Convergence Q&A: Ongoing Maintenance for Outdoor Security Cameras

June 10, 2013
Cleaning tips for dome and box cameras

For some years now, there has been an increasing trend of IT departments being given responsibility for electronic security system deployments. This question came from an IT manager, who for the first time was charged with defining the scope of an annual service contract for an outdoor video camera system.

Q: Is our Facilities Department kidding me when they ask how we’re going to keep birds from building nests in our outdoor camera housings?

A: It is no joke that birds, rodents and insects can all detrimentally affect security video deployments.  Small birds and rodents can find cable insulation to make good nest material, and spiders often like to build webs over the camera housing’s faceplate. Wasps and bees have also built small nests in fixed camera housings. In the wintertime, cameras can be a nice place to get warm.

It would be a unlikely situation for an IT department to install computers on outside building walls or on parking lot poles — typical places where outdoor cameras go. So the scope of work involved in ongoing maintenance for outdoor cameras is not the kind of thing most IT departments have had to deal with before.

Not only do outdoor cameras and housings require inspection and cleaning, but target scene lighting levels must be checked, as well as the possible encroachment of greenery or other obstructions that block the camera’s field of view. This is best done by comparing saved images to the current images that the cameras provide. When saving or exporting camera images for the purpose of review, be sure to note the date and time the image was captured. Reviews should be done at about the same time of day that the original image was captured, to support the evaluation of scene lighting. Saving images once in each season provides a helpful image library.

Dome Camera Maintenance

Dirt or dust on a PTZ camera’s dome can cause the camera’s autofocus function to focus on the dome, which of course then blurs the camera’s normal image. Light from internal camera infrared illuminators (usually a ring of infrared LEDs around the camera lens) is reflected back into the camera’s sensor even by very light accumulations of dust or dirt on the camera’s dome or housing faceplate. Camera images from such cameras should be reviewed regularly to ensure the clarity of image is sufficient.

Thus, the dome of the camera must be cleaned inside and out, as dust or dirt on either side will reduce the clarity of the image. These cleaning tips also apply to indoor cameras, although they generally don’t get as dirty as outdoor cameras:

  • If there is a significant amount of dry dirt or sand on the outside of the camera housing and/or dome, use a dry soft brush to gently brush it clean; or use a can of compressed air to blow the dust off, being careful not to put the nozzle or spray tube too close to the camera as too much air pressure can push the dirt into the dome, creating scratches.
  • Remove the dome (or open the dome housing) for access to the inside of the dome and use a micro-fiber cloth to remove any light dirt or dust buildup.
  • If there is a significant accumulation of dirt or grease on the camera dome, wash the dome in warm soapy water and dry it with a micro-fiber cloth (do not use paper towels as the paper may scratch the dome).
  • Clean the rest of the camera, inspecting closely for insect eggs or spider webs.

Box Camera Maintenance

Outdoor box cameras are typically installed in enclosures designed for them that often include a fan and may include a heater, depending on the geographic location. Fans and heaters should be tested at the same time that the camera and housing are cleaned.

Here are a few more tips:

  • Clean the exterior of the enclosure using a soft brush, air can, or damp cloth. For greasy accumulations, use warm soapy water and dry off the housing with a micro-fiber cloth.
  • Open the enclosure and inspect it closely for insect eggs or spider webs or nest material. Clean the inside of the housing with a soft brush, air can, or damp cloth — taking care not to rub dirt onto the camera itself, especially the lens.
  • Check the wiring inside the enclosure to ensure that its insulation is intact and has not deteriorated for any reason, correcting any problem found.

Once in a while you may find that a lens has a fingerprint or other light smudge on it. Use a lens-cleaning pen or cloth, as ordinary cleaning materials may scratch the lens or damage any protective coating. Regardless of the tips above or other guidance you may find, always follow the camera manufacturer’s cleaning instructions if any are provided.

Write to Ray about this column at [email protected]. Ray Bernard, PSP, CHS-III is the principal consultant for Ray Bernard Consulting Services (RBCS), a firm that provides security consulting services for public and private facilities. For more information about Ray Bernard and RBCS go to or call 949-831-6788. Mr. Bernard is also a member of the Content Expert Faculty of the Security Executive Council ( Follow Ray on Twitter: @RayBernardRBCS.

About the Author

Ray Bernard, PSP, CHS-III

Ray Bernard, PSP CHS-III, is the principal consultant for Ray Bernard Consulting Services (, a firm that provides security consulting services for public and private facilities. He has been a frequent contributor to Security Business, SecurityInfoWatch and STE magazine for decades. He is the author of the Elsevier book Security Technology Convergence Insights, available on Amazon. Mr. Bernard is an active member of the ASIS member councils for Physical Security and IT Security, and is a member of the Subject Matter Expert Faculty of the Security Executive Council (

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