In this article, we answer the frequently asked questions around how to take care of a telescope, including tips on how best to store, clean, and perform maintenance on your telescope and what not to do so you can get the most enjoyment out of using it.
Ever since Copernicus, Galileo, and the other early astronomers of the Scientific Revolution started stargazing with their telescopes, and Robert Boyle, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, and other early microbiologists started peering through their microscopes, care and maintenance has been a big part of the whole endeavor.
Whether you’re looking at tiny bacterium or billions of stars in the heavens above, you need to make sure that the machinery that allows you to do so is properly attuned and its lens clean and scratch-free.
All of which naturally begs the question of how to care for a telescope.
How do you take care of a telescope?
Whether it’s a starter set or an advanced telescope costing thousands of dollars, you don’t want it to become a waste of money simply because you neglected to take care of it and watched it whittle in quality.
The basic care is to always store your telescope with the dust cap on, so the mirrors or lenses are protected. Your telescope most likely came with this dust cap, so make sure it is securely in place. (But before you do, just make sure there’s no condensation and if there is allow the telescope to air and dry before putting the dust cap on. Some users believe capping the objectives before bringing the telescope inside works to avoid condensation.)
So, should you clean the optics, and if so, how do you clean the telescope mirror? How do you clean dust from a telescope? Is it better to DIY or get your telescope professionally serviced? What about storage? Let’s cover these FAQs.
What can affect your telescope Use
Before we cover how to clean and care for a telescope, let’s look at the main factors affecting how often your telescope will need maintenance action.
There are a few things that can harm the performance of your telescope. Dust or other fine particles is a notable one. Moisture is another one. And poor alignment of the mirrors another. We should also mention the soiling from crawling insects and other critters.
Factors that can create problems
- Dust and pollen
- Poor alignment of mirrors
- Bugs and other pests
Avoiding how much these interrupt the use of your telescope starts with how well you store your telescope.
How to store a telescope
If you’ve been wondering “Where should I store my telescope?” here are a few things to think about especially if your chosen telescope has a decent-sized tube.
Ideally, you’ll want to keep your telescope in a place where you can quickly and easily observe the night sky. This offers the advantage of convenience and thus the telescope being used more often. But it’s not always an option for everyone.
Even so, it’s a good idea to store your telescope inside.
About leaving it outside
Can you store a telescope outside? Well yes, you can store a telescope anywhere, including outside. It may be convenient. But if you’re wondering “Is it okay to leave a telescope outside?” then no, not if you want your telescope to perform at its best and have it useable for any reasonable amount of time.
Here’s the thing…
Leaving your telescope exposed to the elements will see nature wreak havoc upon it. It will likely get ruined – and much sooner than if you’d stored it away.
Dust and moisture problems are at least two of the issues you’ll face with leaving your telescope outside in the elements. If it doesn’t rain or collect morning dew, change in overnight temperatures outside will mean condensation and subsequently, moisture collecting in your instrument.
Then there’s the dust and particles, blown by the wind, that are likely to enter the telescope’s workings if left outside.
Where should I store my telescope?
Look at storing your telescope in an area in your home, a closet, shed, garage, or basement. As long as these places don’t suffer from excessive heating or dampness, they will generally be okay. Another problem is crawling critters that can soil your equipment.
In places that get overly heated (e.g. sheds or garages in tropical locations, heated homes), there’s the potential for the lens and inner workings to deteriorate. The condensation and dampness arising in some places can cause the growth of mold, which will be a nuisance in your telescope, as it can be difficult to completely treat.
Condensation on the objective is not a good move, because as the condensation dries, impurities are left on the objective and will interfere with the performance of your telescope.
Tip: Some users find storing silica gel desiccant with their telescopes helps deal with any moisture problems.
A good spot for your telescope is in your garage or a closet that is ventilated enough to prevent dampness and not suffer from excessive heat. The same holds true for basements, sheds, or other storage areas where you intend to store your instrument.
Of course, a lot will depend on the type and the size of your telescope. Smaller more portable scopes often come with a backpack or case and so it could be just a matter of storing the telescope in its bag in your closet. These are usually compact, unlike a Dobsonian, for example.
How do you store a Dobsonian?
A Dobsonian has its advantages, but it is not the most compact telescope. Unless it has a collapsable tube, it will need a spot with some height or width to accommodate the tube in its rocker mount. It may not fit in your closet.
You can store your Dobsonian in the corner of a room if you have space. If this is a living area, you might find it a great conversation starter, and it won’t be forgotten.
Otherwise, look for a corner space in your garage or basement – just as long as you keep in mind the preventative measures of ventilation to avoid problems from excessive heat and dampness as mentioned above.
DIY cleaning tools
No matter where you store your telescope and how well you take care of it, your instrument will need some sort of maintenance at some point in time. We’ll get into more professional means of cleaning and caring for your telescope in a bit, but let’s first address the DIY side of telescope care.
It’s best to prevent dust or grime from settling on the mirror or lens surfaces so your telescope is kept operational and suffers less down-time due to soiled optics.
You shouldn’t attempt to clean the mirror or lens unless you are familiar with optical surfaces.
For the outer parts of the telescope, lens cleaner is a method of removing dust from the telescope lens. Another is to use air to remove it and another involves rubbing alcohol, for example, ideally with a diluted solution between 50% to 70% alcohol.
An alternative that is potentially effective is the use of soft brushes. Choose artist brushes that are very soft (for example, camel hair brushes). These can be used to get rid of some of the dust and other particulates that can collect on the scope.
One DIY fix to avoid is blowing on the lens as you may inadvertently add further impurities that interfere with its performance.
What to clean and cleaning techniques
Of course, that’s just some very minor dust removal and touch up work. For those still wondering “Yes, but how do you clean a telescope lens?” it’s time to get into that.
Cleaning telescope mirror
Let’s deal with the mirror first. Like the lens itself, this is reasonably delicate, so you don’t want to be too rough with it. What’s more, you shouldn’t strive to overclean here – only do so when it is imperative.
You’ll need to remove the mirror before cleaning it.
Once you are ready to clean the mirror, dilute some mild detergent with some water and swab it gently with a soft leaning surface. Your telescope may come with a soft cleaning fabric, but if it does not, you’ll want something similar and not a paper towel or the like that will be far too rough and scratch the mirror or lens.
You may also need to lubricate certain parts, such as the focuser, to keep it from sticking. Simple Teflon lubricating solutions should be sufficient here. Loosen the screws and remove the part before lubricating it. The same holds true for axes or drives if they start to give you trouble.
Last, but not least, there’s the question of collimating your telescope. This refers to the process by which you align the optics. Adjusting the screws and the arrangement of these help correct alignment issues.
DIY collimation articles:
1. Our step-by-step instructions with diagrams on how to collimate a Dobsonian.
2. How to collimate a Celestron SCT in a few easy steps.
When testing the alignment, start with the magnification on low. In terms of how often should you collimate your telescope, every few months may be a good guideline, but this will really depend on how well your telescope “behaves” and if it’s “temperamental” or relatively stable.
Getting your telescope serviced
Finally, we come to the matter of professional telescope servicing. As with any intricate piece of equipment, eventually things start to wear out or go wrong. While you can fix and refurbish things on your own for some time using these DIY steps, eventually professional servicing may be required.
As with collimation, there is no one set timetable for all telescopes. That said, as with your doctor, a “checkup” every year or two may be prudent, especially as your telescope begins to “age.”
Taking care of a telescope is an intricate process, but it does not have to be an overwhelming one. By following these steps, you will be better equipped to treat your equipment and view the night sky as the great astronomers of the past, present, and future.