Cleaning the iPhone’s lens and flash

Cleaning the iPhone’s lens and flash


The larger lens of the iPhone 4 and 4S camera is still teeny. The actual lens itself is protected by an external lens casing. While the lens casing is about 5 mm, the lens itself is about than 2 mm — just a little larger than the head of a pin. Even a small smudge or a fingerprint on your lens can really effect the quality of your images. Also, the iPhone 4S’ lens casing is no longer recessed as in previous iPhones. It’s pretty much flush with the back of the phones case, making it even easier to get smudged and dirty. Fortunately, keeping the iPhone 4S’ lens clean is even easier than previous models.

The flush lens casing is both good and bad. It’s bad in that it’s easier to accidentally smudge and get fingerprints. It’s much better, though, because it’s incredibly easy to clean. It also seems to be sturdier than previous lens casings. You can read about cleaning the lens of your iPhone 2G, 3G or 3GS in one of our previous Technique posts here.

To clean the iPhone’s lens, Apple recommends that you use a microfiber polishing cloth, such as the one that comes with the iPhone or one that you would use to clean the lenses of a pair of eyeglasses. For me, a quick breath on the lens casing adds just the right amount of moisture to handle just about any dust or smudges. I then carefully clean the casing with a flat part of the cloth, using small, soft circles as if I were polishing the lens. In order to maintain brightness, don’t forget to clean the flash near the lens.

Because the device is a phone after all, the lens of the front camera will probably get dirty faster. Use this same technique to clean the lens of the new front camera as well.

Don’t have a microfiber cloth handy? A soft, well-worn, old cotton T-shirt also works well in a pinch.

Regardless of what Charmin and Kleenex say about how soft their paper is, they’re still made from wood pulp and don’t compare to the softness of the synthetic materials used in microfiber cloths. Although the iPhone 4S lens casing appears to be more rugged, you don’t want to risk scratching it and permanently damaging your camera.

Some photographers may use a very small amount of alcohol-based liquid lens cleaner and a Q-Tip cotton swab to clean their lens, but as my father — a very old-school analog photographer — pointed out to me, you don’t want to risk any liquids getting inside your lens, even a slight amount. It looks like the iPhone 4S lens casing now has an interior anti-reflective coating, which is another potential place for moisture to seep into the lens, causing permanent (and warranty-voiding) damage.

You should never clean the iPhone 4S front camera, touch screen (or any other part of the iPhone) with any kind of liquid or aerosol cleaners, especially those which contain alcohol, ammonia or other solvents or harsh ingredients. These common household cleaners could damage your iPhone 4 or 4S’ sensitive, oil-repelling touch screen.