How to Clean & Maintain a Clarinet

How to Clean & Maintain a Clarinet

When a piece of equipment is not cleaned regularly, it will quickly become filthy. In addition to creating a breeding site for bacteria, sugar, food particles, and microbes alter the instrument’s tone.

The conventional clarinet has 17 keys and 6 rings and is made of various materials. It is difficult to keep a clarinet in top functioning order because of a variety of reasons, including the qualities of the build materials and the intricacy and sensitivity of the keywork. The most crucial component in maintaining your clarinet in ideal working condition is careful maintenance and regular trips to a professional woodwind technician.

In this article, we’ll take you through all you need to know about cleaning and maintaining a clarinet.


How to Clean a Clarinet

Clarinets are carefully built instruments that require regular cleaning to perform at their best. Here is a guide on cleaning your clarinet properly.


What You Need

Clarinets require specialized cleaning products, some of which you may already have in your home. Before you begin, gather the following cleaning items:

  • A Bowl
  • Hot water
  • Hydrogen peroxide or mouthwash
  • Disinfectant spray
  • A mouthpiece brush
  • Swab for clarinets
  • Cotton swab
  • Polishing fabric
  • Hand soap or dish soap
  • Cork grease
  • A key brush
  • Cleaning paper
  • Bore oil
  • Bore oil

Step 1: Disassemble the Clarinet

Before you begin cleaning your clarinet, you must first disassemble it into its five parts. Gently twist each section one by one, starting with the mouthpiece and barrel. Then move on to the upper joint, followed by the lower joint, and lastly, the bell.

The ligature screws on the mouthpiece must be loosened before you can lift the ligature over the reed with the mouthpiece. The clarinet reed can then be removed. You should always take additional care to store them safely so that you don’t damage your reed.


Step 2: Clean the Clarinet Body

It is important to swab out your clarinet after each performing session to remove the excess moisture. Use the swab to carefully run through each area of the clarinet, dropping the weighted end and pushing it through the piece.  To ensure that the clarinet is completely dry, repeat this process multiple times.

Your clarinet’s bell can also be swabbed while it’s assembled by flipping it over and then putting the weighted end of your clarinet swab into the bell. However, cleaning the mouthpiece with a swab can cause long-term damage and alter the shape of the mouthpiece’s inside.

Remember that you must use both hands to pull the swab through your clarinet while holding it gently in one.


Step 3: Cleaning the Reeds

Soak the reeds in a solution of half hot water and half hydrogen peroxide or mouthwash. You can also use antiseptic mouthwash like Listerine.

Rinse the reeds with cool water after 10-15 minutes. Dry with a microfiber or cotton fabric from the base to the tip. This will clean and dry the reed without chipping the tip. Allow reeds to dry completely in the air before storing them in cases.


Step 4: Cleaning the Mouthpiece

A daily mouthpiece clean and sanitization is recommended for regular players, but a monthly deep clean routine, as described below, is encouraged.

Grease the cork. To avoid water damage, oil the cork before soaking it. Fill a small pitcher with half water and half vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. Soak your mouthpiece in the solution for 5-10 minutes.

Remove any dirt from the chamber’s corners with a key brush or a baby toothbrush. Rinse and check. If you overlooked any places, use a cotton swab to get them.

Use mouthwash or Sterisol to clean your mouthpiece. You can either dip your mouthpiece or drizzle the mouthwash into the chamber to get it soaked. Dry everything with a gentle cloth or paper towel. Allow to air dry.


Step 5: Cleaning Each Part

Your hands will leave grease on your clarinet whether you wash them or not before playing. To clean it and keep it from forming on your clarinet, use a polishing cloth coated with a finer polish. If you don’t have one, a clean microfiber cloth will do.

Buff the clarinet’s metal segments until they shine, giving special attention to the keys and other areas where your fingers rest. You can also shine your ligature with a polishing cloth. If you find keys or rods with a residual on them, it’s probably from water.

In the clarinet, condensation builds up and can leak out through the perforations and run along with the keys. Removing it requires a dual-sided key brush. Simply clean the key with the spiralized end of the brush. Use the brush end for hard-to-reach areas or dusty joints.


Step 6: Cleaning Pads and Tone Holes

Insert cleaning paper between the tone hole and pad to dry the pads. Repeat pressing the key gently until no moisture or color appears on the paper. Pulling out the cleaning paper while pushing down on the key can damage the pad or its seal.

Then, inspect the pads for leakage. Small crevices can develop between the pads and the tone holes over time, allowing air in. To find a leak, play the scale and check for any odd notes. But you’d have to do it before disassembling your clarinet.  When you insert the paper and lightly push the key, you should get a circular impression. If, after removing the paper, you observe an open circle, you may have a leak there.

Your clarinet may need professional repair now that you’ve discovered the leaky pad. A good pad set should last for years; however, excessive dampness might shorten its life.

Remove dust or other materials from your tone holes using a cotton swab or key brush.


Step 7: Oiling the Keys

While the clarinet is mostly made of non-rusting metal, the screws used on those sections might corrode if stored in high humidity or often put away damp.

A drop of key oil on each hinge will lubricate and protect it from rust. Small drops of key oil go a long way.


Step 8: Inspecting the Corks

It is important to keep corks lubricated to protect them from drying out and becoming compressed.

Cork grease can help if the cork on the mouthpiece, upper joint, or lower joint feels dry or is hard to slip into its socket. Spread the oil evenly over the cork, but don’t use too much, or it will leak out of the joint and into unexpected places.


Step 9: Applying Bore Oil

Bore oil safeguards the clarinet’s wood from moisture and breaking. Soak a clean cotton clarinet swab in some oil before connecting the barrel, lower, and upper joint.

Pull the swab softly through the clarinet and let it absorb for several minutes. To remove extra oil, run another fresh swab through several times.


Clarinet Maintenance Tips

Here are some additional clarinet maintenance suggestions.

  • Always brush your teeth and thoroughly wash your hands before playing.
  • Swap out scuffed clarinet pads, preventing the unpleasant buzzing of your clarinet.
  • Clean the tone hole tubing. Dirt settles in the tone holes. It is important to note that ignoring the tone holes for keys #9, #10, and #12 causes flat, out-of-tune notes in the throat tone register.
  • Make sure the clarinet rings are clean. Dirt and dust accumulate in the clarinet rings, causing intonation issues.
  • Clean your swabs. Cleaning the clarinet with a filthy swab negates the purpose.
  • Three times a year, oil the keys. Apply key oil to the instrument’s moving rods. If you can’t find key oil, try sweet almond oil.
  • Clarinet keys should be wiped clean.  This prevents rusting and natural sweating from degrading the key plating.
  • Every six months, see a woodwind technician. If you can’t go every six months, aim to go at least once a year.


Final Thoughts

Now you know how to clean and maintain your clarinet. We hope this guide has been beneficial.

Clarinets are attractive instruments, but they are also sensitive, and as such, regular deep cleanings are required to keep them at their best.  Regular cleaning procedures should be built into your routine; after all, a healthy instrument is a consistently performing instrument.

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