How should a lens be stored when not in use?

Quick Summary

Here are some quick tips for properly storing your lenses when not using them:

  • Keep lenses in a dry, room-temperature environment away from direct sunlight.
  • Store lenses horizontally or with the rear end pointing down to prevent dust buildup.
  • Use lens caps and body caps to protect from scratches and dust.
  • Store lenses in a dedicated camera bag or storage box with compartments.
  • Use silica gel packets to absorb moisture and prevent fungus growth.
  • Avoid storing lenses in hot places like cars on hot days.

Camera lenses, especially interchangeable ones used on DSLR and mirrorless cameras, are intricate pieces of precision optical equipment. Like any delicate instrument, lenses require proper maintenance and care – especially when not in use – to keep them in top working condition over many years of service.

Improper storage can lead to problems like dust and fungus accumulation, haze or coatings damage, aperture or focusing problems, even complete failure in extreme cases. Thankfully, lenses are fairly hardy if basic precautions are taken. By understanding how to properly store lenses, photographers can help protect their investment and ensure peak image quality every time they mount that lens.

In this article, we will cover the key things every photographer should know about safe lens storage and maintenance during periods of non-use.

Store Lenses in a Clean, Dry Environment

The number one rule is to keep unused lenses in a clean, dry, stable environment. Moisture, wide temperature swings, and exposure to dust and dirt are the primary causes of damage during storage.

Ideally, lenses not being used regularly should be kept in an interior room at normal room temperature away from windows and direct sunlight. Places like basements, garages and attics should be avoided.

Moisture and humidity encourage fungus growth which can permanently etch glass elements. Condensation from temperature change can also introduce moisture. Try to keep relative humidity between 35-45% if possible.

Rapid heating and cooling cycles can cause internal lubricants to migrate or create internal condensation. This is why storing lenses in vehicles on hot or cold days is a bad idea.

Dust is also the enemy of lenses, even when not in use. Store lenses in low-dust environments and always use front/rear caps to prevent dust intrusion.

Store Lenses Horizontally or Rear-Down

Lenses should be oriented horizontally or with the rear element pointing downwards when stored. Never store them facing upwards.

Gravity causes internal lubricants to slowly migrate downwards over time. Storing vertically exacerbs this, causing the lubricants to pool in the bottom. This can affect aperture, focusing and zoom mechanisms.

Storing horizontally prevents lubricant migration and provides even distribution when not used for long periods.

Rear-down storage uses gravity beneficially to discourage dust accumulation on the rear element, which is more difficult to clean. Front elements can be more easily accessed and cleaned.

If storing in a bag, use one with sturdy dividers or boxes to keep lenses set properly horizontally or rear-element down.

Use Lens Caps, Body Caps and Cases

Keep unused lenses protected with their front and rear caps fully in place. For cameras, use a body cap to cover the opening.

Caps form a protective seal against dust and impacts. Having caps loose in the same storage area easily leads to them getting mixed up or lost. Storing lenses with caps attached ensures they stay paired.

Hard-shell cases form an additional protective barrier and should be used for any lens not being regularly used. Most lenses come with a basic case. More expensive models can warrant aftermarket hard cases for storage.

The box the lens came in can also be used for storage with the included padding, assuming the box is sturdy and intact. Separate padding or inserts may be needed for additional shock protection.

Silica gel desiccant packs may be necessary in humid climates, even inside hard cases. These absorb moisture.

Use Dedicated Camera Bags for Short-Term Storage

Photographers often need to switch lenses frequently during shoots. Using a dedicated, compartmentalized camera bag provides both storage and easy access.

Higher quality bags provide sturdy yet padded dividers to isolate lenses and keep them properly oriented even while being carried. Avoid tossing lenses loosely into ordinary bags.

Bags meant specifically for carrying photography gear are designed to protect contents from bumps, impacts, temperature, moisture and dust. Use bags sized correctly for the specific gear carried.

Smaller lens pouches can also work well and take up less space for 1-2 lens storage.

The same tips apply when packing lenses for airplane flights. Protect them with caps in padded compartments or cases. Avoid checking delicate equipment if possible.

Regularly Inspect and Clean Stored Lenses

Make it a habit to periodically inspect stored lenses and clean them as needed. This helps catch any dust, fungal build up or other issues before they become a problem.

Look for signs of mold/fungus, haze, scratches, cleaning marks, oil, grime and excessive dust buildup. Clean any external dust with a rocket blower. Use lens cleaning solution sparingly on glass surfaces only if absolutely necessary.

Test the lens for smooth aperture, zoom and focus operation. If any problems are found, consider having the lens serviced by an authorized repair center. Don’t disassemble lenses yourself.

The ideal servicing interval varies by frequency/conditions of use, but every 1-2 years is a good rule of thumb for lenses used infrequently. More frequent use requires more frequent servicing.

Also inspect storage cases, bags and compartments themselves for any issues and keep them clean. Rotate silica gel packs to keep them fresh.

Avoid Long-Term Storage in Extreme Conditions

Cameras and lenses are made to withstand normal environmental conditions. But storing them long-term in extreme heat, cold or humidity can still cause problems.

Try to avoid leaving gear in non-climate controlled spaces prone to high heat and humidity like attics and garages if possible. Storage in uninsulated sheds or barns is also problematic.

Never leave lenses over the long term inside hot vehicles or enclosed spaces in summer. Extreme heat causes lubricant breakdown, barrel expansion and motor/electronics issues.

Similarly, avoid storage in unheated spaces like barns and sheds exposure to winter’s cold and moisture where fungus can thrive.

If long-term storage in non-ideal conditions is unavoidable, at minimum keep equipment in insulated, waterproof hard cases with desiccants. Allow lenses to acclimate before use.

Maintain Batteries of Stored Lenses

Many lenses today – especially zoom and stabilized lenses – contain electronics and internal batteries. Store them with a full battery charge.

Check battery levels every 3-6 months and recharge as needed to avoid complete discharge. Remove batteries from lenses in long-term archival storage.

Dead internal batteries can corrode and damage lens electronics. Check battery compartments periodically for any signs of corrosion or white residue.

Consider having batteries replaced at servicing intervals, even if still functional. Replacing depleted batteries requires disassembling lenses.


Following proper storage practices for lenses not in regular use ensures they will work like new for many years or decades to come. The keys are keeping them clean, dry, in stable room temperatures, and safe from dust, impacts, heat, moisture and fungus.

Use appropriate lens caps, cases, compartments and camera bags. Store lenses horizontally or rear element down. Periodically inspect for issues and have lenses serviced every few years. Avoid long-term storage in uncontrolled environments.

Your lenses are precision photographic tools that deserve care when idle so they continue delivering top image quality when needed. Following these simple guidelines removes most environmental risks lenses face when not on your camera actively capturing beautiful photos.

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