How to Clean a Rifle Scope Lens

Everything you Should Know about How to Clean a Rifle Scope Lens Correctly and Safely!

When I see how some shooters clean their rifle scope lens it makes me cringe. I can’t recall how many times I’ve seen a shooter use their shirt tail to wipe off the lens of a two thousand dollar rifle scope.

I don’t expect my students to know the correct procedure for cleaning their optics – after all, that’s part of my job as a firearms shooting instructor. But I’m amazed at how many experienced shooters have never been taught how to clean a rifle scope lens.

My Background

I served as a Scout Sniper in the United States Marine Corp and as a SWAT sniper with a Metropolitan Atlanta, GA police department. I became a shooting instructor for a federal law enforcement agency and head shooting instructor of my own shooting academy.rob sheppard teaches proper rifle scope lens cleaning procedure

The training I received in the CORP instilled in me how important it is to clean the lens of your rifle scope correctly. As a sniper your mission and your very life depends on your ability to identify and eliminate your designated target.

A dirty scope lens makes the job more difficult than it already is – especially at long ranges.  And a lens that has been scratched by improper cleaning could mean a failed mission.

The cleaning procedures I have laid out in this article are techniques I have learned through the years. And when used correctly you can clean your rifle scope lens so its spotless and without damaging it.

Is it Important How you Clean a Rifle Scope Lens?

Lenses are made from various grades of glass depending on the quality of the scope. Although glass itself is a hard material it can be easily scratched by rubbing it with an abrasive . Our cloths collect tiny particles of silica that get blown around in the ambient air.

Wiping a piece of glass with a piece of clothing that has embedded silica will produce fine scratches. These fine scratches on a lens can create a clouded or blurred area when looking through the scope impairing your view of the target.

Spraying or pouring a liquid cleaner on your scope lens could breach the seal.  This could void the warranty and you would be stuck with a steep repair bill.  These cautions are why its important to observe proper cleaning procedure.

Lens Caps or Covers

As the old saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!  Nothing could be more true when it comes to protecting your scope lenses.

If you make it a habit of closing or installing your lens caps the moment you are through shooting you will greatly reduce the frequency of cleaning.  There is always dust in the air and some of it will inevitably end up on your lenses.

Investing in a set of good quality Rifle Scope Lens Caps that form a protective seal will go a long way to preserving your expensive scope.

How Often Should I Clean my Scope Lens?

When it comes to cleaning a scope lens, more is decidedly NOT better.  I highly recommend that unless you have finger prints, big water spots, or dried mud splatters on the scope that you just blow or correctly brush off the dust and otherwise, leave your optics alone.

Lens Coatings

The coatings on your lenses are the most fragile thing in the whole works.  Military-grade coatings have to pass a “cheesecloth” test where the coating is rubbed with, you guessed it, a cheesecloth until the coating is damaged.

The important point here is that coating damage from rubbing is cumulative. I have seen many pairs of binoculars, a few rifle scopes, and lots of telescopes where the user, in their zeal to keep their optics clean, had literally rubbed the coatings off.

Cleaning Items and Supplies You Will Need

To do any job correctly you need the right tools.  Same holds true with cleaning a rifle scope lens.

The items and supplies listed below are what I use and keep in a designated Pelican Case that I can stash in my range bag.  It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate but it does need to be air-tight to prevent contamination.

NOTE: Just CLICK on the images to see product on Amazon.


Blower Bulb:

Giottos AA1903 Rocket Air Blaster Lens Cleaner - Large
You can get these at any camera store. Some shooters like to use canned air, but this can get you in trouble.

If you get the can a little bit too close to upside down, the liquid air will come out, and this stuff usually leaves a stain on your lenses when it dries that you will then have to clean off.

This is the blower bulb I use and recommend.


Camel Hair Brushes:

Camel Hair Brushes
A genuine Camel Hair Brush is the only type of brush that should ever be used on a rifle scope lens.

Keep the brushes in a Ziplock, and periodically wash it with Ivory soap, allow to air dry, then rinse out with your lens cleaning alcohol (See Below) and allow to air dry.

Alternately, you can throw them away after each use, if you’re not the frugal type like me. You should rarely use these, and they’re fairly cheap.


Good Quality Lens Tissue:

The best ones I have found are the Pec-Pads from Photographic Solutions.

The 4×4 inch size works great for tactical optics. In a pinch, plain white (no printed designs and not special in any other way).  NEVER use common facial tissue or toilet paper!  It contains small PEC PAD Lint Free Lens Wipes 4"x4"amounts of silica and other grit that which will scratch your optics.

No matter what you use, keep it sealed in a Ziplock bag and only open it long enough to take out one sheet of tissue at a time. Also, don’t take a sheet out, lay it down on something, then pick it up again and use it to clean your optics. The tissue will pick up dust and you will scratch your lenses.

This may seem obvious, but it’s the easiest thing to forget, and we all have done or will do it at some point.


Optic Cleaning Fluid:

The fluid that is packaged and marketed as Optic Cleaning Fluid is basically 100% Isopropyl Alcohol.  In a pinch you could use 90% typically found in drug stores but the remaining 10% is water which we are trying to avoid.Photographic Solutions Eclipse 0.5 oz. Optic Cleaner for Lenses  What ever you do, don’t use the 70% or you will leave water spots on your lens you are trying to clean!

Alcohol absorbs water from the atmosphere very well, so keep your alcohol for lens cleaning in a small, tightly sealed container to minimize this. Otherwise, if the alcohol absorbs enough water, you might start to see water spots on your optics after cleaning them, once the alcohol has evaporated away.

The easier option is just to grab a bottle of Optic Cleaning Fluid that comes in a small bottle for dispensing small amounts.  This is the one I use because its readily available and cheap.


Lens Cleaning Procedure

The Correct Way to Clean a Rifle Scope Lens!

I am absolutely certain that some very fine shooters who will read this article and disagree with the way I recommend cleaning scope lenses. There is no doubt there is more than one way to skin a cat. The procedures I have outlined below have worked consistently for me, my students, and many top shooters.

They have been tested and proven to be highly effective at removing dirt, dust, finger prints, and water spots without damaging an expensive scope lens.

NEVER attempt to disassemble your optics to clean the insides. If your optics require internal cleaning, you need to send them back to the manufacturer to be cleaned.


1) Dust Removal:

If you need to clean your optics, first use the brush to get all the dust off the lens. Gently brush from one side of the lens to another until you can see no more dust on the lens. Most of the time, this will be good enough, and you can stop right here.

2) Fingerprint & Water Spot (and the like) Removal:

If you have fingerprints or water spots on your lens, you will have to go further. If you have dried mud splatters, do Step 3 below first.

Take a piece of lens paper and dampen (do not soak) it with alcohol. Never directly spray or pour alcohol or any other liquid onto a lens, as this can lead to the solvent wicking around the edges of your lens mounts and to the inside of your optic. Tactical optics should be sealed, but why take the chance?

Now, gently brush the alcohol onto the lens by pulling the lens paper from one side of the lens to another, using ONLY the weight of the lens paper itself to press the paper against the glass. The idea here is that the solvent (alcohol) is supposed to do the work of removing the stain. The paper is only a vehicle for safely applying the solvent.

After one pass, discard this piece of lens paper and repeat with a new one. This will prevent any dust you missed with the brush that was picked up by the first piece of lens paper from being drug back across the lens, possibly scratching it. If you have a stubborn fingerprint, it is ok to use slightly more pressure than the weight of the paper to try to remove it, but in no case should you grab the scope, stick your thumb on a piece of lens paper, and commence to scrubbing the lens. I guarantee such a procedure will scratch your lens.

Once you have gotten the lens as clean as you want it, allow the alcohol to evaporate. Don’t wipe the lens dry, even if the alcohol leaves behind a couple of water spots. They will not hurt anything.

3) Mud/Stubborn Stain Removal:

At this point you really should be done, unless you have dried mud splatters on your scope. If you do, dampen your camel’s hair artist’s brush with alcohol and gently work on the splatters until you have dissolved them and carried all the grit off the lens.

Once you have done this, do Step 2 above, but only after you are certain that you have gotten all the grit off your lens. If you need to, wash out the camel’s hair brush periodically to remove the grit from it, too. Once you are done, either wash the camel’s hair brush out, or discard it.


That about covers it. To recap, the cardinal rules are:shep giving one on one shooting instruction

  1. Less is more in lens cleaning. Only do what you have to.
  2. Keep your alcohol dry and your lens paper sealed away from dust.
  3. Only use each piece of lens paper for one pass across your lenses.
  4. Never pour or spray a liquid onto your lenses.

By following these procedures, you should be able to safely clean your optics without damaging them.

Professional Firearm Training

shep demonstrating combat carbine techniqueRifle scope lens cleaning is just one of the subjects I cover in detail in my Precision Long Range and Sniper Rifle Courses.  We also offer courses in Combat Carbine, Combat Pistol, Combat Shotgun as well as Specialized courses.

Our certified instructors are highly experienced shooters who have trained with some of the most prestigious military units and law enforcement agencies in the world.

For more information on professional firearm training visit our website at Precision Applications, LLC.