How to Clean Your Clarinet

Lisas Clarinet Shop

Clarinets get dirty, just like every other tool we use regularly. Clarinet mouthpieces also touch our mouths, creating an extra potential for germs. Especially if you become sick and then play your instrument, you will want to sanitize it and its accessories as well as you can.

Start with the mouthpiece. Mouthpieces can be washed with dish soap or sterisol (just don’t get the cork wet) to disinfect it and clean any buildup off. If you use a mouthpiece patch, remove it before cleaning the mouthpiece and replace it with a new one. You can also wipe out the inside of the mouthpiece cap with dish soap or sterisol. Remember never to share your mouthpiece with anyone else.

Then, move to your reeds. Reeds get quite wet with saliva, and they’re made of organic material, so they are a prime location for all kinds of germs, even if you haven’t been sick. This video is a great explanation of the kinds of things that live in reeds! If you have been ill, it’s best to simply toss your used reeds and then break in some new ones. Reeds can be sterilized with hydrogen peroxide—a quick soak is enough. Be sure to clean the reed case as well; dish soap, vinegar, or even something like Lysol will remove germs and mold spores. (If you use Lysol or something similar, rinse the case well before putting reeds back in it.)

For the body of the clarinet, you can wipe each joint with a soft cloth (microfiber or cotton—even an old, clean t-shirt) to remove dirt and other debris. This type of cloth can also be used to wipe down the keys. You can also spray the cloth lightly with a disinfectant spray before wiping down the instrument—but never spray anything directly on the clarinet itself. If you have a clarinet with silver-plated keys and are bothered by tarnish, you can polish them lightly with a silver polishing cloth; the tarnish is purely cosmetic and won’t affect how the instrument plays. Be sure to check the ends of each joint and wipe off any excess cork grease. To clean inside the tone holes, you can get special cleaners that look a lot like pipe cleaners from your local music store. They are bendable so you can reach inside each tone hole and remove any buildup of materials; just be careful not to scratch the inside of the clarinet with the wire core of the cleaner.

Your swab is another accessory that will get dirty with use, and it can simply be washed and air dried with your laundry or replaced.

Make sure there’s nothing in your clarinet case that will press on the instrument. Periodically remove everything from the case and use a lint roller or vacuum attachment to remove any dust and dirt particles. On a related note, when your clarinet is not in use, make sure you store it in the case to keep it protected (and relatively clean). You can also wipe down the exterior of the case with a cleaning wipe or disinfectant spray; be sure to use one that won’t damage the material of the case.

Here are several great references if you’re curious about other ways to make sure your clarinet, and you, stay clean and healthy:

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