How To Sterilize a Recorder: Plastic or Wood

Recorder

Musical recorders are wonderful instruments that are simple to learn but are still versatile and have a great sound. Many beginning students start with the plastic recorder simply because they don’t cost much and are easy to find. Professional wooden recorders though can cost over $300 and can be exquisite instruments. Whether you’re a student in a classroom setting, just learning to play the recorder at home, or an experienced musician, it’s important to know how to clean and sterilize your recorder.

Before you sterilize a recorder, you’ll want to clean the instrument first. Take apart the recorder and wash each section with warm water and mild cleaner, soaking the recorder if it’s made of plastic. Clean the exterior with warm cloth and then rinse. Wipe the inside dry with a cloth and cleaning rod. For sanitization, saturate with¬† mouthwash or Sterisol¬† to kill germs. Rinse again and then dry by patting with a soft cloth. Allow to fully air dry before storing in its case.

There are a few things you should watch out for with the cleaning process and some different options for cleaning and for sanitizing. We also have a some shortcuts if you’re ever in a rush to sterilize a recorder or don’t want all the hassle.

For the steps below, I’ll be using dish detergent and mouthwash for cleaning and sanitizing. I’ll list the other options below.

Steps to clean and sterilize a plastic recorder

Let’s break down the full process of cleaning and sterilizing a plastic recorder. After all, each time the recorder is played, the inside is coated in saliva and we need to know how to get rid of that spit, and the germs with it!

  1. Recorder PartsDissemble the recorder: Gently remove the mouthpiece by twisting from the body joint. With plastic recorders, the joints may be difficult to twist apart so you may need to use a little more force. If there’s a separate foot joint, gently twist and pull it free from the body joint as well. Note that many plastic recorders don’t have a separate foot joint.
  2. Soak in warm water and soap: Fill the sink or a large container with warm water and a couple squirts of dish detergent. The water should be warm to mildly hot since heat will help remove and kill the germs but not too hot since scalding water can damage a plastic instrument. Place the recorder segments (or joints) into warm water and soak for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Scrub exterior with cleaning cloth: plastic recorders are pretty resilient so a regular cleaning cloth or sponge will work. For the crevices and finger holes, use a bottle brush, soft-bristle toothbrush, or cotton swab (think Q-tip) to clean away any buildup and grime.
  4. Rinse soap off recorder: Run warm water through the interior of each joint, making sure all soap is rinsed off thoroughly.
  5. Plastic Recorder and RodWipe clean with cloth and recorder rod: A recorder rod is a cleaning stick made just for recorders that fits inside the joints of the instrument. It has a little opening at the end that you can thread part of a cleaning cloth through, to hold the cloth in place. After the joints have soaked for a bit, push the recorder rod and soft cloth through the body and foot joints to pick up any dirt and grime within the inside of the recorder, known as the bore. With this step, you’re also drying the inside of the instrument. For the mouthpiece, or head joint, you won’t be able to push the rod through. Instead, insert from the bottom of the mouthpiece, slightly twisting until you can’t push it any further. Move the cloth in and out a few times to pick up everything.
    Note: if you don’t have a recorder rod, a knitting needle will also work since it has a hook on the end. You don’t want to get your cleaning cloth stuck within the instrument!
  6. Saturate with mouthwash or Sterisol: Now that the buildup and gunk have been removed, it’s time to sanitize the recorder. For this step, you can use either a common mouthwash like Listerine (kills over 99% bacteria) or Sterisol, a specialized instrument germicide that’s used by most musical professionals. In a small containers, so you don’t use too much, mix the sanitizing agent with water half and half. Either soak each part, or pour through and over each part of your recorder, making sure that everything gets saturated. Especially make sure that the mouthpiece is fully soaked since it is the dirtiest part of the instrument. Allow the mouthwash or Sterisol to soak in for a minute or so to kill off any remaining germs.
    Note, most of the germs will already have been washed away during the cleaning process. This extra sanitization step just makes extra sure.
  7. Rinse with water: Do a final rinse to remove the residue and smell from the sanitizing agent.
  8. Dry and store: Shake any excess water from the instrument and pat dry the exterior of the recorder with a paper towel or drying cloth. Allow to air dry for 20 minutes or so until completely dry. After dry, store the instrument in its case to avoid dust and exposure.

First Shortcut: Put your plastic recorder in the dishwasher

Wait, what? Yes, many plastic recorders are actually dishwasher safe. Many teachers and recorder owners swear that this works for sanitization and that they haven’t seen any damage to their instrument. If you do this, make sure to separate your recorder joints and that you run the dishwasher without the heated dry cycle. Running the recorder through the dishwasher will also remove the joint grease though, so make sure you apply more afterwards so the joints will be easier to put back together.

Remember, this shortcut is just for plastic recorders.

Second Shortcut: Spray Sterisol

Instead of saturating with mouthwash or Sterisol, use the spray version of the product. Just make sure you fully spray all areas. You can find it at your local music instrument store or online.

Steps to clean and disinfect a wooden recorder

Most of the steps to clean a wooden recorder are the same as a plastic one EXCEPT these 2 important rules:

  • NEVER put your wooden recorder in the dishwasher. It could crack your instrument.
  • NEVER soak your wooden recorder for longer than 15 minutes. It could also crack your instrument.

We don’t need to go over each step in detail here since so I’ll mention what’s different with cleaning a wooden recorder.

  1. Baroque Wood RecorderDissemble the recorder: Wood recorders typically will have a thread joint or cork joint but you’ll still twist as you gently separate each joint.
  2. Wash in warm water and soap: Fill the sink or a large container with warm water and a couple squirts of dish detergent. The water should be warm but to help remove dirt and grime but not too hot. Wash each recorder segment (or joint) into warm water and with a cloth, wipe away any dirt and other grime. Allow the soapy water to run through the interior of each joint.
  3. Scrub difficult spots with brush: For the crevices and finger holes, use bottle brush, soft-bristle toothbrush, or cotton swab to clean away any buildup and grime.
  4. Rinse soap off recorder: Run warm water through the interior of each joint, making sure all soap is rinsed off thoroughly.
  5. Wipe clean with cloth and recorder rod: Insert the recorder rod and soft cloth into the inside of each joint, gently twisting as you push it through. This will pick up any buildup and wipe it clean. For the mouthpiece, get what you can since the rod will only go in partially.
  6. Saturate with mouthwash or Sterisol: Mouthwash or Sterisol will both kill the germs. Mix either with water 50/50 and saturate each joint, especially the mouthpiece.
  7. Rinse with water: Do a final rinse to remove the residue and smell from the sanitizing agent.
  8. Dry and store: Shake any excess water from the instrument and pat dry the exterior of the recorder with a paper towel or drying cloth. Allow to air dry for 20 minutes or so until completely dry. After dry, store the instrument in its case to avoid dust and exposure.

Cleaning Options

Here are some alternatives to using soapy water to initially soak or wash your mouthpiece:

  • Vinegar and water: Mix 1 part vinegar to 4 parts warm water. The vinegar will also help disinfect and will dissolve calcium buildup.
  • Bleach and water: Mix 1 part bleach to 10 parts warm water. Be a little more careful with this solution since too much bleach can harm your recorder.

For sanitization, you can also use a 50:50 solution of vinegar and water to saturate your instrument.

Third Shortcut: Soak just your mouthpiece in a glass of mouthwash

That’s it? If you don’t have a lot of time to clean your recorder, you can remove just your mouthpiece and pop it into a glass that contains a mixture of half water and half antibacterial mouthwash, so that it’s fully submerged. Let it sit for about a minute and then rinse out with water and dry. The mouthpiece is the dirtiest part of the instrument so in this shortcut, we’re just focused it. However, you should really clean the full recorder if you have a little extra time.

Let’s talk prevention

The easiest way to keep the germs at bay is a little maintenance.

  • Don’t eat or drink soda right before playing. The food particles and sugars will get into your recorder, which can cause bacteria or mold to grow.
  • Wash your hands before playing as dirt or oils can build up over time.
  • Each time you play, use your cloth and recorder rod to wipe out most of the moisture.
  • Make sure your recorder is dry when stored.

Missing a few cleaning supplies?

We’ve put together recommendations and links for each of the items mentioned here.

Happy playing!

We hope this helped you with cleaning and sanitizing your instrument, so that you’ll have many years of enjoyment playing it.

 

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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