Do you need to have your lenses professionally cleaned?

I’ve been shooting with Canon gear for more than a decade now. Until recently, I have never had any of my lenses professionally cleaned. *gasp* I’ve had lenses repaired here and there. Some quite a few times actually. But never simply cleaned. Since going full-time, I decided it was a good idea to get a CPS membership. The one I chose comes with 5 free cleanings (bodies or lenses). I recently replaced my old bodies with new ones so I thought why not have my lenses cleaned instead. I’ve owned one of the lenses for ten years now and as I said before, it’s never been cleaned. So, I braved the traffic up to the Canon Factory Service Center, grabbed a number and waited. Eventually I’m called up to the service desk. I put five lenses on the counter and simply ask for them to be cleaned using my free cleanings…

A nice gal was helping me and she seemed a little surprised. She said, “Do you have any bodies you want cleaned? Most people use their free cleanings for their camera bodies.” I told her that I recently replaced all my bodies, so I really didn’t need them cleaned yet. I asked her if the lenses needed to be cleaned since I really haven’t had it done before and she hesitated to respond. Quietly, she said, “Unless there is something affecting your images?” I took that as a no since I’m sure she probably shouldn't be saying that the cleaning they offer for lenses is really pointless. She then explained what they do to clean lenses. It sounded very similar to what I do every dozen shoots or so. Take off caps and filters, clean the front and rear element, clean the outside of the lens, focus rings, etc. Do they recalibrate the lens during cleaning? No. They just test the focusing and if it fails, they let you know it’s going to be an additional charge to repair it. She took the caps off of all the lenses on the counter one by one and inspected the glass. Her departing words - “Your membership expires in August, come back with some bodies before then.”

I ended up leaving two lenses to get “cleaned” because they both have a few years of work on them with no repairs. When I received the lenses back I was surprised by two things. One, Canon replaced the weather-seal (the gasket that mates with the camera body) on both lenses. I could immediately tell because the old seals were completely mangled and when I got them back they were immaculate. That was a nice freebie. The second thing is that I went over the lenses with a q-tip dipped in lens cleaning solution and by the time I was finished both ends were black with dirt and grime. They might have cleaned the lenses, but from what I can tell, it’s not a very thorough cleaning. 

Bottom line, clean your lenses at home… unless you need some new weather-sealing.