One of the most important pieces of equipment for any bird watcher is their binoculars. What can you do to maintain and clean your binoculars and ensure your optics are always at their best?
The best general rule to remember is to use preventative care and protect your binoculars from extremes. Any extremes – of temperature, moisture, dirt or dust – can be harmful.
Most models are robust and don’t need much in the way of technical maintenance. But knowing how to clean binoculars and keep them in good working order is a priority.
Here are some tips on how to care for and clean your binoculars so they’ll last you through all of your adventures with wildlife.
Make sure your binoculars meet your requirements
Think about what situations you will encounter while using your binoculars. Where will you be taking them? How will you be transporting them? In what kind of weather will you use them?
It could be worth checking with the manufacturer that the binoculars will withstand the environments and usage that you intend. This will help you to assess where and when to use them without risk of breakage.
Carry binoculars in the case
Protect them especially when you are in transit. They usually come with a padded case that should be sufficient to keep them safe. If not, it’s probably worth investing in a better one.
It may take a few extra moments to replace them in the case, but you will be glad you did so if you accidentally take a tumble or lose grip of them.
Use the strap
The strap is a must-have accessory for carrying your binoculars, which need to be protected as much as possible from shocks and drops.
Even if the body is toughened and well coated, and seems like it would be resistant to surface damage, any impact might knock the binoculars out of alignment. This would need to be fixed by a professional.
If you always have the strap around your neck you can keep your hands free when on the move. This helps you stay balanced and prepared to catch yourself in case you trip over.
Accidents can happen when people pick up their binoculars quickly with only one hand. If you do use the strap but lose grip of them, in damp weather for example, then at least they are less likely to fall very far.
Some situations might call for you to move faster or in a less predictable way, like crossing a stream, boarding a boat or scrambling across rocks. Where possible, secure your binoculars inside your pack or your jacket so that they don’t swing around and hurt you or get damaged.
Keep the binocular strap in good repair
Be sure to keep the strap in good repair and and replace it when it starts to look worn. Make sure there’s no fraying on the strap itself or damaged areas on the clips that attach it to the binoculars.
If the strap feels like it is weighing on your neck after a long period of birding, resist any temptation to carry the binoculars dangling from the strap. You could try a wider or more padded strap.
A useful alternative to the strap is a shoulder harness. Harnesses distribute the weight of the binoculars more evenly across your torso. It can make a difference to your comfort, as a harness prevents the load from resting solely on your neck.
The exception to this is if you are taking your binocular out kayaking. In this case, don’t put the strap around your neck. It could get dangerously tangled if you capsized.
Instead, attach the binoculars to your kayak to keep them secure.
Keep binoculars as dry as possible
In wet weather, shelter them from the rain, even if they are waterproof.
There is no such thing as too much protection. A rainguard is a crucial addition that will provide some shelter during light rain.
For more top tips on how to use binoculars in the rain, check out our in-depth guide here: Everything you need to know about using binoculars in the rain
If you accidentally drop them in water, retrieve them as soon as possible. Whether the binoculars are wet from rain or from immersion, dry them off thoroughly.
Binoculars that are not waterproof should not be subjected to dampness or sea spray. The salt could get into the unsealed housing and damage the mechanisms inside.
For waterproof pairs that get exposed to salt water, or even dirty fresh water, rinse them off and use a clean cloth to dry them. (The only thing is to be sure that they are definitely water proof before doing this!)
It is important to rinse off the salt before rubbing them. Any salt particles left on the lens surfaces when they are being dried may scratch them.
Can heat damage binoculars?
It’s important to take care that the precision glass doesn’t get damaged as the binoculars then cannot perform optimally.
Binocular lenses are coated with chemicals to make the light transmit better to your eye. UV rays can damage the sensitive coatings on the lenses, causing them to deteriorate or even detach.
To keep your binoculars in top condition, it is especially crucial not to leave them exposed directly to the sun. The heat will potentially harm the optics and temperature fluctuations can cause binocular lenses to fog up.
Keep binoculars out of direct sunlight
Do not leave them in direct sunlight for long periods of time. Place them in shade or store away from the sun where they will be cooler.
As far as possible, avoid subjecting the binoculars to sudden changes in temperature.
Can I leave my binoculars in the car?
Protecting your binoculars from fluctuations in temperatures means taking them out of your car on a hot day.
It is convenient to carry a set of binoculars around, and to have them handy when you are out and about in the car. Leaving them inside a car all the time is a risk, though, not only for theft but for accidental damage due to heat.
When travelling in the car, be sure to stow the binocular somewhere where they will not go flying when you turn a sharp corner or need to make a sudden stop.
Is it bad for binoculars to get cold?
Extreme heat is more harmful than the cold. The most tricky thing about optics getting cold is what happens when they heat up again.
Rapid changes in the ambient temperature cause condensation to form on the lenses. This moisture is usually on the outside, but if you don’t have a fogproof pair then droplets of water may form on the inside of the lenses.
Clearly this has a negative impact on the image clarity because you are looking through lenses covered with tiny water droplets.
Ordinarily, this fog will usually resolve itself and go away after a few minutes. But in extremely cold weather, the water droplets freeze, resulting in ice covering your lens.
As we’ve discussed, wiping or rubbing your lenses with any kind of pressure is a bad idea. So removing this ice is difficult.
Looking through a layer of ice is probably not the kind of view you’d hope for after making the effort to go out in the cold weather. This is why waterproof and fogproof features are advised, whatever climate you live in.
Check out our article on waterproof and fogproof binoculars to find out more about how manufacturers prevent this from happening: Do I need waterproof or fogproof binoculars?
Will cold weather ruin binoculars?
There is some debate over whether binoculars still perform optimally in cold weather. Does the cold cause the components to shrink and affect performance?
Cold weather is often damp or snowy as well. Moisture is an enemy to optics.
Check the manufacturer’s specification as this will indicate an advised range of temperatures to which you can expose your binoculars. If you plan to use them in extreme cold, you could choose some designed to function in this climate.
How to store binoculars
After being outdoors all day, condensation may form on the binocular’s cool glass surfaces when you bring them inside into a warmer environment. This moisture can cause the lenses of this instrument to be susceptible to fungus growth.
When you return home, leave them out for a while. This lets them adapt to the new ambient temperature indoors.
Wipe off any excess moisture with an absorbent cloth for optics surfaces. Make sure they dry out thoroughly before you put them away in their case.
Water, heat and humidity can all reduce their lifespan. If you use your binoculars infrequently, then it’s possible to store them with care and avoid glass mold.
How to clean binoculars free of fungi and mold
Glass mold is particularly harmful to optical instruments. Even if it appears that you have removed the fungal growth it may already have damaged the surface of the glass.
The best way to avoid glass mold is by storing your binoculars in a dry place. If possible, store them in an airtight container with desiccant that will absorb moisture from their surfaces.
For example, precautions like putting silica gel within the binocular case will keep any moisture extremely low. Placing a dehumidifier near or on top of the optics reduces the risk of mold on their delicate surfaces.
It’s a good idea to store them in a completely clean case, different to the one that you usually transport them in. If you don’t have another case, when out in the field, leave your case somewhere safe and clean so that it doesn’t get dirty.
Checking them at intervals will prevent anything unfortunately happening during storage. Better still, do not keep them in the case all the time, to avoid mold growth setting in.
Store your binoculars in a cool and dry place away from sunlight. Being in a room that has a constant temperature protects them from getting overheated or damaged by moisture.
How can I clean binocular lenses and coated optics?
In the first instance, do your best not to allow dirt to settle on them. Shelter the lenses from dust particles and water as much as you can to prevent them getting dirty. If you have a rain guard, use this. It can double as a food guard when you’re picnicking too!
Use the lens caps to protect the glass from dust and scratches. Keep the lenses free of finger prints by taking care not to touch them.
If you do notice smudges, be very careful with what you use to wipe the glass. The manufacturer will probably recommend the best method, so it’s best to check their instructions or use one of their lens cleaning kits.
Check the manual for specific advice
Reading the manual is the first step in binoculars cleaning. Particular chemicals or products could harm the binocular. The manual will detail these so that you can avoid using them. The manufacturer may also have their own cleaning kit or lens cleaner to use with your optics.
In general it’s best not to use your clothing or any paper or tissues to clean lenses’ surfaces. Toilet paper and paper towels are a bad idea. These materials could damage the lens coatings with the fibers they contain.
Tiny scratches may not be visible to the naked eye, but they negatively impact the images seen through any optics device or camera lenses.
Cleaning lenses: what should I clean binoculars with?
Keep a soft cloth or special lens tissue to clean off any dust or dirt. Another option is to use a soft brush or compressed air.
Whatever you use, be gentle. And do it as little as possible. Over-cleaning can cause more harm than good.
Before using a brush or cloth on the lens, try to remove excess dust by holding the binoculars upside down and at the same time blow on the lens. Holding them in this way means firstly that any large debris can fall away and secondly that any stray specks of saliva will be less likely to reach the lens. To avoid this risk entirely, use canned air.
Take care of lens coatings
Don’t use any window cleaners, detergents, dry cleaning compound or any other household cleaners as they will cause permanent damage to the coatings or the sealing around the lens.
Once you have removed any visible dust by blowing on the lens, gently clean the lenses with a soft bristled brush. A puffer brush or lens blower is a worthwhile investment. It is a simple tool consisting of a little balloon attached to a soft brush, or sometimes with a retractable brush. The combination will allow you to easily clean any dust off.
Use lens cleaning solution
Then spray the lens cloth (not the lens surface) with a specialized lens cleaning solution. Check that the lens cleaners you use are suitable to keep coated lenses clean.
The aim of the cleaning process is to remove dirt without putting any pressure on it that would scratch the lens. With non-waterproof binoculars, it is necessary to be extra careful when using liquids.
Gently wipe the lens cleaner onto the lenses moving the cloth in a circular motion rather than back-and-forth. In the event that it does leave a mark on the lens, using a circular motion makes it less likely to be noticeable. Most lens cleaning solutions should evaporate without a trace, leaving you with a nice clean lens.
A good tip if you are using lens cleaning tissues is to fold them over a few times. They are very thin so a thickness of four layers stops any oil from your hands soaking through and reaching the lens.
Exterior cleaning: how to clean binoculars outside
Keep a separate clean microfiber cloth or cotton swab to wipe off the body.
Models with a center focussing knob need to be kept clean so that no dust particles or damp creeps into the housing. The focus wheel is a vulnerable area.
Porro prism binoculars cope best when stored with the focus set on infinity. As with any of the delicate movable parts, take care not to try to take them past the limit of the range.
Why is the plastic on my binoculars sticky?
The body can start to feel sticky from the oils or dirt that can build up over time. Our skin has natural oils in it, which transfer to the casing and accumulate there.
The use of bug spray can also contribute to the sticky residue. Chemicals used in insect repellent can degrade the rubber coating. To avoid this kind of damage, be sure to wash your hands and take precautions to stop it from getting transferred.
When the rubber armoring starts to break down from age, this can also create a sticky, tacky feel. In some cases, it is possible to replace the rubber.
As with many potentially delicate or harmful alterations, it is best to contact the manufacturer to find out more and to make sure it is dealt with properly. Keeping the toughened armor in top condition will continue to ensure the chassis is well protected from any dirt creeping into the mechanism and causing problems.
How do you clean rubber binoculars?
Many models have a protective rubber coating. This can be cleaned with a damp cloth or sponge and some warm water with mild diluted dish-washing detergent. Gently rub it but take extra care not to get any on the lenses.
Once it is clean, rinse off the binocular body carefully and pat it dry with a soft clean microfiber cloth. There are also special silicon sprays available to clean the housing.
How do you remove stickiness or sticky residue on binoculars?
Giving the binocular body a gentle clean with rubbing alcohol is the best way to get rid of grime that comes from frequent handling. An alcohol-based product is able to dissolve the fats that make binoculars sticky.
Use lens caps and clean the eye cups. Cover the lenses with the protective lens caps when not in use.
Rubber eye cups can get oily. Wiping them with vinyl or rubber preservative will keep them in good condition.
If the binoculars have adjustable eye cups, remember to twist them down before storage. This keeps them compact and easy to fit in the case. It also avoids any damage to the thread of the mechanism.
Interior cleaning: how to clean binoculars inside
Dirt on the inside is easy to spot if you hold them up and look through their objective lenses.
Internal dirt is not a DIY job. Attempting to tackle this yourself may damage the binocular and invalidate your warranty.
It might seem simple but never attempt to open the binoculars yourself as it may affect their alignment. It’s best to contact the manufacturers and leave it to a professional.
Can binoculars be serviced?
Using a professional to service your binocular is the best route to take to be sure that the job is done using proper tools, equipment and the correct parts. Tampering with your device at home might do more harm than good – and then need a specialist to put that right after all!
Getting your binoculars serviced is a good opportunity to have them checked for any collimation issues. As with any kind of service of devices, a binocular service can preempt any small problems and stop them getting worse.
Many providers will be able to offer you an estimate of how much it will cost to service your binoculars, and to repair any problems that they encounter in the course of the service.
Can binoculars be repaired?
Depending on their age, they may still be under warranty. For that scenario, contact the manufacturer.
In any case, the manufacturer may be the most reliable option to repair any faults even if they are not still within the warranty time frame or covered by any kind of guarantee or insurance.
In some instances they may need to be stripped down and repaired. If waterproof or fogproof models need to be opened up, then they will also need to be re-sealed and purged with nitrogen or argon afterwards.
In most cases, binoculars can be repaired. This even includes the most technically challenging models like zoom ones.
What you have to bear in mind is how severe the problem is. When weighed against the cost of a new pair, are they worth repairing? Sometimes there are also extra costs to calculate, such as postage or transport to the repairer.
Could you trade them in instead? Some stockists may take your old pair in part exchange against the cost of a new set of optics.
How long should binoculars last?
There is not a limit on how long optics last. If they are correctly cared for – and you bought a quality pair in the first place – then binoculars will go on for decades. You may get ten to fifteen years of regular usage out of a good quality pair.
Depending on the frequency of use and how carefully you treat them, however, it is possible to double or even triple this potential lifespan. The exact lifetime of a pair depends both on the quality of the build and on how much hard usage they get.
Regular care and servicing can extend their longevity and usable life. It is worth investing time and energy into this kind of maintenance, because binoculars are not the kind of instrument that goes out of date.
Manufacturers make excellent improvements to lens and prism coatings, and upgrade many aspects. But the basic functions of a binocular do not change, which is why it is worth investing as much as you can comfortably afford in each pair that you buy.
Increase longevity of binoculars
To give your binoculars the best chance of lasting you for years to come, maintain them using the tips that we have given. Even though the binoculars’ warranty may expire, it doesn’t mean that their lifespan will too.
That said, it is also fun to have different pairs of binoculars which are specifically suited to different bird-watching circumstances that you enjoy.
We are definitely not arguing that you should only ever have one binocular for the rest of your life! Just take care of those that you already have and build up your collection gradually as your birding preferences evolve and your skills develop.
How do I know when to buy new binoculars?
Are you wondering if it is time to invest in a new pair of binoculars? Indicators to consider when assessing if your old binoculars have come to the end of their life or if you need a change in magnification or style:
As people develop their bird watching skills, they find it easier to follow and track birds as they fly. This means that a really wide field of view is not as important as it might be to a beginner.
The same goes for your bird identification skills. As your knowledge and understanding of your subjects grows, it is easier to identify birds from just a quick glimpse, a more distant view or in dimmer light. This may mean that you would benefit from a greater or lesser magnification or a different low-light performance.
When we are curious about something, the natural progression is to want a better quality. In this case, the way to update your binoculars is to seek out a pair that offers a higher grade of glass components with better light transmission. A more premium model will be a significant upgrade in brightness, clarity, color contrast and resolution.
Perhaps your tastes in bird watching have changed. Instead of staying at home and looking out for birds in your backyard, at close range, you might be ready to go further afield in search of different and unfamiliar species.
Or instead of being out gallivanting in the open space of fields and coastlines, you have moved to a forested area where you need binoculars to cope with the change in environment.
Age can be a good guide – both the age of the binoculars and of the user! People’s eyes change over time. We have more details about how the alterations in your vision can affect which binoculars are best for you in this article.
You might currently have traditional style Porro prism binoculars, which have that classic, old-school vintage binoculars look. If you are looking to upgrade and would like to know more about alternative options, check out our article about the difference between Porro prism and roof prism binoculars.
Have your binoculars had a hard life, used in all weathers and in harsh environments, where they are subject to salt water or dusty air? Do your binoculars get shared with other people, needing the diopter settings or focus wheel to be changed frequently?
In some cases, it may be that the binoculars no longer meet your standards. Binoculars might lose their weatherproofing and start to get fogged up or cloudy. Over time the lenses get inadvertently scratched or the binoculars become out of alignment.
How do I know if my binoculars are out of alignment?
One sign that binoculars need updating is that they give you a headache. Or you might find that looking through them with only one eye seems to be better. In this case, the binoculars may be out of alignment.
Test to check binocular alignment
- Through the binoculars, focus on a straight horizontal line some distance away, like a rooftop or sea horizon.
- While still focussing on the line, move the binoculars away from your eyes gradually, so that they are a few inches away.
- If the binoculars are aligned correctly, the line remains straight.
- If the binoculars are out of alignment, the line will appear higher in one eyepiece than in the other.
Why do I get a headache using binoculars?
Even doing this simple test to see if your binoculars are out of alignment can be taxing for your eyes. They naturally want to correct the image by showing you a continuous line.
This can cause a headache when using your binoculars, because your eye muscles and your brain are trying hard to align the two separate views into one integrated image of a single line.
What to do when binoculars are out of alignment
If you find that your binoculars are indeed out of alignment, this may be the excuse you are looking for to upgrade and treat yourself to a new pair!
A new purchase need not be necessary, however. Most manufacturers will be able to repair your binoculars for you. This is the best route to take to be sure that the job is done properly using specialist equipment.
Caring for and cleaning binoculars: next steps
If you’re ready to start using your binoculars and want them to last, follow the tips we’ve provided here. These suggestions should help you care for your binoculars so they last as long as possible.
With the right attention and precautions, including proper cleaning, you’ll be able to get great use out of these tools with little worry over wear and tear or breakage.
If you’re planning to take your optics further afield for birding, you might appreciate the tips we offer about air travel with binoculars – Can I carry binoculars on a plane?
- 1 Make sure your binoculars meet your requirements
- 2 Carry binoculars in the case
- 3 Use the strap
- 4 Keep binoculars as dry as possible
- 5 Can heat damage binoculars?
- 6 Is it bad for binoculars to get cold?
- 7 How to store binoculars
- 8 How to clean binoculars free of fungi and mold
- 9 How can I clean binocular lenses and coated optics?
- 10 Cleaning lenses: what should I clean binoculars with?
- 11 Exterior cleaning: how to clean binoculars outside
- 12 Interior cleaning: how to clean binoculars inside
- 13 Can binoculars be serviced?
- 14 Can binoculars be repaired?
- 15 How long should binoculars last?
- 16 How do I know when to buy new binoculars?
- 17 How do I know if my binoculars are out of alignment?
- 18 Caring for and cleaning binoculars: next steps