It’s important to clean your tripod now and then. We try to clean ours about twice a year – more often if we’ve been shooting in sand, salt water, or swamps. Grains of sand can work their way into the grooves and threads of your tripod. You’ll know it’s time to start scrubbing if you hear a grinding or grating sound as you turn the knobs or make adjustments to the tripod. Salt water can corrode some metals – so you should rinse your tripod after shooting at the beach. And swamp water – well, the bacteria that grows in swamps can climb right into your tripod legs and just hang out there… multiplying happily until you open your tripod and discover that it really stinks! Cleaning the tripod isn’t particularly difficult… though it can take some time. Jay and I usually clean both tripods at once, so we set aside an hour or so to get the job done.
The first step is to take the tripod apart. Each tripod will be different. Jay and I both have Induro Carbon Fiber Tripods, but they are different models, and the parts are slightly different. However, since they both have twist lock leg mechanisms, they come apart in the same way. We loosen them the same way we would if we wanted to extend the leg segment, and then we keep on twisting in the same direction until the leg detaches. Locking clips will require a different set of steps – some have removable screws, and some are held in place by pins that are not removable. If your tripod doesn’t come apart, don’t sweat it. You can still clean your tripod. We’ll get to that in a minute.
The important thing is to keep track of where all those little pieces go, so that you can put it all back together when you are done. If you are worried about putting it all back together, take some photos for reference as you work. You may find that there are more pieces than you expected. This photo shows Varina’s Induro tripod, all taken apart. Notice that we didn’t remove the screws that hold the top of the legs to the center piece. We find that they don’t usually need to be removed for cleaning.
Once the tripod is in pieces, we fill up the sink with hot, soapy water and get down to business. We use dish soap to clean each piece by hand. There’s no particular brand that we recommend – but do use dish soap, since it cuts through grease and won’t leave a residue. I use a soft scrubbing pad to clean each part, and an old toothbrush to get the threads clean. I generally keep a small bowl of dish soap handy. I dip my toothbrush into it now and then so that I can get through the grease. You’ll need to scrub the threads carefully to remove any grease that is stuck in there… along with sand, silt, and slime. 🙂 Then a quick rinse, and we lay it all out on a cloth to dry.
Keep in mind that rough-cut edges of metal or carbon fiber can give you splinters! Our carbon fiber tripods tend to lose tiny, sharp shards from the ends of the leg segments. I pulled two out of my fingers the last time I cleaned my tripod. Ouch! You can wear rubber gloves to protect your skin. They’ll keep the grease off your hands and keep your fingers from getting all wrinkly, too. 🙂
If your tripod doesn’t come apart, just flush out each joint with hot, soapy water. You can use a small brush to get into the little grooves and openings to clean them out as well. Adjust your locking clips and slide the legs in and out under sudsy water if you can. That will help to loosen any grit that is trapped in tight places. You should be able to get the tripod pretty clean that way. Extend all the legs and allow it to dry thoroughly before putting it away.
Once the pieces are clean and dry, it’s time to put the tripod back together. You need to use a small amount of lithium grease to keep everything working smoothly. This photo shows how much we use.
A little goes a long way – and if you put too much, you’ll just end up having to wipe it off later. We put a little bit of grease on the threads and then screw the leg segments into place slowly – screwing them in and out a bit as we go to help spread the grease around. The pieces should turn smoothly… if you hear a gritty grating sound as you put the pieces back together, check for debris in the threads. You may need to do a better job cleaning. You’ll need grease in all the moving parts – there’s no need to grease screws that should remain tight.
Wipe off any excess grease with a paper towel, and you’re done! Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it!? 🙂 Here’s a quick video that shows the whole process:
The frequency with which you’ll need to clean your tripod depends upon how you use it. If it never leaves the house, you probably don’t need to clean it at all. If you are shooting on the grass or a muddy path – just rinse the feet when necessary and you’re good to go. Rain won’t hurt your tripod – though prolonged exposure to moisture will corrode some metals… so take the time to dry it off when you come in and leave it open until it’s thoroughly dry. Always rinse your tripod if you use it in salt water – salt can cause corrosion as well.
Take simple precautions to help keep your tripod clean a little longer. When we are shooting in sand, mud, or water, we always extend the lowest leg of the tripod at least a few inches beyond the mess. That simple action keeps the joint up out of the muck. If you can avoid it, don’t immerse the joint in sand or salt water. But don’t worry too much if it does get into the joints. Just take some time to clean it up and it’ll be good as new!