How to Clean High Hats Without Ruining Them

cleaning hi hats

Everyone knows the distinct sounds and qualities of the high hat. From avid drummers to music lovers alike, the high hat is the piece of every drum set known for breakdowns, intros, and bridges alike. However, what if your high hat sounds so toned down it almost disappears in the cacophony? This is where a good and careful high hat cleaning is highly effective. Now, you may be asking yourself how to clean your high hats without affecting the sound and quality of them indefinitely.

To consolidate, the best way to clean your high hats without ruining them is to simply use Brasso or another brass-specific cleaner. You can also use simply a lint-free cloth for dust and debris as well as water and a non-abrasive cloth frequently. However, most drummers will argue that this is as far as you should go to keep that unique sound which only comes from slightly dirty cymbals. 

For a better rundown of the steps, a full description of what not to do to keep your high hats safe, and a definitive answer to the question of which spelling is the right one, read on and find answers to all of your high hat questions and more.

What Cleaning Tips Will Ultimately Ruin Your High Hats?

There are many mistakes that new drummers make when cleaning any of their cymbals. The most common being to use WD-40, polishes, standard household cleaners, or abrasive scrubbers. All of these things will essentially damage the sound and longevity of your high hats guaranteed.

Because WD-40 is highly abrasive, using this to clean your high hats will lead to their grooves slowly eroding and their sound being affected as well. Similarly, any household cleaners can be just as abrasive and harmful to the overall sound of your high hat over time. When it comes to polishes and greases, these will only gunk up your high hat and make it far easier for it to attract air debris.

Lastly, using abrasive scrubbers, polishers, sandpaper, or brillo pads may seem clever when you are first starting out or if you have never cleaned your high hats before, but this technique could ultimately ruin your cymbals indefinitely.

What are the Signs of Destroyed High Hats to Look out for?

When your high hats are destroyed, this doesn’t mean that they are unusable or broken. Instead, it’s all about their sound and their quality. While some drummers will say that cleaning your cymbals keeps them crips which sounds great, most drummers will argue that the best cymbals are those that are rarely cleaned and retain that unique sound only older cymbals can possibly have. In fact, some drummers on Reddit drumming forums have recommended burying your cymbals overnight to make them sound more vintage and toned down, although we wouldn’t recommend this personally as it is a bit insane and the complete opposite of cleaning your high hats.

All in all, if you overclean or wear down your cymbals, they will become very sharp and crisp which can be abrasive and ruin your sound indefinitely. This is what it means to destroy your high hats and other cymbals. As this sound will likely cut on recordings, make your drum rhythms seem abrasive, and even hurt listeners’ ears, it simply isn’t something you want to overdo. This is why knowing the right techniques and cleaning products is essential.

Safe Cleaning Techniques, Recommended Products, etc.

Once you have chosen to clean your high hats, you will now want to prepare your workspace for the cleaning process, find the right products to do so, and be as careful as possible.

The products we recommend are any of the most common brass cleaning products such as Spitballs brass cleaning discs, Brasso, or CAIG Laboratories DeoxIT D5 Contact Cleaner. We also recommend using lint-free cloths and cleaning off debris before and after every use.

When cleaning your high hats with the brass cleaners specifically, start by removing any excess debris with a cloth, then take your lint-free cloth, apply a small amount of whatever cleaner you choose to the cloth itself, clean in a circular motion moving outwards, ensure all excess is wiped away, and then simply reassemble your high hats. This is the best way to ensure that your high hats stay clean but not so clean as to limit their toned-down sound quality that can only come from a bit of wear.

We recommend doing this process only about 3 to four times a year and cleaning with water monthly. This will ensure that you don’t overclean your cymbals and will still keep them in pristine condition for far longer.

Two other unique cleaning methods that are often seen online in random forums and the depths of the internet place ketchup and apple cider at the forefront of the cleaning process. The reason being that apple cider is acidic but not enough to deteriorate your cymbals in any way. Similarly, ketchup is acidic and also is great for grease buildup or polish buildup. If you choose to try one of these methods, you may want to watch these videos on how to do these precisely below.


According to both creators, these methods removed stick marks, created a slightly crisper sound without being too sharp, and also didn’t deteriorate the cymbals in any way.

For those that don’t want to watch the step-by step videos, essentially apply the ketchup to your debris-free high hat surface, lightly scrub with a toothbrush or similar utensil, leave on the surface for roughly 30 minutes, then simply rinse with water and dry with a lint-free cloth before reassembling.

Similarly, the apple cider cleaning process only requires a sponge and the vinegar mixture. Wash off your cymbal with water, pour the cider into a small container, dip the sponge into the cider, and then use the soft side of the sponge to rub it into the top of your high hat evenly. Once all finger and stick marks are gone, wash off your high hat once more with water and let it dry before putting it back on your kit.

Although these ways may seem a bit risky, most of the forums online say that this is one of the more effective ways to remove stick and finger marks without losing that vintage or used sound.

‘High Hats’ or ‘Hi-Hats’: Is There a Difference?

Now that your high hat is clean and ready to return to your full drum set, let’s move to one of the most commonly asked high hat questions on the internet. While some drummers use ‘high hat’ and others use ‘hi-hat’, is there really a difference and does it actually matter which version you use?

To be frank, both spellings are completely acceptable, they refer to the same thing, and it shouldn’t matter in the slightest which you choose. The origin of the high hat comes from the sock cymbal which then transformed into a cymbal mounted on a short stand was originally referred to as a ‘low-boy’. These cymbals were not originally a part of the average drum set but, once the cymbals were mounted to a longer stand with a pedal, they became what we now refer to as the ‘high hat’ or ‘hi-hat’ and became the status quo for drummers worldwide.

In short, ‘high hat’ is nothing more than a nod to its origins and far shorter previous versions. Therefore, whether you refer to them as ‘high hats’ or ‘hi-hats’, you’re right!

In Conclusion

Now that your high hats are clean and in pristine condition, it’s time to take them for a test and play your heart out knowing you’ve taken good care of one of the most integral parts of your drum set. For a comprehensive list of cleaning supplies that serve your cymbal needs perfectly, feel free to also check out our cleaning supply kits today!

Josh Olswanger

I've been playing and writing music since the age of 13. My father is a piano tuner/technician of 40 years, and I've been musically involved in all aspects from composing, to recording, producing and playing live for most of my life. I've always had a fascination and appreciation for all types of music and musical instruments, so creating this site is a perfect outlet to share my knowledge.

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