How Often Should You Clean Your Clarinet? What If You Don’t?

Clarinet street playing

Sure, after band practice or a jam session, it’s tempting to throw everything in the case and forget about it until the next time you play. However, an important part of owning and playing a clarinet is taking care of your instrument. A properly maintained clarinet will require less repairs and should last 15-20 years. You’ll also have less down time and your clarinet will produce better sound.

A clarinet should be cleaned regularly to avoid bacteria and mold buildup. Each time the instrument is played, the reed should be removed and the clarinet wiped out (swabbed) to remove moisture. Every week, the mouthpiece should be fully cleaned. Your clarinet should receive a deep cleaning monthly. The pull-through swab and instrument case should be cleaned as they need it. Also have your clarinet serviced through a professional every 12-18 months.

The clarinet is an amazing instrument, designed to produce a beautiful sound. It also has intricate metalwork and sections that all fit together perfectly at the joint corks. The mouthpiece chamber and clarinet body allow for the air to flow and the instrument to resonate. All this to say that everything on your clarinet works together in harmony so that you get the best playing experience each time you play.

To keep this harmony, you need to keep your clarinet maintained. I’ve put together an easy-to-follow schedule for you below along with more details in the next sections. That way you’ll have a useful resource that you can turn to for quick reference! But first, a reminder on why you should regularly clean your clarinet.

What happens if you don’t clean your clarinet?

The inside of your clarinet is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and mold. It’s already warm and dark but when you play, you add saliva (spit!) to mix. If you just ate or drank a soda, that can coat your mouthpiece chamber and reed with food particles and sugars. If not regularly cleaned out, this can lead to some really bad odors and can become a hygiene problem that you can actually get sick from. Also, if there’s excess moisture, it can start to warp or crack your instrument – repairs can be quite expensive if that happens. Also, when you spend that much time with an instrument, it’s nice to have it clean and ready to play.

Clarinet maintenance after each time you play

Clarinet in caseYou can eliminate most of the buildup in your clarinet with just a couple minutes of maintenance after you play and before you put your instrument back in its case.

  1. Remove your ligature and reed: loosen the screws on your ligature and take it off along with your reed. Lightly wipe off the reed (back to front) with your cleaning cloth and put it away in its reed case. Wipe off your ligature as needed. This can go back on your mouthpiece as you store it.
  2. Wipe out your mouthpiece: run your cloth through your mouthpiece a few times by pushing through with your finger. Don’t use your pull-through swab on the mouthpiece since it can damage it. Wipe off any spit on the outside of your mouthpiece. Put your ligature loosely back on and your mouthpiece cover if you have one. Store it in your case.
  3. Swab each section: Take apart each section at the joints. Run your swab through each section as needed until no moisture is left inside. Wipe the exterior as needed. Place each section in the case.

That’s it! You’ve quickly removed most of the gross stuff from your instrument and it’s ready to be stored until you play it next.

Each week, clean your mouthpiece

Clarinet mouthpieceYour mouthpiece gets the most dirty since that’s where your mouth is and most of the spit is going. It’ll get buildup the quickest and is the most likely place to get a bad odor.  Even with wiping it out each time you play, it’s recommended that you still clean and sanitize your mouthpiece weekly.

We’ve written a full article that will walk you through cleaning your mouthpiece in under 20 minutes.  We’ll run through the steps quickly here though:

  1. Soak the mouthpiece in a solution of half vinegar and half water for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Then using either a mouthpiece brush or a soft-bristle toothbrush, remove all gunk and limescale.
  3. Next, rinse out the mouthpiece water.
  4. Saturate the mouthpiece in mouthwash or Sterisol.
  5. Lastly, wipe dry with a paper towel or soft cloth.

You should definitely read through the full article though if you want a full step-by-step set of instructions.

Deep clean your clarinet monthly

Every month or so, your clarinet will need a deep cleaning. For a good general cleaning, you can follow our quick guide to safely clean your clarinet but for the monthly cleaning, you’ll want to go into more depth. As part of the deep cleaning, not only will you be thoroughly cleaning your instrument but you’ll also be checking the corks, pads, and metalwork to make sure everything is good. There’s a lot that you can do yourself without having to go to a professional. We recommend these 2 guides that cover the topic pretty well:

If you need any cleaning or maintenance supplies (cork grease, oils, cloths etc), check out our product recommendations. We’ve researched the best ones so you don’t have to!

Cleaning your instrument case, cloths, and swab

Clarinet case and clothYour instrument case, cleaning cloths, and swab can all get gross! Each week as you clean your mouthpiece, also take a look at these to see if they need some attention.

  • If you have anything in your case that’s not supposed to be there, vacuum it out. Use soap and warm water to clean up any spills. Let it air dry for a bit. You can take a cloth to wipe down the outside of your case to remove any dust or grime.
  • Smell test your cloths and swab. If they have some stink, or they’re overly wet, they need to be cleaned.
  • If you have microfiber cloths, you can put them in the washer but without laundry detergent. It’s better to wash them by hand with just water. Just use your hands to clean and release the dirt. Air dry.
  • For your pull-through swab, you can put in your washing machine with detergent but wrap your pull-through cord so it won’t get caught in the agitator. Do not use the dryer, just air dry.

Have your clarinet serviced every 12-18 months

With proper maintenance and cleaning, you won’t be going to a professional technician for servicing as much but you should still schedule a ‘tune-up’ at least every 18 months. Usually in the $50-$65 range (you can read the full article here for the costs), the instrument pro will do a deep cleaning but will also go through every part of your clarinet to make sure it’s in top playing condition.  They will check your pads and replace as needed, fix any issues with hinges, and more. Even if you’re doing a great job with deep cleaning your instrument every month, it’s good to have a professional look it over.

Clarinet Maintenance Schedule

Just as promised, here’s your quick reference. I put it at the end of the article so you’d read the full descriptions first. Now that you have a full understanding of how to maintain your fine instrument, here you go:

After each playing
  • Wipe off reed
  • Wipe out mouthpiece
  • Swab each section
Every week
  • Clean and sanitize mouthpiece
  • Check case and cloths
Every month
  • Deep clean
As needed
  • Clean case
  • Wash cloths
  • Wash swab
Every 12-18 months
  • Professional serviced

I hope this was useful to you. If it was, please share with your friends and band mates. We hope you have many years of enjoyment playing your clarinet!

Aaron

An ardant fan of acoustic music, I played the clarinet in high school band and even competed in Disneyland. As the son of a music teacher, I know firsthand the importance of keeping instruments clean and maintained. I now enjoy sharing information with others and providing answers where I can.

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