How to Clean a Tripod: The Other Side of Those Pretty Pictures

a man holds a tripod in one hand and sand in the other to illustrate cleaning sand from a camera tripod.

Yes, there’s a little more to those pretty pictures than lollygagging around beautiful beaches and I really should have already done this. After several beach trips being sunk into the surf and swirling sands my tripod made scrunching noises every time I adjusted the legs. Sand in the tripod legs. In fact, I’ve always washed the camera tripod down with a garden hose after every trip to wash away sand and salt but it’s not enough. Boy! It’s not enough! In this post I want to show you how to clean a tripod by giving you a behind the scenes look at how I cleaned mine. It’s a Manfrotto 3021BN and yours may or may not be similar.

Close up of a dirty camera tripod leg
Salt and sand residue on the tripod legs.

Setting up the tripod outside I could see salt on the legs and scratches in the paint where it was worn by sliding over sand. This despite the fact I had washed it after using it last. I hadn’t considered that these legs are hollow trapping water and sand inside then when you move the tripod around turning it sideways or whatever to stow it all that sand and water runs from one end to the other.

A camera tripod rubber tip
Remove the tripod leg tips. Some press on while others thread into a hole in the tripod leg.

I removed the stoppers on the bottom legs by just sliding them off. Actually they weren’t that easy. I wrapped a leather glove around to protect them and used a pair of pliers to twist them. They came off easily enough though. Be aware some tripod leg tips actually thread into a hole in the tripod leg and not press on as mine do. I hadn’t thought of it before but these leg tips also keep water inside so once everything is dry and reassembled I can leave these off for a bit to be sure any residual water can drain out.

Tripod clamp corrosion from seawater on the bolts

This is corrosion on the clamp hardware from saltwater. Not nice. This is what I was trying to prevent by rinsing after a beach trip but obviously I need a little more than that.

Close up of a tripod bolt wrench.
The thin wall of the tool supplied with the tripod is thin enough to reach into the recess and hold the bolt.
Removing the tripod leg clamps.
Loosen the bolt and slide the clamp down the tube.

Using the wrench that came with the tripod, yes I’ve kept it in my camera bag for years just waiting for this day, I started disassembling the legs by loosening that corroded bolt. Notice how thin the walls of that wrench are. I could have removed the bolts with something from my toolbox but this little jewel is made for the job and works like a charm. Once loose the whole clamp slides down the leg tube. One end of the tube is bigger than the other so it only slides on or off one way and I noted the lever goes toward the bottom just for future reference.

sand on a tripod leg tube

This image shows the larger end of one tube where the clamp mounts. Look at all that sand! It was where you can’t get to with just a rinse with the hose and it’s wearing my tripod legs.

Using a hex wrench on tripod leg bolts

Removing all the smaller leg tubes and clamps first I moved up to the larger ones next. At the top where the last tubes mount is held on by a couple of socket head screws and I found a 4mm hex wrench to fit them. The bolts came out fine but I couldn’t move the legs at all so I decided to leave well enough alone knowing a broken part like that would probably be expensive. Sometimes the enemy of good is better so I stopped there.

Sand in the tripod center extension

Next I removed the center extension which I noticed had sand packed around the release button which has to be pressed to remove the tube from the tripod. Once again with the leather glove on the tube and with a pair of pliers I pressed the button to remove the triangle shaped piece and slid the tube out the top of the tripod.

Sand caked inside the tripod extension tube adapter.

Tripod extension adapter after cleaning

I grabbed a garden hose and started rinsing. See all that sand? I could see how poor my rinse job last time was not to mention the corrosion on the metal parts but much better after rinsing now.

A disassembled tripod leg clamp to illustrate how to clean a tripod.

One last thing and I was ready to reassemble the tripod once it dried. I worried about sand and corrosion on the clamps so I disassembled those as well and sure enough could feel grit on the bolts when I removed them. Everything was washed down and set aside to dry.

From an aerosal can a small amount of teflon gel is applied under the tripod leg clamp levers
Teflon gel applied under the tripod clamp levers.

All the metal hardware such as bolts, nuts and washers were set inside a bowl and sprayed with PB B’laster penetrant spray and let sit overnight to remove the corrosion then I sprayed everything with Teflon gel spray to lube and protect the hardware. Everything sat overnight again. No, I wasn’t in a hurry with it. The clamps were reassembled and a bit of Teflon gel applied at the contact points between the tube connector and the lever to keep things lubed for easier use and reduced wear.

Tripod leg tube showing one end is bigger where the clamp goes.
The tripod leg tube is a little bigger on one end where the clamp goes.

Once everything was clean and dry I reversed the process to put everything back together. Here’s an image of the larger end of one tube. The clamp slides up from the bottom and onto this expanded end. Really, your dealing with two different tube sizes on the clamp so you can’t put them on wrong but I did remember the lever part of the clamp goes toward the bottom just to make things easy. I’ve considered making some kind of boots to keep the tripod legs dry and dirt free the next time I put them in water but I think the bottom line is if I use it I’m going to have to clean it. If I do make something though I’ll post that tip and link to it from here.

I hope you’ve found my experience useful. I know I learned a thing or two in the process. Thanks for reading and check back for the next post or subscribe and receive email notifications when there is a new post.

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