Instrument Hygiene and Spring Break

Cory NevilleUncategorized

Well, if you had “mass disruptions caused by an unexpected global virus pandemic” on your “Things That Can Mess Up My March 2020” bingo card, place a chip on that square and pat yourself on the back!  But, if you’re like the rest of us and are upping your cleanliness and hygiene game, the information below as to how to clean musical instruments may be useful to you.

I sincerely hope that despite the scary stuff in the news, you can all stay happy, healthy and well over this spring break.  While I don’t want to minimize the challenges anyone may face with disruptions to normal work, school and home lives right now, I hope that a silver lining for many is an ability and need to focus on what is most important in life: time together with your loved ones and a commitment to look out for and care for one another.

Remember—there is no emotional state of being that a human being can have that is not drastically improved or enhanced by music.  Bored?  Find some new music.  Anxious?  Find some calming music.  Angry that your trip got cancelled?  (Me too!) Find some music to channel that out in a healthy way.   Sing, play, create, listen and enjoy.





  • Brass players should ensure their mouth is clean before playing their instrument—particularly after eating (5th period band is right after lunch…!). Rinse with, and drink water prior to playing.
    • Soak mouthpiece in a mixture of hot (not boiling) water and dish soap anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight. Brush the mouthpiece inside and out (you are encouraged to purchase a mouthpiece brush that is specifically designed for this purpose).  For stubborn stains and deposits, brush using a paste of baking soda and water.  After brushing and rinsing, dip, spray or wipe the mouthpiece with rubbing alcohol and allow to sit for at least one minute.  Wipe dry.


  • It is a good idea to keep pieces organized as you disassemble to aid with reassembly. You are encouraged to take pictures of your instrument before disassembly to help aid in reassembly.
  • If you have trouble disassembling or reassembling anything, do not attempt to use force! Items should assemble and disassemble easily.  If they do not, ask Mr. Neville for help!

    • Common sense: If you’re bad at taking things apart and putting them back together the right way, this activity might not be for you. You can always take your instrument to a reputable music store for professional cleaning (generally between $80-$150 depending on instrument size).
    • MORE common sense: If you’re confident in your disassembly/assembly skills, good. But disassemble, clean and reassemble one thing at a time so as to not get small parts intermixed.
  • After drying, when reassembling, use the appropriate oils and greases to lubricate slides and valves as you put your instrument back together.




  • Woodwind players should ensure their mouth is clean before playing their instrument—particularly after eating (5th period band is right after lunch…!). Rinse with, and drink water prior to playing.


    • Flute headjoints should be cleaned by wiping the tone hole and lip plate with alcohol. DO NOT run a headjoint under water or submerse in water as there is a cork inside the headjoint that should not get wet.
    • Clarinet and Saxophone mouthpieces should be soaked in a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water for 20-30 minutes to break down deposits. Brush with a mouthpiece brush after soaking and rinse (you are encouraged to purchase a mouthpiece brush that is specifically designed for this purpose).  After brushing and rinsing, dip, wipe or spray the mouthpiece with rubbing alcohol and allow to sit for at least one minute.  Wipe dry.  For stubborn stains/deposits, repeat the process.
      • Note: While a saxophone mouthpiece may be fully submerged, a clarinet mouthpiece should not, as the cork should not get wet. Apply cork grease to the cork before beginning the soaking process to help protect it.  Position the clarinet mouthpiece upside down in a cup of the 50/50 water/white vinegar solution so that the cork is above the level of the liquid.

      • All woodwinds should be properly swabbed immediately after use and before being cased. Swabbing distributes the condensation that builds up within a woodwind instrument so that the inside of the instrument dries quickly:
        • Flute headjoints should be swabbed using a cleaning rod (usually included with the flute) and a soft silk cloth. The main body of the flute should not be swabbed.
        • Clarinet, Saxophone, Oboe and Bassoon should be swabbed from large opening(s) to small opening(s) with an appropriate swab.
        • Saxophone necks may also be swabbed and may be cleaned occasionally with a brush and hot soapy water.
          • Note: A saxophone neck should not be fully submerged as the cork and octave key pad should not get wet. Apply cork grease to the neck cork before cleaning to help protect it.  Avoid getting the octave key pad wet to the extent possible (a small amount of moisture won’t hurt it, but excessive moisture will).

        • Bassoon bocals may be cleaned in hot soapy water and with a bocal brush or soft bristle pipe cleaners.
      • REEDS
        • It is an individual student responsibility to keep a rotation of reeds that have been well cared for.
        • Reeds that are chipped, broken, cracked, have a dirty appearance and/or bad smell should be thrown away.

          Many students play on old reeds in poor condition simply out of a lack of responsibility to purchase additional new reeds as needed.  At minimum, poor reeds lead to difficulties playing the instrument—at worst, old and overused reeds can become a breeding ground for mold and bacteria.


        • Reeds should be properly stored (NOT LEFT ON THE MOUTHPIECE) after each use. At minimum, this means lightly wiping excess moisture off of the reed before placing back in the reed case.  Higher quality reed cases are available for purchase in music stores and online.



  • While this is true of all instruments, it is especially important for musicians whose primary means of making sound is to physically touch the instrument to wash their hands before playing.
    • Because string instruments and bows are made of finished wood, it is important to test any cleaning products on a small area before using them on all the touchable surfaces of the instrument. The only areas of a string instrument on which you should attempt to use any cleaning product are pegs/fine tuners, strings, fingerboard, and unfinished area of the neck.  All other areas should only use a wood polish and microfiber cloth specifically formulated for string instruments, or a solution of Murphy’s Oil Soap and water (details below).  Again, test cleaners and polishes on small surfaces and use care.  String instrument finishes are alcohol and water-based and can be marred easily.
    • In general, black plastic or ebony surfaces should be cleaned. Metal surfaces should be cleaned.  Finished wood surfaces should be polished with a wood polish and microfiber cloth specifically formulated for string instruments.
      • Wipe fine tuners, tuning pegs, fingerboard, strings, bow frog and ferrule, bow tension screw, bow thumb leather and bow winding with Clorox wipes (ring out extra moisture before using to prevent drips) or alcohol taking extreme care not to get any cleaning product on the finished face or other finished surfaces of the instrument or bow (if accidental drips occur, be prepared to wipe them off immediately).
    • The finished surfaces on a stringed instrument are sensitive. Test cleaners and polishes on a small surface before using.
      • Polish finished wood surfaces on bow and instrument with an approved polish as desired and to remove excess rosin.
      • You may also try a diluted solution of Murphy’s Oil Soap and water. Barely moisten a rag with the solution and wipe the instrument down (AGAIN…test a small area before doing this on the entire instrument), and then immediately dry with a microfiber cloth or soft paper towels.
      • Clorox wipes or alcohol can safely clean the handling surfaces of most sticks and mallets. Test cleaning products on a small, discrete area of sticks and mallets made of natural materials such as wood or bamboo before using on the entire surface.
      • Synthetic drumheads may be cleaned with paper towel and ammonia-based glass cleaners (Windex).
      • Other percussion surfaces are best left untouched.


    • Keyboards may be safely cleaned with Clorox wipes or alcohol. Take care to ring out extra moisture to ensure no liquid drips into the cracks between keys.
      • NOTE: While rare, if you have a very old piano at home with ivory keys, it is suggested that you use a very mild soap and hot water solution to clean the keyboard. Use a cloth and ring it as dry as possible before wiping keys.