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01-12-2014, 08:24 AM   #1
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Preserving the rubber grip on older lenses...

Some of my lenses are a decade or more old, and the rubber grips won't last forever. Does anyone have a solution for preserving/rejuvenating the rubber? I know there are compounds made for that purpose, but they seem intended for things like the internal rubber rollers in printers, where toxicity isn't much of an issue. A camera lens grip is something that is going to have a lot of contact with my skin. Here are two products for instance:

TECHSPRAY 1612-2SQ - Tech Spray Cleaner, Rubber Rejuvenator, 2 oz., Bottle

CAIG LAB INC RBR100L-25C - Caig CaiKleen RBR Rubber Cleaner, 25mL Needle Dispenser

Looking at the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each product, the first looks safer to me, but I'm not a chemist and don't have a lot of experience with these things. Does anyone else have any experience or thoughts?

01-12-2014, 08:48 AM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by nater Quote
Some of my lenses are a decade or more old, and the rubber grips won't last forever. Does anyone have a solution for preserving/rejuvenating the rubber? I know there are compounds made for that purpose, but they seem intended for things like the internal rubber rollers in printers, where toxicity isn't much of an issue. A camera lens grip is something that is going to have a lot of contact with my skin. Here are two products for instance:

TECHSPRAY 1612-2SQ - Tech Spray Cleaner, Rubber Rejuvenator, 2 oz., Bottle

CAIG LAB INC RBR100L-25C - Caig CaiKleen RBR Rubber Cleaner, 25mL Needle Dispenser

Looking at the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each product, the first looks safer to me, but I'm not a chemist and don't have a lot of experience with these things. Does anyone else have any experience or thoughts?
On a couple of my oldest lenses (1960's!) the grips had deteriorated: the rubber was hardened and broke off. But those were the only ones. The rubber is actually really durable, particularly if not left exposed to sunlight (uv deterioration). I wouldn't worry about it!
01-12-2014, 10:59 AM   #3
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I believe glycerin is used to soften rubber that has hardened..
01-12-2014, 11:07 AM   #4
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A gray surface film is often just accumulated finger oil (AKA dirt). I have used a cotton swab tapped only MOIST (not holding solution) and a 1:3 dilution of window cleaner and gently scrubbed the rubber ring to clean this up.

Takes a while and the temptation is to soak the swab - don't do it! Afterwards I have applied a thin coating of non-silcone rubber restorative cream in the same fashion and gently rubbed with a soft cloth to remove excess.

They look and feel new afterwards.

01-12-2014, 11:35 AM   #5
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I have had the rubber crack and fall off of two Rikenon P zooms.
So far my temporary solution is to use broccoli bands ( very colorful !) and then replace with the grip from a dead off brand donor lens when available.
01-12-2014, 12:30 PM   #6
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I use Armor All to clean the rubber grips on my lenses. If it's strong enough for tires, it should do fine for lenses.
01-12-2014, 12:56 PM   #7
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I second Monochrome's suggestion above. Degradation of the rubber grips depends somewhat on the quality of the original material and the conditions under which the lens has been stored. Heat, ozone, and exposure to solvents are the enemies here. I am fortunate that only one of my vintage lenses (Vivitar 28/2.5, Kino-made from 1974) has a hardened/cracked grip. I suspect that it got that way due to pre-sale cleaning.


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01-12-2014, 01:27 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by EarlVonTapia Quote
If it's strong enough for tires, it should do fine for lenses
I've been the tire industry for almost 17 years, and I don't recommend Armor All unless you are planning to either sell the lens, or keep reapplying every couple of weeks. The solvents in Armor All draw out chemicals like paraffin which are in the rubber to keep it from drying out over time, and Armor All leaves a layer of silicone on everything within a 12 inch radius (including glass) which traps minute dust particles and makes it difficult to repaint those surfaces. If it had better preventative qualities I might suggest applying it on a frequent basis, but you can get better results with small amounts of mineral oil. Rub it on the rubber only (so it doesn't interfere with lubricants in the lens body) which will help put paraffin back into the rubber. Ozone is hard on rubber, causing the long chain hydrocarbons to break up, which results in cracking and crumbling. Ozone exposure mainly comes from bright, unfiltered sunlight (think of Arizona) but can also be a result of electric charges in the air from things like welding and high voltage power lines.

01-12-2014, 01:44 PM - 1 Like   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by dms Quote
I believe glycerin is used to soften rubber that has hardened..
I hesitate to respond to this because glycerin is the primary ingredient in "personal" lubricants which make hardened body parts more slippery, are non-toxic so they are safe to apply to human skin and are water soluble, so they wash off well afterwards. Glycerin is a form of sugar alcohol, so it also tastes sweet, which can be a benefit in some situations. None of which is much use to your camera lenses.
01-12-2014, 02:24 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by RGlasel Quote
I hesitate to respond to this because glycerin is the primary ingredient in "personal" lubricants which make hardened body parts more slippery, are non-toxic so they are safe to apply to human skin and are water soluble, so they wash off well afterwards. Glycerin is a form of sugar alcohol, so it also tastes sweet, which can be a benefit in some situations. None of which is much use to your camera lenses.
THIS is the most informative post in the thread.
01-12-2014, 03:04 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by RGlasel Quote
it also tastes sweet, which can be a benefit in some situations. None of which is much use to your camera lenses.
You don't appreciate how much some forum members relate to their favorite lenses!
01-12-2014, 03:59 PM   #12
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I got two old Tamron lenses a few weeks ago, both of the same era - late 1970's - and the same style of rubber. One was perfect, the other had some remains of the rubber grips which crumbled away to dust when touched. Both lenses came from the same guy who'd bought them new, stored and used them the same. He had no idea why one deteriorated and the other didn't, perhaps it was manufacturing quality?
I just replaced the missing rubber with some leather. But I always keep the rubber grips from dead lenses, it's surprising how many are the same size.
01-12-2014, 04:17 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lloydy Quote
He had no idea why one deteriorated and the other didn't, perhaps it was manufacturing quality?
Probably, although 35-40 years could be long enough for accidental contact with a solvent or sharp object to result in one falling apart. I suspect that rubber lens grips have a much higher ratio of filler to rubber than radial tires or latex gloves. For instance, rubber hockey pucks use clay for a filler and most of the actual rubber is on the outside, holding the clay/rubber/whatever core together. Besides, if the average life of camera lenses goes beyond 40 years, at some point manufacturers won't be able to sell enough new lenses to remain profitable.
01-13-2014, 10:28 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by RGlasel Quote
I've been the tire industry for almost 17 years, and I don't recommend Armor All unless you are planning to either sell the lens, or keep reapplying every couple of weeks.
What product do you recommend? Is there anything readily available at department stores or hardware stores? i.e., doesn't have to be special ordered or require a commercial account at a wholesaler?

Last edited by pete-tarmigan; 01-13-2014 at 10:41 AM. Reason: typo
01-13-2014, 12:51 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by pete-tarmigan Quote
What product do you recommend?
For lens grips or tires? In both cases you need to clean the rubber first, and then apply a suitable lubricant to the rubber. You don't want to seal the rubber (so it shouldn't be shiny or glossy), just keep it from cracking and tearing when it is distorted. Damage from ozone or solvents can only be prevented by changing the chemistry of the rubber, so there is no way to fix it after the fact. Hand dishwashing soap and water for cleaning works well as long as you rinse it off afterwards, otherwise spray cleaners like Spray Nine if you just want to wipe off the dirt without rinsing. For tires, the foaming aerosol tire cleaners work well, as long as you wipe off the tires shortly after spraying them down. Most of them leave a brown oily film if you let the tires air dry. For trade shows, I was always working with new tires, so once they were clean I didn't have to do anything else. Mineral oil contains paraffin, so for older rubber I suggest rubbing mineral oil into the rubber and wiping off any excess. Mineral oil is used in many skin care products and should be available by itself from drugstores, although probably not in the quantity needed for a set of tires. For really bad cracking, you could brush on liquid rubber, which might be available in hardware stores, it does a great job on the sidewalls of old, worn out tires that are being retreaded. However, short of vulcanizing new rubber to old rubber, you can't replace missing pieces of rubber. Probably more than you ever wanted to know about restoring damaged rubber?
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