Taking the time and care to look after your spotting scope well should save you from having to pay for any repairs due to poor maintenance. It’s important to keep it clean without over-cleaning it which would risk damaging the delicate lens coatings.
What can you do to maintain your spotting scope and ensure your optics are always at their best? The best general rule to remember is to protect your spotting scope from extremes. Any extremes – of temperature, moisture, dirt or dust – can be harmful.
Most spotting scopes are robust and don’t need much in the way of technical maintenance. But knowing how best to keep your spotting scope clean and in good working order is a priority.
The main topics we will cover in this article are:
- Maintaining your spotting scope in top condition
- How to clean your spotting scope – lenses and body
- The best storage methods for your spotting scope
Here are some tips on how to care for your spotting scope so it will last you through all of your adventures with wildlife.
Keep spotting scopes as dry as possible
In wet weather, shelter your spotting scope from the rain, even if they are waterproof. There is no such thing as too much protection. A cover or rain guard is a crucial addition that will provide some shelter during light rain.
If you accidentally drop the spotting scope in water, retrieve it as soon as possible. Whether the scope is wet from precipitation or from immersion, dry it off thoroughly.
Spotting scopes 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. Fortunately, most good quality spotting scopes now include waterproofing as standard.
For waterproof spotting scopes that get exposed to salt water, or even dirty fresh water, rinse them off and use a clean soft cloth to dry them. (Be sure that they are definitely waterproof before doing this!)
It is important to rinse off the salt before rubbing them. Any salt particles left on the lens when it is being dried may scratch it.
Keep spotting scopes out of direct sunlight
Do not leave your spotting scope in direct sunlight for long periods of time. Place it in shade or store away from the sun where it will be cooler.
As far as possible, avoid subjecting the spotting scope to sudden changes in temperature.
Can heat damage spotting scopes?
It’s important to take care that the precision glass doesn’t get damaged as the spotting scope then cannot perform optimally.
Optical 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 the lenses to fog up.
Heat can affect the gases sealed inside the spotting scope. Many spotting scopes have gases like nitrogen or argon sealed inside them as a waterproofing and fogproofing measure.
The heat can cause these gases to expand and contract. So on hot days you may notice extra distortion, in addition to the mirages or heat waves already in the atmosphere.
Can I leave my spotting scope in the car?
Protecting your spotting scope from fluctuations in temperatures means taking it out of your car on a hot day. It may seem convenient to carry the spotting scope around, and to have it handy when you are out and about in the car.
Leaving a spotting scope in 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 scope somewhere where it will not go flying when you turn a sharp corner or need to make a sudden stop.
Will cold weather ruin spotting scopes?
There is some debate over whether optics 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 most optical devices.
Check the manufacturer’s specification as this will indicate an advised range of temperatures to which you can expose your spotting scope. If you plan to use yours in extreme cold, you could choose a spotting scope designed to function in this climate.
Is it bad for spotting scopes to get cold?
Extreme heat is more harmful to spotting scopes than the cold. The most tricky thing about spotting scopes 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 spotting scope 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 a lens 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 spotting scopes 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.
How to store spotting scopes
After being outdoors all day, condensation may form on the spotting scope’s cool glass surfaces when you bring it 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 the spotting scope out for a while. This lets it adapt to the new ambient temperature indoors.
Wipe off any excess moisture with an absorbent cloth for optics surfaces. Make sure the scope dries out thoroughly before putting it away in its case.
Water, heat and humidity can all reduce the life of your spotting scope. If you use your spotting scope infrequently, then it’s possible to store it with care and avoid glass mold.
Keeping spotting scopes free of fungi and mold
Glass mold is particularly harmful to optics. Even if it appears that you have removed the mold it may already have damaged the surface of the glass.
The best way to avoid glass mold is by storing your spotting scope in a dry place. If possible, store it in an airtight container with a desiccant that will absorb moisture from the surfaces.
For example, precautions like putting silica gel within the 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 the spotting scope in a completely clean case, different to the one that you usually transport it in. If you don’t have another case, when out in the field, leave your spotting scope case somewhere safe and clean so that it doesn’t get dirty.
Checking the spotting scope at intervals will prevent anything unfortunately happening during storage. Better still, do not keep it in the case all the time, to avoid mold growth setting in.
Store your spotting scope in a cool and dry place away from sunlight. Being in a room that has a constant temperature protects it from getting overheated or damaged by moisture.
How do I clean a spotting scope?
In the first instance, do your best not to allow dirt to settle on it, especially the lenses. Shelter the lenses from dust and water as much as you can to prevent them getting dirty.
Use the lens caps to protect the glass from scratches. Keep the lenses free of fingerprints by taking care not to touch them.
If you do notice smudges, be very careful with what you use to clean the glass. The manufacturer will probably recommend the best method, so it’s best to check their instructions.
Reading the manual is the first step. Particular chemicals or products could harm the scope. The manual will detail these so that you can avoid using them. The manufacturer may also have their own products to use with your optics.
In general it’s best not to use your clothing or any paper or tissues to clean lens surfaces. 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.
What should I clean a spotting scope with?
Before using a brush or cloth on the lens, try to remove any excess dust by holding the scope upside down and blow on the lens. Holding it in this way means firstly that the dirt can fall away and secondly that any stray specks of saliva will be less likely to reach the lens.
The best option to blow away the dust is to use a compressed air blower, on its lowest, most gentle setting.
Once you have removed any visible dirt by blowing on the lens, gently brush the lens with a soft bristled brush. A puffer brush is a worthwhile investment. It is a simple tool consisting of a little balloon attached to a soft brush. The combination will allow you to easily clean any dust off.
Lens cleaning pens are designed to be used for such delicate glass-cleaning purposes, hence the name. Another option is to use a soft brush, or to keep a soft cloth or special lens tissue to clean off any dirt.
Whatever you use, be gentle. And do it as little as possible. Over-cleaning can cause more harm than good.
Don’t use any household cleaning products, window cleaners or detergents as they will cause damage to the coatings or the sealing around the lens.
Use lens solution
Then spray the lens cloth (not the lens itself) with a specialized lens cleaning solution. Check that the solution you use is suitable for coated lenses.
The aim is to remove dirt without putting any pressure on it that would scratch the lens. With non-waterproof scopes, it is necessary to be extra careful when using liquids.
Wipe the lens with a circular rather than a back-and-forward motion. In the event that it does leave a mark on the lens, it is less likely to be noticeable. Most 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 the body of a spotting scope
Keep a separate clean cloth to wipe off the body of the scope.
It is easier to keep a tripod-mounted scope clean than handheld binoculars because scopes have less contact with our skin. Despite this, the housing of the scope 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 scope and accumulate.
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 onto your scope.
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 coating.
As with many potentially delicate or harmful alterations to your optics, 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 of the binoculars is well protected from any dirt creeping into the mechanism and causing problems.
How do you clean rubber spotting scopes?
Many scopes have a protective rubber coating. This can be cleaned with a damp cloth or sponge and some mild diluted dish-washing detergent. Take extra care not to get any on the lenses.
Once it is clean, rinse off the scope carefully and pat it dry with a soft clean cloth. There are also special silicon sprays available to clean the housing.
How do you remove stickiness or sticky residue on a spotting scope?
Giving your scope 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 scope has 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 the inside of a spotting scope
Dirt on the inside of spotting scope is easy to spot if you hold it up and look through the objective lenses.
Internal dirt is not a DIY job. Attempting to tackle this yourself may damage the optics and invalidate your warranty.It might seem simple but never attempt to open the scope yourself as it may affect their alignment. It’s best to contact the manufacturers and leave it to a professional.
Can a scope be serviced?
Using a professional to service your binoculars is the best route to take to be sure that the job is done properly using specialist 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 spotting scope serviced is a good opportunity to have it checked for any collimation issues. As with any kind of service of devices, a 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 do a service, and to repair any problems that they encounter in the course of the service.
Can a spotting scope be repaired?
Depending on the age of the spotting scope, it may still be under warranty. For that scenario, contact the manufacturer.
In any case, the manufacturer may be the most reliable option to repair your spotting scope even if it are not still within the warranty time frame or covered by any kind of guarantee or insurance.
In some instances the spotting scope may need to be stripped down and repaired. If waterproof or fogproof spotting scopes need to be opened up, then they will also need to be re-sealed and purged with nitrogen or argon afterwards.
In most cases, spotting scope can be repaired. This even includes the most technically challenging spotting scopes like zoom ones.
What you have to bear in mind is how severe the problem is. When weighed against the cost of a new spotting scope, is it worth repairing? Sometimes there are also extra costs to calculate, such as postage or transport to the repairer.
Could you trade it in instead? Some stockists may take your old scope in part exchange against the cost of a new set of optics.
How long should a spotting scope last?
There is not a limit on how long spotting scopes last. If they are correctly cared for – and you bought a quality one in the first place – then spotting scopes will go on for decades. You may get ten to fifteen years of regular usage out of a good quality spotting scope.
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 spotting scopes depends both on the quality of the build and on how much hard usage they get.
Regular care and servicing can extend the longevity and usable life of spotting scopes. It is worth investing time and energy into this kind of maintenance, because they are not the kind of instrument that goes out of date.
Manufacturers make excellent improvements to lens and prism coatings, and upgrade many aspects of the spotting scope. But the basic functions of a spotting scope do not change, which is why it is worth investing as much as you can comfortably afford.
To understand more about the internal components of spotting scopes, this article may offer extra information: All about Porro and roof prisms: how spotting scopes work
To give your spotting scope the best chance of lasting you for years to come, maintain it using the tips that we have given. Even though the spotting scope’s warranty may expire, it doesn’t mean that its lifespan will too.
We are definitely not arguing that you should only ever have one spotting scope for the rest of your life! Just take good care of the one that you already have and upgrade as your birding preferences evolve and your skills develop.
Care and cleaning of spotting scopes: next steps
If you want your spotting scope to last many decades to come, do your best to follow the tips we’ve provided here. These suggestions should help you care for your spotting scope so it lasts as long as possible and in great condition.
With the right attention and precautions, you’ll be able to get great use out of this wonderful tool with little worry over wear and tear or breakage.
- 1 Keep spotting scopes as dry as possible
- 2 Keep spotting scopes out of direct sunlight
- 3 How to store spotting scopes
- 4 How do I clean a spotting scope?
- 5 Exterior cleaning: how to clean the body of a spotting scope
- 6 How do you clean rubber spotting scopes?
- 7 Interior cleaning: how to clean the inside of a spotting scope
- 8 Care and cleaning of spotting scopes: next steps