Clarinets, flutes, bassoons, oboes, saxophones…these familiar instruments are all woodwinds! Their sounds range from reedy to robust, but all of them sound better when they’re clean! Learn how to keep your woodwind in perfect working order with these tips on how to clean woodwind instruments.
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for care and cleaning. If our recommendations and the manufacturer’s instructions conflict, defer to the manufacturer.
If your instrument has “sticky” fingerpads, that is due to excess moisture. Take pad paper (or another thin paper, like cigarette paper) and place it under the fingerpad. Push the pad down, release, and then remove the paper. The paper should absorb the moisture that was making your fingerpads stick. Do this sparingly as it could wear down parts of your pad that create an effective seal with the instrument when pressed down.
Some experts recommend polishing woodwinds, but others recommend against. We recommend consulting a professional about anything other than the most basic cleaning. It is also recommended that you have a professional do an inspection on your instrument about once a year.
Clean Woodwind Instruments
The basic care for all woodwinds is removing moisture from the bore (the interior of the instrument). This is done by disassembling the instrument and swabbing out the interior of the pieces. Below are a few more specific notes:
Disassemble the flute into three pieces. Clean the inside of each piece with a lint-free cloth. You may want to wrap the cloth around a rod for easier insertion into the flute. Once you’ve cleaned the inside, all you need to do is wipe down the outside of the flute with another clean cloth to remove fingerprints and smudges. If there is gunk you can’t remove by simple wiping, gently use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to clean hard-to-reach areas near the keys.
Clarinets, Saxophones, and others
Disassemble and swab. You can clean the mouthpieces of these instruments (not the reed or the ligature, just the mouthpiece itself) in warm soapy water. Dry the mouthpiece completely before storing it. Wipe the exterior of the instrument with a soft lint-free cloth. Do not use water on the body of the instrument. Reapply cork grease only as often as needed.
Yes, a harmonica is a woodwind (a free reed aerophone, to be precise). To clean, take the harmonica apart. There should be a screw on either side of the harmonica that you can easily remove with the proper screwdriver. Clean woodwind instruments carefully!
Once you’re inside, remove the reed plate and soak it in a solution made of equal parts vinegar and water. While the reed plate is soaking, use a soft brush (such as a clean paintbrush) to remove dirt from your comb. Do not get a wooden comb wet! If you need to scrape away gunk, use small implement such as a cotton swab or a pin.
After your reed plate is done soaking, remove it and brush it with a soft brush to clean. (Do not use a toothbrush. A clean soft paintbrush will work better.) Brush in the direction of the reed, not across. After cleaning, let your reed plate air dry. Do not wipe with a cloth. You might snag a reed, bend it, and damage your reed plate. After the parts have air dried, reassemble your harmonica.
Good harmonica maintenance tips are to tap your harmonica after each use to remove moisture and then to let it air out. Also, play with a clean mouth! No pizza when you’re playing, no snacks during your solo.
Yep, another free reed aerophone. To clean your accordion, regularly dust out the bellows with a stiff paintbrush. Use an oil soap to clean the body of the instrument. Do not use furniture polish or products that leave residue. You should remove the treble grille occasionally to vacuum out dirt.
For information on how to clean keys, check out our How to Clean a Piano Cleaning Tip.
Clean Woodwind Instruments Easily!
It may not be easy playing the bass clarinet or the soprano sax, but it is simple to clean these instruments. Follow these tips to bring forth the best sounds from your instrument and keep it in good shape.
You might like reading The Best Ways to Clean String Instruments.