Your tripod deserves a good cleaning if you don’t want to have to buy a new one every couple of years. Cleaning your tripod will help it last 10+ years and keep Gear Lust at bay. It also makes you feel like you just got a new piece of equipment for the cost of only 1-2 hours of mild effort.
What’s You’ll Need
Before you get to the cleaning part, you’ll need some supplies. I suggest the following:
- Cotton cloth.
- Soapy water in a bowl.
- Old toothbrush.
- Canned air or blower.
- Waterproof lubricant (marine grease, brake grease, etc.)
- Tools to disassemble your tripod (typically Allen wrenches, socket wrench or a screwdriver).
- Camera (ideally just a smartphone) so you can document how things came apart
- A small bowl for the small parts.
- Clean and clear working surface.
Disassemble the Legs
The first step to cleaning your tripod is taking it apart. A number of tripods come with the tools to disassemble them, but if not, a quick search of your owner’s manual will point you in the right direction.
I’m going to use two tripods as examples in this article because they should cover a wide range of options included on tripods on the market today. The first is a Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CT carbon fiber tripod with BBH-200 Ballhead and the second is the MeFoto Classic Aluminum Globetrotter Tripod/Monopod. The Vanguard has flip-lock on the legs, and the blue MeFoto has twist locks. This matters most in the leg section of the tutorial.
It’s important to take photos when cleaning your tripod the first time. This helps you remember what went where and how to put it all back together. I suggest using a clean surface, free of clutter so nothing gets lost.
Taking the legs apart
Twist locks, like those on the MeFoto, are straightforward. Simply twist the lowest section as if you are extending the leg, then keep twisting until the ring comes free.
Slide the lowest leg section from the one above it, being careful to not lose any plastic parts near the top of the tube. Under normal use, these plastic parts (typical of most tripods) help the leg section to not slide out under normal use. They are important don’t lose them!
Flip locks need a little extra help. In this case, the Vanguard requires the flip lock to be open and then use a Phillips head screwdriver to loosen the bolt.
Note that on the back side of the screw is a nut that needs to be retained. Not all tripods require complete removal of the screw/nut for the leg to slide free.
The top of each tripod leg also has a plastic retaining cap, the same as the twist lock, that may fall out when the leg is removed.
It’s also important to note that your tripod might have notches to help it align when assembled. In this case, the Vanguard has two small notches in each leg tube that fit in the gap between the top plastic cap. Keep in any rubber O-ring gaskets in the correct order.
Remove all legs pieces, laying them out in order. The Vanguard I am using also has an added shim that sits in the flip-lock mechanism and I need to keep this safe.
Once all the legs are removed, use the blower/compressed air to clear obvious dust, dirt, and sand. Next, dip your toothbrush in soapy water and scrub the remaining debris from threads and leg parts. Dry with a rag.
The tops, where the legs attach to the tripod head unit, may or may not have the ability to be dissembled. The Vanguard pictured is not user-friendly and the best I can do is to clean it with the toothbrush and blower.
The MeFoto tripod, however, has two easily removed screws which, when removed, allow me to clean the sliding mechanism underneath.
Wipe down the outside of the leg tubes with the damp rag.
The feet of tripods take the most abuse and deserve to be cleaned too, even if you will just get them dirty again tomorrow. The Vanguard pictured here has rubber feet to cover spikes which invite sand and debris aplenty.
The MeFoto has flat feet that can be screwed off (and replaced with other optional feet) which trap grit.
For removable feet, give them a dip in the soapy water and a scrub with the brush. Otherwise, use your blower and toothbrush to remove all dirt.
Let all the components dry thoroughly before moving on to reassembly (below).
Most tripod heads are not meant to be fully disassembled like the legs. The ball heads pictured here are sealed at the factory and can only be cleaned to a certain degree.
Remove any quick release plates and clean under and around them. Loosen up all twist-locks that tension the ball or swivel head and clean the threads the best you can.
Remove the head from the tripod and clean the underside with a damp cloth.
Both of my tripods have a removable hook on the bottom to hold a weight for stabilization. I will take those apart too and give them a cleaning.
When all parts are dry, it’s time to put everything back together. I suggest using the waterproof grease on threads that are meant to tighten and loosen. In my case, I’ll grease the threads of the MeFoto leg twist-locks and the control screws for the ball head.
Some people prescribe putting a little bit of grease in the ball head and working it around. This can be helpful, but I would check your owner’s manual first to see if the manufacturer recommends it or not.
Sliding the legs back together, make sure any notches are properly aligned and that plastic end caps are in place before assembly. It’s also important to ensure you aligned the flip-locks so they are all facing the right way. Tighten up all locks and give your tripod a quick run through to make sure nothing is too loose or too tight.
A properly cleaned tripod will last much longer than any camera body you will ever own. While you may want to upgrade to a lighter or stronger unit in the future, there’s no reason your current tripod can’t serve you well into the future.