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How to Clean a Canon AE-1

Updated February 21, 2017

The Canon AE-1 is a single lens reflex (SLR) camera manufactured and marketed by the Canon Corporation from 1976 until 1984. During this run, it experienced an enormous amount of popularity, selling around 5 million units total. If you own a functioning AE-1, chances are it needs a light cosmetic cleaning, depending on how it was stored over the past 20-plus years.

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  1. Blow away dust and dirt that may be caked on to the AE-1's body with a can of compressed air. Hold the camera 6 inches to a foot away during this step, to avoid damaging sensitive internal parts with the bursts of air.

  2. Sweep away dust and dirt embedded between the top controls of the camera (in between the shutter speed dial and advance lever, underneath the film rewind knob). Blow light bursts of compressed air into these crevices as you brush.

  3. Drip a few drops of denatured alcohol onto a microfiber cloth and gently wipe the metal top and bottom of the camera clean. Use a Q-tip moistened with alcohol to reach into smaller nooks and crannies.

  4. Moisten the head of an unused toothbrush with warm water and scrub the front and back of the leatherette in a circular motion. Wipe with a clean towel when finished.

  5. Remove the lens from the front of the camera. Hold the body upside down and blow several bursts of compressed air into the camera from about a foot away. Lay the camera on a table with the internal mirror facing up.

  6. Wrap the head of a Q-tip with lens tissue and moisten with lens cleaning solution. Gently swab the mirror with the Q-tip. Allow the mirror to air dry.

  7. Clean the lens by gently wiping the glass in a circular motion with a lens tissue. Add a drop of lens cleaning solution if necessary. Replace the lens.

  8. Tip

    When cleaning with alcohol and lens cleaning solution, less is more. Start with a small amount of liquid and only use more if necessary. Because of the Canon AE-1's similarity to most other used film SLRs on the market, this guide can be easily applied to other cameras.


    Never submerge your camera in water. This will render your AE-1 useless. Do not attempt to clean the AE-1's focusing screen, as it can be permanently damaged by the above materials. It is located just above the internal mirror and is milky-white in appearance.

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Things You'll Need

  • Compressed air
  • Small artist's brush
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Q-tips
  • Clean toothbrush
  • Warm water
  • Hand towel
  • Lens tissue
  • Lens cleaner solution

About the Author

Brandon Getty

Brandon Getty began writing professionally in 2008, with columns appearing in "Thrasher" magazine. He received a Bachelor of Arts in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and lives in Stockton, Calif.

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