Cleaning and maintaining your underwater camera gear may not be the most fun part of underwater photography, but it is an important part of it. If you want to enjoy your camera set-up for a long time, it is essential that you take proper care of it.
A very important aspect of underwater camera gear maintenance is cleaning the o-rings on your set-up.
In this article, you are going to learn how you can clean and replace the o-ring on your camera housing.
The same work process might be applied to other o-rings on your underwater system (e.g. the o-rings on your strobes).
First of all:
Why is it important to keep your o-rings clean and intact?
The o-rings on your underwater camera system, be it the camera housing itself or the strobes, keep the system sealed. This is what prevents your camera from flooding. And let’s be honest: no one likes a flooded camera!
You want to keep your o-rings free from any sand, dust, dirt, or hair. Hair can be tricky because even the tiniest hair can cause problems with your o-rings, so pay special attention to it.
What do you need to clean your o-rings?
Before you get started with cleaning and maintaining your o-rings, make sure you have everything you need for the process.
A clean working environment
You want to work in a clean environment that is free of any “contaminants”. By contaminants, I mean any kind of sand, dust, dirt, or hair.
Especially if you have pets, make sure you’re working environment is completely free of pet hair.
You want to have good lighting when you exchange o-rings so that you can clearly see the area you are working on and any kind of hair, dust, particles that you want to keep away from your o-rings. Sitting by a big window could be a good idea, otherwise, any kind of bright light will do.
Tools you need
Luckily it’s very simple and you don’t need many tools. All tools should be provided with your underwater camera housing. If you don’t have all tools needed, you can buy spare parts and replacement kits.
Depending on the condition of your o-ring, you might have to replace it with a new one instead of just cleaning the old one.
O-ring silicone grease
Pay attention that it matches the brand of your equipment.
If you are going to clean the o-rings on your camera housing, the grease should match the brand of the housing manufacturer.
If you are going to lean the o-rings on your strobes, the grease should match the manufacturer of your strobes.
O-ring removal tool
The edges of your O-ring removal tool should be rounded. Never use anything sharp to remove or touch your o-ring, as it can very easily get damaged (and thus leak).
* Extra tip: if you don’t have a “professional o-ring removal tool” you can simply use your credit card.
Use a lint-free micro-fiber cloth to clean the groove that the o-ring sits in.
*Extra tip: make-up applicator swaps work really well to get deep into those crevices! Make sure you did not use it for make-up before, as you want to clean your gear not make it dirtier 😉
Depending on the condition of your old o-ring, you might need new o-rings to replace the old one if it is broken, torn, or damaged.
Step 1: Remove the o-ring from the gear it’s used on
The first step in our work process is to remove the o-ring from the groove it’s sitting in. In this case, remove your old o-ring from your camera housing.
There are two different methods to remove the o-ring from its groove.
Method 1: Removing the o-ring by using an o-ring removal tool
For removing your o-ring, make sure you are not using any tools that have sharp edges. Also, pay attention to your fingernails. You don’t want to accidentally damage the o-ring while maintaining it.
Using the o-ring removal tool, slide one edge slightly under the o-ring to carefully remove it from its groove.
If you do not have a special o-ring removal tool, you can use a credit card.
Method 2: Gently push the o-ring to lift it from its groove
Gently push on either side of the o-ring to carefully lift it from its groove.
For this method, you don’t need any tools. However, this method will not be possible for every kind of equipment. If your o-ring sits too deep inside the groove, you might have difficulty removing it with this method. In this case, use method 1.
Make sure not to lay your o-ring down
While you are working on your o-ring, make sure not to put it down. O-rings tend to have silicone grease on them, and it is exactly that grease that might cause it to pick up and dust, particles, or contaminants very easily.
Instead of laying it down, keep it on your hand or one of your fingers to keep it lifted while you are preparing other tools.
Whatever you do, make sure you never stretch the o-ring too much. Only use very light pressure to handle your o-ring
Step 2: Inspect and clean the groove where your o-ring sits in
The next step is to carefully inspect and clean the groove to make sure there are no contaminants left on it before replacing your o-ring.
This is where your tools like the micro-fiber cloth and the make-up applicator will come in. Use them to deeply clean the groove and remove any particles, hair, old grease, or sand.
Pay special attention to any tighter crevices, hinges, e.g. on the housing door.
Don’t forget to check the opposite sealing surface (the door of your housing).
Step 3: Inspecting and cleaning the o-ring
Now we are moving on to inspecting the o-ring itself.
First of all, check if your o-ring is still good to use, or if you need to replace it with a new one.
Visually inspect it: how does the shape of your o-ring look?
If your o-ring looks very worn out, you might want to replace it.
If your o-ring is very dirty, you can use hot, soapy water to clean it. If you have been taking good care of your o-ring so far, this step won’t be necessary.
If your o-ring still looks okay, you can move on with the next step.
Next, you want to inspect the o-ring with your fingers. Again, make sure you don’t have any cuts or sharp edges on your fingernails and clean hands.
Gently touch the o-ring and feel for any bumps, particles, or cuts. Even the smallest cut can cause a leaking.
Rotate the o-ring gently between your thumb and forefinger to remove any particles that might have ended up on it.
Make sure not to apply too much pressure. You don’t want to overstretch it!
Under good lighting carefully inspect that you have removed any contaminants.
Make sure your o-ring is completely clean before applying grease.
Step 4: Applying o-ring (silicone) grease
Once your o-rings are completely clean, you will apply a small amount of o-ring grease.
One of the most common mistakes in o-ring care is to apply too much grease. It should be about the size of a grain of rice or even smaller.
Make sure the o-ring grease you are using is from the same brand as your equipment (in this case your housing).
Squeeze out a small amount of grease onto your finger, not the o-ring directly.
Distribute it evenly on your o-ring: spread it between your thumb and forefinger, then gently pull your o-ring between your thumb and forefinger (again, not too much pressure!).
Do several rounds and rotate your finger position slightly, to make sure you contact all sealing surfaces.
In the end, you want to have a thin, shiny, even layer of grease on your o-ring.
Step 5: Replace the o-ring into the sealing surface of the groove
Once you have cleaned your o-ring and applied a new, thin layer of silicone grease, you can carefully replace it into the groove.
Now the question remains…
How often should I clean and maintain my o-rings?
Great question, my dear! The answer is: it depends.
If you dive in very sandy or silty areas where particles can easily creep into the crevices, you will want to maintain your o-rings more often.
You will want to check your o-rings before every single dive, tough.
This does not mean that you need to clean or replace it that often. But if you can already see (sometimes from far!) that there are some sand grains, hair, or other particles stuck on it: you guessed it- it’s time to maintain your o-rings!
You will also want to maintain, clean, and possibly replace it before and after any dive trip you are planning.
It would be too bad to ruin your trip, just because of a lack of maintenance before!
Whenever you are going on a dive trip, it’s also a good idea to bring all tools and spare parts necessary for your underwater photo equipment. For a detailed pack list of what to bring on your trip as an underwater photographer, check out this article I’ve written.
And if you want to prepare the best way you possible can for your trip to ensure that you will come back with incredible underwater pictures of all the fantastic moments on your dives, you can sign up today for my online course “The Secrets of Underwater Photography”.
I hope this article helped you!
Are you a fan of maintaining your underwater photo gear? Or is it more of a necessary evil for you? Let me know in the comments!