A system is only as strong as its weakest link. In terms of microscopes, this often means that a smudged lens can drastically reduce visibility and can even trick you into thinking you’re looking at something that you’re not. However, keeping a microscope lens clean is actually a very easy process. It’s especially hassle-free if you take care of it properly with each use instead of letting it get visibly grimy and dirty. Below, we go over a few simple steps to help you keep your lens clean.
Cover Your Microscope
The first step to a clean microscope really is an easy one–keep your microscope covered. Most microscopes come with a cover. If yours has been damaged or lost, it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to find and order a new one. Microscope covers can’t keep you from accidentally leaving fingerprints on the glass, but it can prevent dust buildup. Sometimes just a little bit of dust can be invisible to the naked eye, but can significantly impede your view of the specimen. Microscope covers are especially important in busy labs, where high foot traffic can increase the odds of sticky or damaging substances getting spilled on equipment.
Gloves aren’t just used to protect your fingers from hazardous substances. They can also go a long way in protecting sensitive objects from your fingers. Thinking about all the substances that collect on our fingers over the course of a day isn’t necessarily a pleasant thought, and is definitely a good argument for frequent hand washing. However, that extra latex layer of protection is a foolproof barrier between the oils, dirt, and fluids that could be built up on your fingertips and the sensitive microscope lens.
Less Is Best
Most manufacturers will tell you to mess with the lenses as infrequently as possible. Obviously, a good cleaning is bound to be necessary at some point, but always approach lightly. If you see a speck of dust or dirt on the lens, try blowing it off with a squeeze bulb. Never blow directly onto a lens, as moisture and/or other materials can escape your mouth and make the lens even dirtier than when you started. If the dust or dirt is particularly stubborn, use a camel hair brush to lightly brush away the dirt. Another option is using a compressed air can, like the kind used to clean computer keyboards.
Other Lens Cleaners
Kimwipes, and other specially designed lint-free wipes made with optical parts in mind, are excellent for wiping tougher stains. Always swipe consistently in the same direction. Avoid using circular or random motions when wiping microscope lenses. Never use paper towels or other tissue that was not designed specifically for lenses, as those will likely leave more lint than they take away.
A simple microscope cleaning kit contains everything you need and is usually very affordable. These kits include brushes, bulbs, wipes and cleaning fluid. It’s best practice to use liquids sparingly when cleaning your lens–and only when you absolutely need to. Your first attempt at using a solvent should be with distilled water. If that doesn’t produce the intended results, you can move up to isopropyl alcohol. Never, ever use acetone on or near plastic parts, as it can dissolve plastic and paint. The cleaning fluid contained in most lens cleaning kits should be manufacturer-approved and safe for all lenses.
Microscopes can be finicky if mistreated, so it’s wise to adhere to the manufacturer’s protocol when cleaning them. If you no longer have the data sheets that came with the microscope, a customer service representative should be able to answer all your cleaning questions. Keeping your microscope covered and treating it carefully should help keep the lenses clean and lasting a lifetime.
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