Cleaning shooting optics

An early fall pronghorn hunt can be a real test to the hunter for optics care. Hunts of this type are usually dusty and dirty. The same thing can be said for a spring gobbler hunt where rain is common and wet leaves are encountered often or a tactical range where dust is common. Knowing how to clean shooting optics properly is a must for all firearm shooters who use optics.

On shooting ranges, hunts and when plinking, I have seen a lot of expensive glass damaged by owners using dirty handkerchiefs, paper facial tissue or shirttails to rub their lens to free them of dust. The shooters usually took the time to clean their rifles properly, but seldom did the optics obtain the same degree of care.

Shooting takes place under a wide variety of weather conditions, and several things will damage coated glass in shooting optics. Dust, t-shirts, shirttails, leaves, weed seeds and water can do harm to even the best optics. Shooters can be picky about their choices of shotgun, handgun or rifle scopes, spotting scopes, rangefinders and binoculars. They may even spend more money on the rifle scope than on the firearm to which it’s mounted. But when it comes to taking care of shooting equipment, optics seldom get the attention that assures long life.

With proper care and cleaning, today’s quality optics can offer years of service. The procedures are simple to follow at home, on the range or in the field.


Prevention is the first step in optics care. New optics usually come with lens covers to help keep dirt and water out. Keep the lens covers in place, especially under dusty or wet conditions, until needed. For several years in the early part of my hunting career, I tossed away lens covers as a nuisance. It didn’t take me long to learn this is a big mistake. Water sitting in my rifle scope all night caused water spots that almost cost me the mule deer of a lifetime.

If you don’t have lens covers, you can find them at many sporting goods stores, outdoor catalog houses or order them directly from the optics manufacturer. For rifle scopes, be sure to get scope covers that have an elastic cord that will keep the covers snug, or consider permanently attached scope covers.

Important, when cleaning your firearm, be sure to place your lens covers on your scope. The oils and solvents used for gun cleaning can destroy the lens coating.


First and foremost, if lens-cleaning instructions come with your new hunting optics, be sure to follow the instructions to the letter.

To improve the brightness of the image, optics companies apply microscopic coatings of anti-reflective magnesium fluoride to glass-to-air lens surfaces. The coating may give the lenses a greenish or amber tint. This coating can be easily scratched especially when cleaned incorrectly.

To correctly clean lenses, first remove loose dust with squeeze bulb, optics-quality canned air, or brush it off with an optics cleaning brush, available at most camera shops and some rifle scope manufactures.

When fingerprints, water spots or greasy spots remain, lubricate the lens before cleaning. Use pharmaceutical-grade lens cleaner available from many optics companies. Don’t use household window cleaners. Apply the lens cleaner to a microfiber cloth and not directly to the lens, as you want to avoid having beads of cleaning solution running to the edge of the lens, possibly entering the lens body. An optics microfiber cloth usually comes with new optics. Gently remove the spots by lightly rubbing, in a circular motion, from the center of the lens to the outside. I like to keep my microfiber cloth in a plastic bag to keep dust from getting on it in the field.

As a field method, fog the lens with your breath. Be careful not to spray the lens with saliva or the remains of the baloney sandwich you had for lunch. Dip a clean, 100% cotton (NOT synthetic) swab in the cleaning fluid. Starting in the center of the lens, wipe slowly in a circular motion, lifting off dirt. Gradually work to the outer edge, using a light touch. Take care not to disturb the sealant at the edge of the lens.

Lens cleaning supplies can usually be found at camera shops and drugstores. Many manufacturers of hunting optics sell optics cleaning kits.

Most important is to avoid, especially when hunting, the temptation to use a handkerchief, t-shirt or shirttail as a field lens cleaner. Wiping a lens with these is like rubbing the coated glass with sandpaper. Also, don't use facial tissues or toilet tissue, as they are rough and contain damaging oils.


When you’re hunting in rain or snow, don’t allow water to sit in the lens cup. Water may seep in around the lens sealant. Also, water spots can cause permanent stains if left on the lenses for long periods. If your binocular, rangefinder or scope does get wet, dry it thoroughly before putting it away, and don’t put it into a damp case.

Never lubricate the moving parts of your optics, as many solvent-based lubes will cut the factory sealants and open a path for water to enter, fogging the lenses inside. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to take any hunting optic apart for cleaning. If the interior of your binocular or scope has any problem, return it to the manufacturer for cleaning or repair.

If your optic is electronic, you should remove the battery and inspect the terminals for rust. If the terminals show rust or discoloration, use a pencil eraser, gently, to clean them. Replace with a fresh battery.

Remember the trophy of a lifetime may be the next thing that appears in your optics. Take good care of them so they can give you the service you expect.

Article Category