by improper cleaning methods than they have from being dropped out of a tree stand or face-planting it from a tripod. Preventative care will help ease those urges to disassemble the binocular and fiddle around where you're not supposed to.
Cleaning Binoculars: The Do's and Dont's
Before we get into it, let's make this clear: this is what you can use, and what you don't want to let us see anywhere near your lenses.
- Lens pen
- Lens dust blower
- Included cleaning cloth
- Fine microfiber cloth
- Fine bristled lens brush
- Camera lens cleaning cloths or papers
- Isopropyl-based lens cleaners
- Lens cleaning kits
- Optics manufacturer recommended lens cleaners for coated lenses
- Shirt tail/sleeve
- Bandana/doo rag
- Kleenex/toilet paper/paper towels
- Other household cleaners
- Canned, compressed air blowers
- Dish soap/detergents
Clean Binocular Care Tips
Now you know what tools you can and cannot use, and have been warned not to overdo the cleaning, lets get into some tips for cleaning your binoculars.
Tip 1: Use Lens Caps
Lens caps. Caps. Rain guard. Whatever you want to call them, your binocular likely came with an included pair. Use them. This is the best way to keep your lenses clean and protected. Only take them off when you want to glass. Keep them on, even while the binoculars are around your neck. Put them on when storing them away.
Put them on while eating and drinking. Don't be one of the ones we frown at when sandwich drippings, soda dribble, and crumbs find their way onto your lenses while you shovel down chow during a hunt or hiking break. It's a food guard. The caps have many names, but they have the same goal - protect the glass!
Tip 2: Cleaning the Exterior
The exterior takes a lot of abuse. It's the forefront of dealing with weather, sticky, dirty hands and gloves, and it takes the beating when it's dropped and fumbled about. The good news is that it's made to handle it all. The durable rubber armor protects the binocular housing and lenses and all without showing a scratch - sometimes.
Cleaning the exterior is probably the easiest part of the entire cleaning process. Use a damp cloth and give the entire body a rub down.
Tip 3: Dusting
Dust. It's usually the main reason why we we're motivated to clean the binoculars in the first place. Sometimes, dust collection is just inevitable. So, remember when we said trying to clear it with your shirt sleeve is a bad idea?
Dust contains microbes like silica, and that stuff is rock hard. Your shirt also has fibers that can scratch the lens coatings. What happens when you add friction to all those crystal-hard microbes when you're rubbing away with good intentions?
Scratched glass. Poor images. Decreased binocular performance. Yep, that was absolutely your fault.
Breathing on a lens is also a quick way to wipe away dust when you have the right tool or cloth to do it, but you may also scratch the glass with the microbes that didn't find its way off the glass when you breathed and then wiped it.
The best way to dust your lenses is to blow it off with a lens blower. It can be as simple as a little bulb blower. Electronic compressed air blowers aren't a good idea as some of the additives can damage coatings. They can also push microbes into tighter spots that make it hard to reach and clean.
You can also use a very fine bristled brush to remove tiny particles without damaging the lenses. The included cloth that came with your binocular is an excellent tool to use here. There's no need to use any elbow strength as it's all about gentle and light strokes.
If your eyecups twist out, it's also a good idea to brush and clean in between the threading here.
Bonus tip: Use very clean microfiber cloths on your lenses. Keep the cloth clean and free from collecting dust and debris. It's best to keep it in a sealed, air-tight bag until you need to use it.
Tip 4: Cleaning with Solutions
If your lenses need a little elbow grease that a dusting can't fix, there's a solution. Water spots, mud, and fingerprint smudges may eventually turn up. If your binocular is waterproof, running the lenses under a gentle stream of tepid water can help with that. Again, use the appropriate cloth to wipe it down.
If your binocular is not waterproof, wet the end of a q-tip and use that to remove hard spots and smudges from the lenses.
You can also use lens cleaning solutions specifically designed for optics and camera lenses. Some sports optics manufacturers have in-house products for this type of cleaning. Some may come in the form of lens pens, liquid solutions, and wet lens papers and tissues.
Dry-cleaning compounds without alcohol are also popular products included in lens cleaning kits. Be sure to read the included instructions that come with the product carefully to ensure you don't apply it incorrectly.
Bonus tip: Never spray a cleaning solution directly onto the lenses. It can damage the seals around the lens assembly.
Tip 5: Cleaning Fungus
Fungus and mold growth within a binocular can occur when the binoculars are not waterproof and/or fog-proof. Fog-proof binoculars are either argon or nitrogen purged to prevent condensation and bacteria from forming within the binocular assembly.
Fungus can cause permanent damage by etching into the lenses and coatings, can affect metal parts of a binocular, and can feed off the lubricants within the binocular. They thrive in humid conditions, in dark places (like during storage), and you can be unwittingly feeding it by leaving a fingerprint or natural oils on the surfaces on the lenses.
So, if there is evidence of spores such as tendrils, you're going to need a little more than just water or a lens pen. Alcohol, vinegar, dry air, and UV light are the typical remedies to cleaning off fungus.
However, by the time you start seeing evidence of fungus or mold in your binoculars, it may be at an advanced stage where it's already released spores into the tiny niches of the entire inner assemblies of the binocular. This is going to require disassembly of the optic.
Because it requires disassembly, it's something we don't recommend doing yourself. Opening the optic automatically voids your warranty - period. Secondly, when trying to clean the lenses, you may find you're unintentionally smearing some of the inner lubricants over the glass.
When taking out prism assemblies and objective lenses to clean them, you now have the issue of reassembling them and correctly collimating them.
You also must make sure you're wiping down the parts where are lens are mounted. It's a big and daunting task. Unless you have a cheap pair lying around that no longer has a warranty, and you're pretty nifty on the technical side, do it at your own risk.
So, what can you do? Let's talk about prevention.
- Store the binocular in a low humidity environment (below 60% via hygrometer)
- Keep the binocular clean and free of dust
- Avoid using canned/compressed dust blowers
- Keep binoculars in a well-ventilated area
- Don't touch the lenses!
- Clean binocular as often as appropriate.
Tip 6: Cleaning the Inside
Our tip: Don't do it! If the image is good, leave it alone!
Cleaning the inside carries the same risks as outlined above when cleaning for fungus. You can void your warranty, and you must deal with disassembly and reassembly ensuring collimation at the same time. You'll also need the proper tools such as a screwdriver, small flat head screwdriver, and any other necessary tools that may be needed for your specific binocular.
Disassembly is the easy part by unscrewing the cap to expose the focus mechanism. This will allow you to take out the eyepieces. You'll also be able to take off the top/cover plate to expose the prisms. Removing the bottom plate will expose additional prisms and allow for the cleaning of the inside of the objective lenses. Sometimes the barrels will have tiny grub screws that you will need to take out, and these will have to be put back exactly as they were.
Cleaning the components with specific lens cleaning products is the best method. Since the internal glass may not have coatings, you may feel liberal with using products we've warned against. We still advise using lens-specific brands and cleaning products.
Opening the binocular allows you to get familiar with the workings, mechanisms, and assemblies of the glass components inside. However, you risk damaging the glass, introducing spores, bacteria, and microbes.
If something has gotten inside the binocular, it's best to contact the manufacturer and have them repair or replace your optic under warranty. If the image is good, leave it alone!
Clean is the New Sexy
When a little mud on a truck is sexy, a little mud on a binocular isn't. Some have the attitude that a rusty, gunked-up optic is an indicator of a well-used pair, and that it even has some sort of bragging rights. Nope. You're only limiting yourself to mediocre quality, performance, and less of an enjoyable experience.
Your binocular cost too much money and is way too nice to have it age faster than its expected life span. Keeping your optic clean and cared for will ensure you get to see rare birds or trophy bulls with optimal image quality. That's the goal after all, right?
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Simon is an avid outdoor enthusiast and the owner of Target Tamers. He is passionate about bringing you the most up to date, accurate & understandable information on sports optics of all kinds and for all applications. When not glassing the local wildlife, you can find him in the garden with his German Shepherd.