Top Tips for Keeping Your Instrument Clean

Sep 16, 2020

With the world recovering from the global COVID-19 pandemic, cleaning and disinfecting has become more of a priority. And with some studies showing some viruses might survive on certain surfaces for many days, keeping a clean home is at the forefront of countless minds.

There are tons of specific cleaners for almost every surface in your home.

But what about your instrument?

Let’s dive into some quick tips to help you keep your instrument clean and sanitized, without damaging it.

The Basics

Wash Your Hands! – The easiest and best way to make sure your instrument stays clean is to be clean yourself. Every time you touch your instrument with dirty hands, you can transfer dirt or even germs to your instrument. It’s always a good idea to wash up before you practice!

Know What to Clean – The parts of your instrument that are touched most often are the parts that are more likely to pass on those germs. That also means you won’t have to bother cleaning the inside of your guitar, or the underside of a piano. Where yours hands go, the germs go.

Be Gentle – Instruments tend to be delicate, most often made of wood or soft metal. Nearly all instruments have parts that can be damaged just by rough handling or harsh cleaning products.

Now, let’s jump into some instrument-specific cleaning tips!

Cleaning Piano Keys

First thing’s first: figure out what your keys are made of. Unless you’re lucky enough to have an antique piano, chances are your keys are made from plastic.

To clean a modern piano or keyboard you’ll need a disinfecting wipe, a damp cloth, and a dry cloth. Stay away from paper towels – they can leave a linty residue that can fall between the keys.

Wipe the keys from back to front a few at a time to clear away dirt and grime. Make sure no water stays on the keys by using your dry cloth immediately after. Avoid wiping side to side, because that can push dirt or moisture into the key mechanics or the electronics of a keyboard. After your keys are dry, wipe with disinfectant, wiping back to front. Again, follow with a dry cloth.

Cleaning a Guitar

Most guitars are made almost entirely of wood, which means it’s important to stay away from harsh cleaning chemicals. A great, simple preventative measure is to wipe down your guitar with a lint free rag every time you finish playing or practicing.

Aside from using a UV lamp to disinfect your instrument, the safest way to clean it is with white distilled vinegar. Use only a little on a cloth, then wipe down the body, head stock, tuners, and fret board, being sure to use a dry cloth right after.

Try to remember that too much moisture will damage any wooden instrument. Wait 30 minutes before putting your guitar away to make sure it’s fully dry and stays odor free.

Cleaning a Violin

Violins are especially delicate, and need their own special cleaning techniques. The very best way to clean a violin is to place it under a UV lamp for 20 minutes.

Of course, not everyone has a UV lamp at home, so you can try an alcohol-free disinfecting wipe, which will most likely not hurt the instrument. But, just in case, test it out on a less visible part of your instrument first, like the back or by the base of the neck.

If you notice the finish coming off – STOP! But, if you haven’t noticed any change after two minutes, you should be free to clean the entire instrument piece by piece, but avoid the bridge and the bow strings. Make sure to dry it with a dry cloth as soon as you’re done.

Another option is to polish your violin. The chemicals in violin polish should kill any germs on the surface of the instrument. But be sure to only use polish specifically made for violins – furniture polish can damage both the look and sound of your instrument.

Cleaning the Woodwinds

Each group of instruments has their cleaning issues, but woodwinds offer their own unique challenges. It’s a good idea to use a soft rag to wipe down the keys and body of your instrument after every use. It’s also wise to pull the silk cleaning cloth through the main body of your instrument to clear away moisture caused by your breath.

Of course, the part of a woodwind instrument that collects the most germs is easily the mouthpiece. Clarinet and saxophone mouthpieces are easily cleaned with soap and water once the reed and ligature have been remove. You can sanitize the reed by soaking it in hydrogen peroxide for a half hour.

Flute mouthpieces can be cleaned with a brass mouthpiece spray, which will keep it clean and fresh.

Stay away from chemical cleaners for your woodwind, and never let it get wet!

Cleaning the Brass

Brass instruments are somewhat easier to disinfect and can be cleaned with soap and warm water. Take the instrument apart and set aside the valve caps and felt pieces. Dip each slide in soapy water and gently run a bottle brush or cleaning snake through each of the tubes. Dry with a soft, clean cloth.

Repeat again until each valve and the body of the instrument is clean. After you’ve dried all the pieces, apply slide grease and make sure each slide is fully lubricated before reassembling your instrument.

After you’ve given your horn a nice bath, make sure to polish it to keep it shiny and looking new!

Instrument care is always an important part of being a musician, but thanks to COVID, now its even more important!