Removing Fungus From the Inside of a Lens




I was sent an Industar 11n 450mm large format lens from the Ukraine on a trade deal. It was disclosed that it had fungus that was not cleanable and was thrown in as a bonus item. It may function ok depending on lighting angles etc. --"good for soft focus"--that sort of thing.

I repaired my lens not thinking about taking before pictures (like an idiot). I sent the photos of the fixed lens to my Ukrainian vendor friend. He stated in a facebook chat, " The industar - WOW! It looks like a miracle. When I send it to you, I'm wrote you, that it looks inside like relic from fungus, which someone cant clean. You definitely need to make new tutorial on this!"

My vendor thankfully had photos before he sent it to me and here you can see the fungus.

Supplies needed:

Muratic Acid- available from decent hardware stores and swimming pool supply outlets. Often sold as concrete floor cleaner and toilet bowl cleaner

Baking Soda--most folks have this in their kitchen. a teaspoon or 2 should do

5-6 Q-tips or generic "cotton buds" as they are called outside of the USA in general

a shot glass with some water

a microfiber cloth--eyeglass cloth or lens cleaning cloth

Latex or Nitril gloves

Ceramic or glass dish

paper towels

CAUTIONARY : Muriatic acid is nasty stuff. Wear your grubbiest t-shirt and holy jeans. Do all measuring-pouring over a sink and wear gloves and optionally eye protection. Measure out only a capfull of the acid and have additional baking soda handy to neutralize any spills. Keeping everything in a glass dish with a fairly high wall or lip will minimize any chance of damage to any environmental surfaces.

These steps may not be suitable for all lenses. You should NOT undertake disassembly of electronic autofocus lens or get in over your head on your mechanical capabilities. I'm showcasing a very simple barrel lens with an iris that required NO TOOLS to disassemble. You might need things like a spanner wrench to make disassembly possible. If you fumble or invert a lens that's been disassembled the iris blades can come out of their positions and that's a lot of fun getting the layering right on those again.

Consider any lens with a pronounced fungus issue disposable but do proceed with all due caution. The easiest thing in the world is to be spendy with other people's money.

From constructive feedback on my process lets look at the harsh chemicals potential effect on lens coatings. Only use the acid bath on surfaces impacted by the fungus as the fungus has already done it's damage to the coatings there. Lens coatings help newer lenses with color balance, light transmission and flare/glare. Older lenses (pre WW2) are generally uncoated. In this exercise I did NOT acid wash the front & rear elements as they had no fungus so any coatings on them have remained intact. The clarity through the lens has been restored. Most modern camera lenses are hard coated with Magnesium Flouride at high temperatures bonding it to the glass and abrasives like Cerium Oxide has to be used or Hydroflouric Acid to remove those coatings

Step 1: Disassemble the Lens and Layout Wet & Dry Areas

For the sake of an interesting tutorial I'm recreating the steps with photos

The first step is to define your environment and put everything to be treated for fungus in a wet containment area ( the pyrex dish in this case) and everything that needs to stay dry OUT. You'll want to open the lens to it's widest aperture and leave it "parked" there as shown in the 2nd photo. DO NOT get any acid-baking soda or water in the iris leaf assembly and avoid touching the iris leaf blades with bare fingers--your fingerprint oils will rust them out over time. Remove the elements and put the barrel off to the side.

In the dish with the lens elements is the capfull of the muriatic acid--if it spills it's contained.

Step 2: Acid Bath

Simply dip the q-tip or cotton bud in the capfull of muratic acid and gently swirl it on the fugus on the elements, If you have an element assembly and the fungus is between 2 elements that are cemented together that portion cannot be cleaned. Not even I will try to split cemented elements.

Spend about 30 seconds scrubbing each impacted element and set them back in the dish

Step 3: Neutralize the Acid With a Tip Spoon of Baking Soda

Place a small tip of a spoon's worth of baking soda on the element still wet with the acid--it will fizz & react. Add a few drops of water to make a slurry paste.

Step 4: Scrub the Lens With the Baking Soda Slurry

Grab a fresh q-tip and work the baking soda slurry around to make sure all the acid is neutralized--again a good 30 seconds of gentle rubbing. Remove the leftovers with a very damp paper towel

Step 5: Buff Dry

After all the baking soda/water/acid is removed use a microfiber lens cloth to give it a shine

Step 6: Post Cleaning

Here we have the lens in various lighting/angles. All that nasty orange peel cellulite fungus aftermath has been removed as well as any internal dust. I did not ruin my glass or my iris leaves and my Ukranian vendor was impressed. Now for a sample shot after making a lensboard. This will be going on an 18x24cm FKD soviet view camera

Step 7: Raw Test Image

Xray film in home made Leica News divided developer. f/90 for 5 seconds . Overcast day but scene looks good



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    10 Discussions


    11 months ago on Step 6

    Hi! Really enjoyed your post. What would you do with this? It is a Leica R 19mm Elmarit. The rest of the lens is perfect, but the front element is insanely messy. Thanks a lot!

    2 replies

    Reply 11 months ago

    If that is growing between cemented elements that you cannot access or separate you can bombard it with UV light to try and kill the fungus


    Reply 11 months ago

    If you can get the elements apart another good anti fungal treatment for active fungus is a 50 50 mix of isopropyl alcohol and hydrogen peroxide


    Reply 1 year ago

    please comment back with your results after you clean your lens


    2 years ago

    The only problem I see with your method of cleaning is that it removed the coating on the lenses. Not a big deal on cheap lenses but on high end lenses it destroys the value of the lens. Photographic lenses, almost all optical lenses for that matter, have coatings that help with light transmission and antiglare, thru the lens glare, and color balance. Any process that scrubs or chemically cleans will damage the coating and the light transmission of the lens.

    2 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    The lens clarity from the fungus was already destroyed--this process restored the clarity. Only clean the internal surfaces affected by the fungus, coatings on front & rear are not inpacted. I will be testing the lens this weekend to see what I get and it was a $5 lens that was junk otherwise.Looking through it on ground glass it looks great but film will really tell the story. I shoot exclusively B&W through the 18x24cm (roughly 8x10) view camera so color coatings are not a deal breaker for this application, but they remain intact on the front & rear elements


    Reply 2 years ago

    Also, depending on how the lens is coated the acid may/may not remove it. Soft coatings applied by a chemical dip like eyeglass coatings are prone to harsh chemicals. Hard coatings of magnesium flouride from modern lenses must be removed with an abrasive like cerium oxide--you cant remove them with muratic acid