How to sanitize equipment

We all know any equipment benefits from regular cleaning and that some love and care can do wonders. But who would have thought that sanitizing equipment would become so important – even outside medical environments? Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we need to think about the safety of ourselves and the crew using the equipment. Sanitizing your equipment has become essential.

When preparing to get back to work after months of lockdown, I did quite a lot of research on the subject of equipment sanitizing, but, honestly, it was hard to find anything reliable and truly helpful.

What I did realize is that there isn’t one perfect solution that works for all kinds of equipment and across all industries. That’s why I decided to write this blog post to share the best practices and workflows I am currently using as a video producer. As you can imagine, this post will focus mainly on audiovisual equipment.

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Prevention is better than cure

I’m a video producer myself, and I know that social distancing is not always easy on set. To prevent close contact, I replaced the lavalier microphones with a shotgun on a boom pole. If there is no other option, I let the interviewee attach the lavalier microphone themselves.

Avoiding sharing equipment may not always be possible, but do try to always use the same camera body, lenses, etc.

In researching how to sanitize AV equipment, I reached out to several manufacturers to ask about their best practices. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get the 100% safe answer I was looking for. If you really want to be on the safe side, I recommend putting your gear in quarantine for 72 hours. That’s the longest time COVID-19 can survive on plastics. So if the gear hasn’t been touched or breathed on in 72 hours, it should be safe again.

Help, I can’t put my gear in quarantine!

If keeping equipment for only one person to use or putting it in quarantine after every use is not an option, there are some ways to disinfect your equipment. I’ll explain what to do and what you want to avoid.

Let’s start with the don’ts. Even though ethanol and ammonia-based cleaners are good disinfectants, they should not be used to clean coated surfaces. They will cause damage and remove the coating off the surface

As mentioned in the user manuals of Canon, Sony, and Sigma, and might seem pretty obvious, do not use cleaners containing organic solvents, such as paint thinner or benzine to clean cameras and lenses. They could cause a fire or harm health.

What about the do’s, then? What you want to use is isopropyl alcohol. This is one of the safest disinfectants for equipment out there. If you're going to clean and sanitize glass or lenses, Fujifilm and B&H recommend using 99,9% isopropanol to ensure fast evaporation and minimize the streaking risk. For other surfaces, isopropanol, with 70% alcohol concentration, will do the trick.

Disinfecting alcohol

Isopropyl/isopropanol alcohol

Enough about alcohol. How do I use it? First of all, you should disinfect your hands or wear disposable gloves when cleaning or disinfecting equipment. Turn off the device and remove the battery before you start. Use a microfiber cloth to wipe everything clean and make sure you don’t forget any areas. While cleaning, you want to prevent moisture from entering inside the device or between gaps around the control panel or buttons. Disinfectant entering the equipment may result in extensive damage or failure due to corrosion. When you get to cleaning a touch-screen or control panel, carefully wipe from top to bottom and in one direction. For lenses use a new and clean lens wipe and spray or dab it in 99,9% isopropanol alcohol. Wipe the surface clean in a circular motion from the center to the edge of the optical element. Don’t use too much, and definitely don’t spray it directly onto the lens. Don’t use any paper wipes because they can damage glass surfaces.

Before you store the equipment, make sure all surfaces have air-dried after cleaning. Once your done, discard your gloves and thoroughly wash your hands using soap and water.

Let’s summarize:

  1. Use rubber gloves and disinfect your hands with alcohol.
  2. Blow/brush the surfaces clean of any debris using an air-blower or a duster.
  3. Dilute a clean microfiber or lint-free wipe in 70% isopropyl alcohol.
  4. Denatured alcohol is NOT recommended for cleaning equipment.
  5. Never spray any liquid solution directly onto the lens or equipment for the risk of droplets penetrating the barrel and contaminating internal surfaces.
  6. Wipe all surfaces until they are thoroughly cleaned.
  7. For lenses: Dab a new/clean lens towel/tissue in 99.9% isopropanol alcohol and wipe the surface clean in a circular motion from center to the edge of the optical element.
  8. For lenses: Ensure 99.9% isopropyl alcohol is used to ensure fast evaporation and minimize the chance of streaking.
  9. Let all surfaces dry.
  10. Denatured alcohol is NOT recommended for cleaning equipment.
  11. Regularly wash the used microfiber wipes.

How to organize your equipment room for COVID-19?

Sanitizing equipment is one thing. But how do you keep an overview of what has been cleaned and what hasn’t? I recommend creating two areas in your equipment room: one drop-off zone to disinfect all equipment and another table to check your equipment like you’re used to.

Now you have the luxury to disinfect the equipment in bulk and do the final check on a different table. That way, there won't be any confusion on what equipment still needs to be disinfected and what can be safely stored back in the equipment room. After you’re done, don't forget to disinfect the surfaces, doorknobs, and computers as well.

Make sure the people using your equipment know what to do when dropping off equipment.

Help them remember with our handy checklist. That's all, folks! Take care, and stay safe!

Jun 26, 2020 Written by Lieven