As with any instrument, your ability to keep your flute shiny and in great condition truly defines your perceived respect for the instrument as well as its lifespan. A flute that is rarely taken care of, covered in tarnish and bacteria, will likely last half the time on average as a properly cared for and disinfected flute.
But, what does keeping your flute shiny and maintained really look like, how can you do it with ease at home, and what happens if you don’t maintain your flute for a long period of time?
For a simple step-by-step breakdown on how to make your flute shiny, start by using Windex to clean the outside of your flute. Next, use rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip or cotton ball to disinfect the mouthpiece. Use silver polish to keep the flute body shiny and tarnish-free. Finally, with a cleaning rod or flute swab, thoroughly clean the inside of your instrument to remove bacteria and moisture.
One pro tip we discuss further in this article is to never use bleach and vinegar during the cleaning process as these will damage your flute’s finish making it essentially never shiny again and more susceptible to tarnishing and damage.
To break down all of this and more, let’s delve into the cleaning process for a shiny well-maintained flute below and learn exactly how to avoid repeated $50 bills for professional flute cleanings along the way.
The Step-by-Step Guide to a Shiny Flute
In order to keep your flute in pristine condition and just as shiny as the day you bought it, you will definitely want to clean it regularly (every month or so) and disinfect with alcohol wipes before and after every use. For a better understanding of what the cleaning process looks like for a flute, let’s take a look at this procedure step by step below.
1. Disassemble your flute
Although this may seem pretty obvious, it is still important to state as some novice flautists may not be aware of the fact that your flute is comprised of three parts (head joint, foot joint, and body) and all of these pieces disconnect at the tenons providing the flautist with access to the interior of their flute for cleaning or maintenance. Once your flute is disassembled, be sure to not damage the pads on your keys as these are the most sensitive parts of any flute by far. This is why it is best to set aside a workspace for the cleaning process so nothing falls or breaks.
Every 3 months or so, you’ll want to also clean the cork in your head joint. Remove this by turning the crown counter-clockwise until it comes off and then push the cork in further (toward the embouchure hole) until it pops out. Make sure to note how tight your crown was since you’ll want it set to the same distance when you put it back together to keep the same tone and intonation.
2. Use Windex and a microfiber cloth for basic cleaning
The next step is to apply a small amount of Windex on a microfiber cloth and rub in a circular motion on outside of each section of your flute. Be careful around the keys and mechanisms since you don’t want to saturate them too much since the moisture could damage the pads or affect the playability of your instrument. Windex should dry easily on its own but still let your flute dry before moving on to the disinfecting process.
3. Saturate a cotton ball with alcohol and clean to disinfect
Once you’ve given your flute a basic clean, take a cotton ball and apply denatured isopropyl alcohol to it. Use this cotton ball to wipe down the body of your flute and the mouthpiece or head joint. Do not rub your keys with the alcohol as it could significantly affect your pads or dry out the mechanisms as well. This process should be done roughly twice and then let the alcohol dry on its own. This is especially necessary for those that play in public, share instruments, rent their flute for school, or simply are trying to avoid getting sick. For a more in-depth process breakdown, you can actually use most of the same steps laid out in our article How To Sterilize a Recorder: Plastic or Wood and you should be fine.
As we briefly stated the pro tip above, it’s important to mention that some blogs or forums may recommend using bleach or vinegar for disinfecting your flute. While they may claim these are effective options, never use them on your flute. Using these options over alcohol as a disinfectant is sure to lead to corrosion of your silver finish which will not only dull your flute but also make it more susceptible to damage such as scratches, tarnishing, or erosion.
4. Apply Anti-Tarnish Silver Polish With a Microfiber Cloth
After you have disinfected your instrument, take a silver polishing cloth and some anti-tarnish silver polish such as Music Nomad’s Silver Polish in order to get that shiny silver look and avoid tarnishing as well. To apply, put the polishing cream on the cloth and apply in a circular motion being careful to not scratch the silver whatsoever. This process should be done once a month and can be in conjunction with the optional charcoal strips we will discuss further below.
5. Use a cleaning rod or flute swab to clean inside flute
The final essential step in the flute cleaning process is to use a cleaning rod with cloth or flute swab to remove the moisture, bacteria, and tarnish buildup on the inside of your flute.
To use a cleaning rod, start by threading a microfiber cloth through the hole at the end of your cleaning rod and wrapping the cloth around the exposed rod so as to avoid scratching the inside of your flute during the cleaning process. Next, put the cloth-covered rod into each section of the flute, gently twisting as you insert and remove. The goal of this process is to soak up the moisture and bacteria that builds up to avoid mold or bacterial growth. Depending on the length of your cleaning rod, you may have to insert it into each end of the flute body joint. We recommend using a wooden cleaning rod for this as it is gentler on the interior of your flute. If you need a cleaning rod, or other flute supply, look no further than our list of recommended supplies in the right sidebar.
To use a flute swab, which is basically a cleaning cloth with an attached string, drop the string into the opening of each section and pull it through. Of course, this will only work with your head joint if you’ve removed the crown. As you swab each section, gently twist to pick up more moisture and grime. You may want to perform this action a couple of times.
There’s also a product called a flute pad saver. This looks like a fluffy brush that would be a direct replacement to a cleaning rod without as much work. You can find that in the sidebar as well if you’re interested.
(Optional) Put charcoal strips in your flute case
The final step you can take to ensure that your flute stays shiny and new is to put charcoal strips inside your case. The reason this works is because charcoal absorbs sulfur in the air which is one of the main reasons that a flute tarnishes. Without this silver sulfide reaction, your flute will never dull and will stay shiny. You can get a 10-pack of these anti-tarnish tabs for around $10 on Amazon (see link in sidebar) today if you choose to be safe rather than sorry.
With these simple steps alone, you can keep your flute shiny and well-maintained without fail and this will not only ensure that your flute lasts longer but will also keep it sounding and looking as new as the day you bought it.
Can you use silver polish on a flute?
Although this has already been discussed above a bit, this is a very common question people ask and the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, silver polish is one of the most effective solutions for a shiny flute and, if you buy the anti-tarnish polishes, you are sure to keep your silver flute looking better than ever for far longer.
The one thing to keep in mind is that other polishes such as Brasso and more abrasive options can be damaging to your silver finish. With this said, it is often best to stick with an instrument-specific silver polish (link in sidebar) and to avoid ones that say they are abrasive in nature.
What is flute tarnish—and does it affect the sound of your flute?
Although we do break this concept down further in our article Easily Clean a Tarnished Saxophone, essentially, silver reacts with sulfur in the air when exposed to it frequently enough. For those that play their flute often or those that do not choose to use a case, your instrument will likely be exposed to sulfur on a daily basis. It is especially bad for those in major cities as sulfur levels are far higher in these urban areas.
With this being said, when silver comes in contact with sulfur, it creates a silver sulfide reaction that leads to a darkening and dulling of your silver. Think of your silver jewelry and how it appears after years of not cleaning or maintaining it. If you’ve seen the darkening of your jewelry firsthand, you know exactly what this looks like.
A similar and highly recognizable example can be seen with the Statue of Liberty. Although this is a copper and sulfur reaction, the Statue of Liberty was originally copper in color but, after years of reacting with the air and salt water mist around it, it became green in color from the reaction created by these two elements coming in contact with one another.
Fortunately, by using silver polish and charcoal strips in your case, you can avoid this reaction entirely. The charcoal actually absorbs sulfur in the air making it far less likely that your flute is exposed to sulfur and functioning as an air purifier for your case.
When it comes to the question of whether or not the tarnish will affect the sound of your flute, all in all, a light bit of tarnishing won’t do much. However, if the tarnishing goes unresolved, it can lead to rusting that can cause leaks in your flute which will in fact affect your flute’s sound significantly.
Why not use aluminum instead of silver for flute production?
Now that you know more about flute shining and the pitfalls of silver, you may be asking yourself what many flautists ask when finding out more about tarnishing as a whole: why not use another material that doesn’t tarnish such as aluminum? The answer is actually pretty simple as gold and aluminum flutes do exist.
The main reason why they are not more popular is because aluminum is a far softer metal meaning it can bend or break easier and gold is a more expensive option nearly tripling the price of any flute in production. For these problems alone, most people simply turn back to silver and simply use silver polish and maintenance tips to keep their flute in good condition instead.
Keeping your flute shiny may not be the simplest process in the world, but can you really put a price on the sheer beauty of a clean and pristine silver flute? Furthermore, by simply caring for your flute appropriately, you can keep it intact for far longer and save large sums of money as a musician in doing so.
If you would simply like to know more about cleaning any and all instruments you can possibly imagine, check out our welcome guide today and happy playing!