How to Clean a Canon AE-1

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One of the first affordable auto-exposure cameras at the time of its introduction in 1976, the Canon AE-1 was solidly built and mass-produced in quantities that make it easy to find today in flea markets and garage sales. The camera's storage has a major effect on what cleaning -- and how much -- is required. This article examines the points crucial to good operation and optical performance.


Things You'll Need

  • Soft-bristled brush, camel hair preferred

  • Microfiber cloth

  • Blower bulb

  • Lens cleaning solution, isopropyl alcohol or lighter fluid

  • toothpicks

  • cotton swabs

  • rubber eraser

  • Lens pen (optional)

Step 1

Remove loose dust and dirt from the camera using the brush prior to opening the camera or removing the lens. Address stains or sticky residue on the outside of the camera with a microfiber cloth slightly moistened with water. Use toothpicks and swabs to remove dirt and dust around the shutter/program dial and the film advance lever on the top right of the camera. For more aggressive cleaning, moisten cloths and swabs with alcohol or other solution.


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Step 2

Lift the film rewind arm on the top left of the AE-1, and pull it up. Use toothpicks and swabs in the same manner as Step 1 to clean in and around the arm and shaft.

Step 3

Remove the lens and set it aside for the moment. Press the lens release button toward the bottom left of the lens when viewed from the taking position of the camera. Twist the lens up and toward the shutter release button to remove.


Step 4

Use the blower bulb to softly remove loose debris inside the camera body. Hold the camera with the lens mount facing down to let gravity assist the process.

Step 5

Inspect the angled mirror. The surface should be clean, reflective and free of dust and streaks. If necessary, use the brush and blower to remove as much debris as possible, then use your cleaning solution and a swab to gently clean the mirror surface.



Camera mirrors are silvered on the surface and part of a delicate mechanism. Don't clean the mirror unless it is very dirty. The mirror is not part of the optical path when you take a photo, so minor dirt won't affect your images, and over cleaning could damage the mirror.

Step 6

Blow loose dust and debris from the viewfinder on the back of the camera. Use a swab dampened with cleaning solution to clean the glass of the viewfinder.

Step 7

Open the camera back by fully pulling up the film rewind knob. Gently brush or blow out loose debris, taking care around the shutter.



The shutter blades are thin and delicate. Pressing on or blowing high-pressure air will damage the blades and may make the camera inoperable.

Step 8

Check the condition of the foam light seal around the opening. The camera door sits in a channel when closed, and the light seal assures complete darkness within the camera. This foam degrades over time and it may be a source of debris in your camera.


Replacing the light seal is a user-serviceable procedure. You can purchase light seal replacement kits from camera stores.

Step 9

Clean the outside of the lens in the same manner as you did the camera body. The AE-1 uses mechanical lenses, so there are no electrical contacts to clean. Use either the lens pen or a cloth and solution on the glass surfaces of the lens, both the inner and outer surfaces.



Most lenses have an anti-reflective coating that gives lens glass a dichroic appearance. This coating is essential to the optical properties of the lens, so avoid aggressive cleaning that may damage the coating.

Step 10

Open the battery compartment using the viewfinder cover which is stored in the camera's flash shoe. If this is no longer with the camera, a narrow, flat-bladed screwdriver will work. Insert either device into the slot on the side of the battery door on the front of the camera below the shutter button. Remove the battery, if there is one, and scrape any corrosion or leakage from the battery compartment. Use the rubber eraser on the battery contact surfaces to remove oxide buildup.


While many cameras of similar vintage operate mechanically, with or without batteries, the AE-1 will not function without an A544 6-volt battery installed.