Whether you’re a band student learning to play the clarinet or a more experienced musician looking for tips, this clarinet care guide is for you. We’re going to cover how to properly care and maintain your clarinet so that you can enjoy more time playing and less time at the repair shop. We’ve also created an instrument care card that you can print off for reference!
How To Take Care Of Your Clarinet
- Wash your hands before playing.
- Don’t eat or drink soda before playing.
- Swab after every playing session.
- Wipe and store your reed in its case.
- Keep your tenon cork greased.
- Remove moisture from pads with paper.
- When not in use, always store in case.
- Clean your mouthpiece weekly.
- Never clean your clarinet with water.
- Clean full clarinet monthly.
- Oil keys every 6 months.
- Replace worn clarinet pads.
- Keep your case clean.
- See a woodwind technician every year.
We’ll cover each of these care tips in detail below. For quick reference, make sure to download your instrument care card. For band teachers, save some time by downloading the 4-card-per-page version on Etsy for just $2 (full instrument card set coming soon!)
Before You Play
- Wash your hands before playing. Washing your hands will remove any stickiness or oils that may be on your fingers so that your keys will last longer.
- Don’t eat or drink soda before playing. As you play, you blow any food or drink residues from your mouth into your clarinet. Those food particles and sugars from soda will build up over time and can cause bacteria or mold to grow. Those growths can be unhealthy, can affect how your clarinet plays, and can cause your instrument to stink.
- Grease your cork, if needed. As you put together your clarinet, grease each of the tenon corks if they look dry. Cork not only makes it easier to take apart your instrument later, it also helps create a good seal. There are also alternatives to cork grease that you may want to check out.
After You Play
- Swab after every playing session. A clarinet cleaning swab is basically a cloth with a string attached to it that you pull through the inside of your clarinet after playing to remove moisture. Check out our article on clarinet swabs that provides a ton more information.
- Wipe and store your reed in its case. Use a dry cloth to wipe off the moisture from your clarinet reed, going from thicker (back) end to the front. Make sure to do so gently since the tip of the reed is very fragile. Store in a reed case afterwards to further dry out the reed and to protect.
- Again, check your cork. If any of the joints are difficult to take apart, you should apply some cork grease (or alternative).
- Remove moisture from pads with paper. Check your pads for moisture. If you see any, you can remove that moisture by inserting your pad paper under the keys and press. If you don’t have pad paper, you can use a dollar bill in a pinch, a paper receipt, or regular printer paper.
Storing Your Clarinet
- When not in use, always store in case. Your case will protect your clarinet from harm, spills and dust buildup. Make sure to never leave your clarinet, even in the case, in the back of a hot car or sitting outside in direct sunlight, since the heat can cause damage.
- Keep your case clean. Over time, your case can get dirty. The moisture from your swab and instrument can cause bacteria or mold growth so it should be kept clean. More information can be found on our deep cleaning article.
Cleaning Your Clarinet
- Clean your mouthpiece weekly. Your mouthpiece is what comes directly in contact with your mouth so you especially want to keep it clean and sanitary. Cleaning your mouthpiece will take about 20 minutes, following our mouthpiece cleaning guide. To summarize though, you’ll soak the mouthpiece in a vinegar solution for about 10 minutes, use a mouthpiece brush to remove any gunk, rinse with water, sanitize with mouthwash, and then wipe dry.
- Never clean your clarinet with water. Well, except for your mouthpiece since that’s the only section that’s not made from wood. Never soak your clarinet in water, and especially don’t put it in the dishwasher, since it can cause the wood to warp and crack.
- Clean full clarinet monthly. Every month, you should go through your instrument for a deep clean from reed ligament to bell joint. You’ll want to follow our clarinet deep cleaning guide which covers all the cleaning including pad and key care, applying bore oil, and making your clarinet shiny again.
- Oil keys every 6 months. Apply a drop of key oil to the small gap between the ball and hinge for each key. Then work the key a few times so the oil will spread out to lubricate and protect the key hinge.
- Replace worn clarinet pads. Inspect your clarinet pads to see if they are becoming visibly worn or are not forming a seal correctly. To check the seal, you can use a thin piece of paper (a paper receipt is perfect) and put it under the outside edge of the tone hole. Press the key. If you can easily pull out the paper, you’ve found the leaky pad. Have a professional replace all the pads since the rest are probably worn too.
- See a woodwind technician every year. A trained instrument professional should clean and inspect your clarinet annually. They will be able to spot any issues with your instrument. While you can probably wait longer if you’re keeping up on cleaning your clarinet monthly, you’ll definitely want to pay them a visit if you are having issues with your pads, have a crack in your body or bell, or have any metalwork or hinge damage.
A Couple of Other Tips
Here’s a few more tips:
- When cleaning the mouthpiece, you can use a baby toothbrush instead of a mouthpiece brush.
- Mouthwash works great for sanitizing your mouthpiece, and smells good too.
- If you need cleaning supplies, buying a kit will save you money. We’ve found a few cleaning kits that we can recommend.
- By owning 2 pull-through swabs, you’ll have a back up in case you are washing one or have lost one.
- Store your ligature on your mouthpiece. That’ll protect it from getting squished or lost.
By following these tips and maintaining proper care of your clarinet, you’ll keep your instrument in top playing condition. It’ll also look better and smell better.
We have plenty of other articles on cleaning and taking care of your clarinet, along with the recommended gear and supplies.