How to Clean the Clarinet: Tips & Advice

Clarinet Tips

As a responsible clarinet player, you’re probably already aware how important learning how to clean the clarinet is. When you’re finished playing your clarinet and are ready to store it in its case, there are a few steps you should take to ensure it’s clean and ready for storage.

Not only does learning how to clean a clarinet properly keep it clear of saliva build-up, but it ensures it’s free of oil and dirt from your fingers. Whether you’re storing your clarinet for a few days or a few months, here are some tips for properly caring for and maintaining your clarinet. 

So, if you’re interested in knowing how to clean the clarinet, be sure to follow the basics:

  • Remove the Reeds
  • Learn Proper Assembly (& Disassembly)
  • Wipe Down Your Ligature and Keywork
  • Use Pull-Through Swabs

Remove the Reeds

Step one in knowing how to clean the clarinet is removing your clarinet reeds after each and every use. If you aren’t, you’re basically asking for a mold problem. An important part of clarinet maintenance is removing your reeds after each use and storing them in a reed holder to dry. Before storing, make sure to wipe the excess moisture off carefully. Reeds are very delicate and easy to break, so they should be the last thing you put on your instrument during assembly and the first thing you take off when you’re taking the instrument apart whenever you’re done playing. Whatever you do, do not leave the reed on the mouthpiece. If you do, it won’t be able to dry out very well and can warp or grow mold.

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Learn Proper Assembly

Did you know the most frequent cause of damage to a clarinet is due to improper assembly and disassembly? If you don’t know how to do either one backwards and in your sleep, you should spend some serious time with your clarinet teacher or a repair technician learning the ropes. They’ll teach you how to assemble your instrument in addition to teaching you how to clean the clarinet.

The keys of a clarinet are made of soft metal and can bend very easily. Unfortunately, many clarinet players don’t even realize they’re bending the keys during routine clarinet maintenance. Properly assembling and disassembling a clarinet can be a complicated process, particularly for those who are brand new to the instrument, so don’t feel embarrassed about asking for help. After all, showing you the ins and outs of the clarinet is what your teacher is there for!

Wipe Ligature & Keywork

Most people incorrectly assume that polishing an instrument is done purely for aesthetic purposes. While a nice polish does improve the overall look of an instrument, it actually serves a much deeper purpose. By using a polishing cloth to wipe fingerprints off the ligature and keywork of your clarinet, you’re removing dirt and oil that’s transferred to the instrument from your fingertips. When left on for too long, the oil can actually cause discoloration. When polishing, don’t use metal polish or any other type of substance on your instrument, with the exception of key oil or cork grease. Key oil makes the keys move more easily, while cork crease serves a dual purpose. It makes assembly a little bit easier and keeps the corks from drying out.

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Pull-Through Swabs

Pull-through swabs are just that: swabs that you actually pull through your instrument to remove moisture. If you have the option to let your instrument air dry overnight, that’s the ideal situation. If you don’t, pick up a pack of pull-through swabs and get working. Pull-through swabs are relatively easy to use, and many come with a set of instructions. To use pull-through swabs, simply drop the weight at the end of the swab through the instrument until it comes through the other side of your clarinet. Once it does, pull the swab through the instrument a few times until it seems to have picked up most of the moisture. Just be sure to pull gently, as there are two metal tubes inside your clarinet that the swab can get stuck on.

Other Maintenance Tips

Knowing how to clean the clarinet is only one part of the process. You’ll also need to know how to maintain it.

Before playing, try to avoid drinking soda or other sugar drinks. Saliva with a high sugar content can cause the pads to stick at a higher rate than the saliva of someone who sticks to water. Use cork grease sparingly, but whenever necessary. Cork grease may look like lip balm, but never use lip balm in place of cork grease. When travelling with your clarinet, try not to leave it in the trunk of a hot car for extended periods of time, and make sure its case is sturdy enough for the type of travel you’re partaking in. For example, a clarinet is sure to face more abuse in the bottom of an airplane than it will in the backseat of your car. Last but not least, don’t be afraid to speak with your clarinet teacher if you think something might be wrong with your clarinet. They have years upon years of experience with the instrument, and have likely seen it all when it comes to damage, clarinet maintenance, and repair.

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