Camera O-Rings 101

Posted: May 24, 2013

Have you ever had a camera housing flood? If so, chances are good that it was "user error". That's a nice way of saying that YOU are probably responsible in that you may not have maintained your o-ring properly. To save you future headaches (and heartaches!), we thought it was time to share the steps of thorough o-ring care with you.

First, open your housing and remove the o-ring. Sounds pretty simple, but the way you remove oring removalyour o-ring can have consequences down the road. I recommend an o-ring removal tool (if your housing came with one) or a simple credit card (if you have an old department store card it is nice to just keep it in a small box with your cleaning essentials). Slide the corner of the tool or card under the o-ring and slide it over to a corner to remove the o-ring, stretching the o-ring the least amount possible. I know a lot of people who “pinch” the o-ring at the corner but that requires you to stretch it more to make the o-ring come out enough to get a grip on the slippery o-ring.

Next, clean the o-ring with a clean cloth. I don’t mean a paper towel that looks pretty clean…I mean a clean cloth like a newly washed microfiber cloth or something similar that does not have any fibers or hairs on it. I use a product called Kimtech Kimwipes which is a lens kimwipescleaning tissue for cameras or laboratory optics. They come in a box like Kleenex and are very handy for the camera, lenses, housing glass and also the o-rings. They are also pure white so it is easy to tell when you are no longer getting dirt off the o-ring.

Note here: remember step #1. You don’t want to stretch the o-ring out as you work your way around the o-ring wiping it off, so try not to stretch it at all. I just try to slide it around against the cloth gently rolling the kimwipe so it is constantly getting a new clean surface as I move the o-ring around. Repeat on several new spots until there is no more dirt and gunk showing up on the kimwipe or cloth.

Clean the groove the o-ring sits in. You can use the kimtech wipes, microfiber cloth or q-tips fit very well into this groove. A word of caution on the q-tips: make sure you look theoring groove groove over 360 degrees for stray cotton fibers that the q-tips like to leave behind. Any fibers, hair or sand can be potential ways to make your fancy new camera a great paperweight. Be diligent and take your time!!!

Another tip I have learned along the way is to slide your q-tip or cloth around in one fluid motion. When I first started, I was going back and forth about two or three inches at a time working my way around the o-ring groove. This increases the possibility that gunk you have gathered up is going to be left behind at each backward swipe. Instead, start the q-tip at one spot and smoothly go all the way around the groove until you get back to your starting point. Swap ends of your q-tip or spot on the cloth and continue again and again until your cleaning tool comes out clean.

Now do the same process for the surface where the o-ring fits against on the inside part of the housing. Use one sweep around the entire surface and repeat until you come up clean. Look for any sand, hair or other particles that are in the area that could get lodged in the way and remove them.

Lube up your o-ring using a small (!!!) amount of silicone. Make sure you use the type recommended by your housing manufacturer or there is a chance the silicone will not play nicely with your o-ring…resulting in a o-ring lubepaper weight! I place a small amount on my finger and dab about half of it on the o-ring and the other half on the opposite side of the o-ring. Slide your finger and thumb around the o-ring in both directions until it is evenly spread around. You are looking for a wet look to the o-ring, and you should not have any globs of silicone anywhere (if so, you used too much!). As you are sliding your fingers around the o-ring, use this opportunity to feel for any nicks or cuts in the o-ring. If you feel anything that is not absolutely smooth, swap to a new o-ring (It is good to have a spare one on hand).

Make sure the inside of your housing lens is clean and does not have any water drops on it before you replace the camera.

Replace your camera in the housing, making sure you have a new battery and an empty memory card installed. As you close up your housing do a last look around for hair, sand, fibers or even crumbs from your snack of choice. Make sure you remember to put in a desiccant pack or two to keep your camera from fogging. I have also heard of people placing dried and flattened sponges inside the housing with the thought the sponge could absorb a lot of water before it would get to the camera.

Many housings these days have a clear or see-through back.Use that to your advantage if you have one of those; otherwise, look at the side of the housing to watch the o-ring as you are slowly closing the door. Watch the o-ring to make sure it is still seated in the groove properly as you close it up.

Power up your camera, take a picture and make sure your strobe set up or flash fires.

camera reflected in maskDunk your camera, housing and strobes at home in a bucket of fresh water before you go to the beach. Keep the lens generally pointed down as you submerge it (that way, if any water leaks in it will flow down to the lens port area where you are less likely to lose the camera).Watch for bubbles which is the tell tale sign of a leak. If you see any signs of a leak, take it out, dry it off immediately and figure out the cause of the leak.

Keep your bucket filled up so when you come home you can go ahead and soak your housing after the dive. Warm (not hot) water works best so I usually add some hot water to the bucket to get the temp of the bucket to “warm”. Remember to push the buttons and work all the controls in the water and let them soak after working the buttons. Once you've rinsed it, remove the housing from the water and dry it off, paying close attention to the lens to make sure you don’t get any water spots!

If all else fails, attach some pipe cleaners to your drowned camera, some Mr Potato Head eyeballs and a small dive flag to mourn it’s death and make the world’s best paperweight for your receipts and flyers from your last dive trip. (Stay tuned for our future post on what to do when/if you flood your camera).

If you're interested in more self-study on photography, you can always check out PADI's online course. And, of course, we're always here to teach you, whether you want to book a photo dive or just come in for some more tips! I love to talk story about diving or photograpy and am always looking for hints, budget photo ideas, and fantastic spots to photograph too!


(the designated new guy at Maui Dreams)

Are you a human? If so, please enter the text displayed in the following image

Ahmed Seago
September 24, 2013 @ 12:10 am

Another sound cool allotment about camera o-ring clean up methods. I'm really very benefited to know proper methods of cleaning. Thanks

Teri Leonard
May 24, 2013 @ 9:20 pm

Excellent article Shad! One additional thought. Be sure to soak the camera housing in fresh water and then thoroughly dry the housing before opening it. You don't want any water droplets entering the housing when you open it. BTW...I have a collection of several lovely paperweights:) Teri

May 24, 2013 @ 8:15 pm

Great write up on o-ring and sealing surface maintenance. Following these guidelines will definitely prevent your camera from becoming a 'paperweight'

Michael Roberts
May 24, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

Shad, the compression fit is not a type of o-ring, it's the way the parts seal. Many housing backs are the compression type. That is, the o-ring just smooshes (that's the scientific term) flat rather than slides into place on the sides like a piston in a motor. Most all Ikelite housings use a compression seal for the backs. If the Kimtechs are dry, they would be perfect. I thought they had the lens cleaner on them. Also, I like the cheap paper towels for this. The better ones leave fiber behind but the cheap ones don't. Again - good article.

Oren Noah
May 24, 2013 @ 4:19 pm

Shad: I couldn't find them at first, either. I had to ask a female. She reached right out for them and gave me the "stupid guy" look. Still, it was worth it.

May 24, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

Michael thanks for the info...I don't think I have seen a compression type fitting o-ring before. I will have to check one of those out. The Kimtech wipes do not have any solvent or alcohol, they are like a dry lens tissue paper. I will throw a couple in my backpack I take to work and you can check them out the next time you come into the store. I love em!!!

May 24, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

Rachel a tshirt is a great idea and is also a great price! Oren I went out specifically looking for that sort of thing one day in an attempt to get away from the stray cotton fibers. I went to WalMart and looked in the makeup area and couldn't find any, but I wasn't looking for match books so I may have over looked them. I also looked in the hardware and craft sections for the small foam paint brushes but they weren't "budget" enough for me. Thanks for the tip!

Michael Roberts
May 24, 2013 @ 3:42 pm

Oops, I forgot. I don't think the Kimtech wipes are a good idea - especially if they have any kind of solvent or alcohol in them. Stick with water to be safe.

Michael Roberts
May 24, 2013 @ 3:38 pm

Well written article on an important subject. Please allow me to add a few of thoughts. 1) foam q-tips as per Oren - excellent choice. Regular q-tips are too hairy. 2) if the o-ring is fitted into a compression closure, that is it doesn't slide on the side like a piston, it does not need lube. When a o-ring doesn't need lube, it is usually best to not use it. An example would be the backs of Ikelite DSLR housings. If the o-ring is on piston type enclosure - that is it slides into it's slot with o-ring rubbing against a surface - it absolutely needs lube. An example of this would be an Ikelite lens port. Keep in mind that the lube is for sliding the o-ring into place and NOT to make the seal. 3) The sponge inside is a great idea. A Tampon cut to fit also works well and often fits nicely in an unused corner. 4) for those that aren't lucky enuf to dive all year long, store your o-rings in plastic ziplock bags with a bit of lube on them. This will keep them from drying out and becoming brittle.

Oren Noah
May 24, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

Rather than Q-tips, which can leave stray cotton behind, I use eye shadow makeup applicators. They have a white foam rubber tip, which picks up dirt and contaminates from the sealing surfaces and leaves nothing behind. They come in what look like match books and their dirt cheap.

Rachel Domingo
May 24, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

Great blog, Shad! I find that once a t-shirt has been washed a couple of times, it can also be a good, lint free cloth. What do you think?