How to clean and maintain your clarinet

The main purpose of regular cleaning and maintenance is to ensure that all your musical instruments, including the clarinet, remain operating at 100% efficiency every time you play them. But, how do you go about it? Read on to find out!

As a musician, you want your musical instruments to last as long as possible and maintain top performance at all times during use. Maintenance is not just limited to putting away your clarinet safely in its case, but also ensuring that it is clean, dry, well assembled and performing regular checks on different parts of your clarinet day to day. Along with that, regular cleaning and maintenance allows you to avoid expensive repairs and clarinet damages associated with neglect and improper care. So, how do you clean and maintain your clarinet so that it remains in working condition at all times?

To do this, you will need a few cleaning supplies, such as a microfiber/silk swab, hydrogen peroxide or mouthwash, hot water, cork grease and a polishing cloth, dish/liquid hand soap, and bore oil.

How to clean your clarinet

Regularly cleaning your clarinet helps you avoid a bacteria and mold build up. Every time you play the clarinet, you should always remove the reed and swab the clarinet to remove moisture. We recommend cleaning your clarinet every week for the best results. Here are a few steps you should follow when cleaning your clarinet;

Step One: Disassemble your Clarinet then Swab its Body and all the other Clarinet Pieces

To start cleaning your clarinet, start by disassembling it into its 5 separate pieces. You should also remove the reed and the ligature carefully to avoid damaging them.

Once you are done, you need to use a microfiber or silk swab to remove any excess moisture from the body of your clarinet before placing it back into it case. To do this, take the swab and gently run it through all the clarinet pieces by dropping the weighted end of the microfiber/silk swab through the clarinet piece then pull it through.

Once you are done cleaning, take the upper joint, barrel, lower, joint, and bell apart and place them on a flat surface. Allow them to dry for about 3 minutes. Repeat the cleaning process multiple times until there is no moisture left in the clarinet.

Do not use the swab to clean the mouthpiece, as you may end up altering the shape of the mouthpiece or damaging it entirely. Also, ensure to hold your clarinet carefully to avoid bending any keys in the process.

Step Three: Clean the Reeds and the Mouthpiece

Generally, you need to always remove the reed from the mouthpiece before putting them away in their case. Along with that, you should spray the clarinet and reed mouthpiece using sanitizing spray whenever you can.

To clean the reed, soak it in mouthwash for about 1 minute then rinse it under warm water. If you do not have a mouthwash, you can use hydrogen peroxide mixed in hot water. When using hydrogen peroxide, ensure to rinse the reed thoroughly to clear its strong odor and taste.

If you play the clarinet with lip balm or lip stick on, you may notice a residue build up on the reed. In this case, scrub the reed using your fingertip to remove the lip balm/stick film. Once you are done, place the clarinet reed on a flat surface to allow it to dry and prevent warping.

When it comes to cleaning the mouthpiece, you will need to use a mouthpiece brush or a toothbrush. Thereafter, pour a few drops of hand washing soap or dish soap in a bowl then run warm water into the bowl. Place the mouthpiece into the bowl and let it soak for a few minutes. Once it has had enough time to soak, use the mouthpiece brush to loosen any grime or residue on the mouthpiece then rinse it in warm water and place it on a flat surface so that it can dry.

To confirm whether the mouthpiece is clean enough, run a Q-tip along the corners of the mouthpiece and check for any dirt or residue. If the Q-tip doesn’t come out clean, repeat the cleaning process until you are satisfied with the results.

Step Four: Clean the Pads and Tone Holes then Oil the Keys

Sometimes, when playing the clarinet, the condensation buildup does not leak out. Instead, it builds up on the pads and ton holes. When this happens, the clarinet keys begin to stick together.

To clean the keypads, therefore, place cleaning paper between the tone holes and the keypad then press it multiple times as you consistently move the paper until no marks are left on the paper.

Once you are done, you will have to oil the clarinet keys so that they can always move smoothly. Besides that, lubricating the keys prevents rust and ensures durability.

Step Five: Check the Corks, Oil the Bore and Store the Clarinet

To prevent the corks from drying out and becoming compressed, lubricate them using cork grease. Once you are done, the last step would be to oil the bore of your clarinet using bore oil. Doing this, protects the wood used on your clarinet from absorbing too much condensation and eventually cracking.

To clean it up, connect the lower joint, barrel, and upper joint then place a small amount of bore oil on a cotton swab and pull it through the instrument. Once it is clean and well lubricated, remove the excess oil and store it in its case.

How to maintain Clarinet

The table below summarizes and outlines a few clarinet maintenance tips that ensure the reliability and efficiency of your musical instrument.

Clarinet Maintenance Tip Reason Behind it
Always replace worn out clarinet pads Doing this prevents an annoying buzz when playing
Ensure that the rings on the clarinet are always clean Small dust particles tend to collect in the rings of the clarinet. By cleaning it often, you easily avoid any intonation problems
Ensure that the tubing of the tone holes are always clean The tone holes for keys #9, #10, and #12 need to accumulate dirt easily. So, by cleaning it often, the throat tone remains in tune
Wash your hands and brush your teeth before playing the clarinet Doing this prevents food particles and stained pads from clogging the clarinet keys
Use cork grease on each cork tenon Doing this makes it easier to assemble and disassemble your clarinet
Oil the clarinet keys about three to four times every year Always apply small drops of key oil or sweet almond oil on the moving rods and keys of your clarinet to prevent them from rusting and to keep them lubricated at all times
Visit a professional woodwind technician after every 6 months Doing this allows you to confirm whether your clarinet is in good condition or not. If you cannot go every 6 months, you can visit the woodwind technician at least once every year.

Final Thoughts

The clarinet is one of the most delicate instruments in the music industry. In that regard, you need to clean it regularly and maintain it well, so that it can remain durable, functional, and reliable for a prolonged period of time. Regular cleaning and maintenance significantly prevents any saliva, dirt, or condensation build up from damaging the cork, cracking or splitting the clarinet, damaging the pads and tarnishing the metal on the clarinet.


What happens if you do not clean your clarinet?

If you do not clean your clarinet regularly, black mold tends to build up inside it and it can cause a condition known as ‘Saxophone Lung’ that can make you sick.

How can you get rid of the bad smell on clarinet mouthpiece?

You can saturate it in mouthwash, sterisol or vinegar.

Charlotte Moore is a Clarinetist by profession and has over time offered lessons on how to play the clarinet among other musical instruments. And while a majority of clarinet players are well versed with the process of settling with a good clarinet among other accompanying features. There is little information about clarinets. The reason why Charlotte prepared comprehensive experts touching on the various facets of the clarinet. The consolidated information will offer more insight on everything clarinets including the best stand to use, and the best plastic clarinet that you can invest in, among other information. Charlotte Moore is a devoted mother of two and a professional clarinet player.

Leave a Comment