Comprehensive Guide: How to Clean and Maintain a Clarinet

Lisas Clarinet Shop

As musicians, we always need to take preventive measures to make sure that our instruments are in top shape. Lack of clarinet care can often lead to larger and more expensive repairs that could have been prevented with individual care and maintenance. Proper care and preventive measures are essential to make sure your instrument is in working condition. The following is a comprehensive guide to how to clean and maintain a clarinet. These guidelines are useful to prevent major repairs through these simple steps.

How to Clean a Clarinet

  1. Swab the entire clarinet while assembled. Immediately after playing, be sure to disassemble the reed and ligature from the mouthpiece and the mouthpiece itself. Afterwards, take the clarinet swab and pass it through the instrument from the bell to the top of the instrument.
  2. Swab each piece of the clarinet after disassembly. Disassemble each part of the clarinet and pass the swab through each part of the instrument separately. Do not run the swab through the mouthpiece because swabs are not made to pass through a small aperture and often act as an abrasive that can damage the tip and change the facing of the mouthpiece.
  3. Wipe any moisture off all the tenons after playing. This will help prevent swelling between the joints that often lead to cracking. Recommended: Microfiber cloth or towel
  4. Clean your mouthpiece occasionally. Be sure to use a small cup of lukewarm water mixed with PH-neutral soap, and Q-tips. Moisten the Q-tip with the lukewarm water and soap mixture. Clean the inside of the mouthpiece using the moistened Q-tip. Do not use abrasive materials to clean the mouthpiece, as it will also damage the facing. Recommended: Soap, PH-neutral soap
  5. Polish clarinet keys after use. After playing, take a polishing cloth to wipe down fingerprints and the natural oils from each part of the clarinet. Be sure to use a microfiber cloth and nothing abrasive that could damage the keys. Recommended: Microfiber cloth
  6. Place each part of the clarinet carefully back in its case. Be sure that each part of the clarinet is in the correct spot to prevent damage to the keys. Take a small rubber band and wrap it around the key ‘b’ to key ‘a’ so that the keys in the bottom join remain closed when you place the clarinet in its case.

Clarinet Maintenance

  1. Always wash your hands and brush your teeth before you play. It is always useful to bring a travel toothbrush and toothpaste in your clarinet bag. Brushing your teeth before playing prevents stained pads and food particles lodged in the clarinet keys. Recommended: Travel toothbrush and toothpaste
  2. Use cork grease. Lightly apply cork grease on the tenons to make it easier to assemble the clarinet. Take the cork grease you have, apply a small portion on your pointer finger and then apply it evenly to each of the cork tenons. Make sure that there are no clumps or excess grease as this can cause the joints to unexpectedly separate from one another that can lead to a trip to the woodwind technician. Recommended: Selmer Seles Cork Grease
  3. Replace worn clarinet pads. This will allow for your clarinet to seal properly and prevent that annoying buzz. You can also clean your pads by using the BG A65U Pad cleaner. Recommended: Valentino ‘white master’ pads
  4. Clean the tubing of the tone holes. Dirt collects in the tone holes of the instrument. If neglected, the tone holes for keys #9, #10, and #12 make the notes ‘a-flat’, ‘a’, and ‘b-flat’ in the throat tone register extremely flat and out of tune. This type of maintenance can be done by the owner with the proper equipment or by a woodwind technician. Recommended: Pipe cleaners and screwdriver
  5. Make sure the rings of the clarinet are clean. Small particles of dirt and dust collect in the rings of the clarinet that can cause intonation problems. Use a dry Q-Tip to clean the surface and the tone holes of the instrument.
  6. Keep your swabs clean. Using a dirty swab defeats the purpose of cleaning the clarinet. Recommended: BG Swab
  7. Oil keys three times a year. Apply small drops of key oil to the moving rods of the instrument. If you are not able to find key oil, you can use sweet almond oil. Be sure to not use too much oil as one small pin drop is sufficient. Recommended: Sweet almond oil
  8. Wipe down the clarinet keys after playing. This preventive measure keeps the keys from tarnishing and for the natural perspiration from eating the key plating. Recommended: Selmer polishing cloth
  9. See a qualified woodwind technician every six months. If you are not able to go every six months, minimum try to schedule an appointment with a woodwind technician once a year.

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