Playing your saxophone is fun and relaxing, but keeping it clean is a priority. The steps for cleaning your saxophone at home are simple with the proper tools and equipment. You would start with cleaning the neck and mouthpiece, move on to the pads, then clean the body of the instrument, and then the octave key.
The steps are broken down below with easy to follow instructions. The tools and equipment you need to clean your saxophone at home is easy to order online or purchase at a music shop. More extensive cleaning will need to be done by a professional, but basic, everyday cleaning is an easy task.
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Keep a Home Cleaning Kit
The first step for cleaning your saxophone is having the right equipment. Here are a few items that are staples for a home cleaning kit. These items should be on hand for any saxophone musician.
- Key Oil- This is helpful for keys that aren’t functioning properly due to buildup. Always use either key oil or valve oil, but never any other kind. Other oils may damage or tarnish your instrument and require professional repair. Take care not to use too much. If your keys aren’t clunky, stuck, or impacting your playing, then they don’t need oil.
- Jewellers Screwdrivers- These come in handy for tightening loose rods and screws.
- Cleaning Papers- Keep these papers in your instrument case also to absorb the moisture from your pads after playing. Remember, cigarette papers can also be a great alternative.
- Cleaning Cloths- Keep a few of these handy for wiping down your instrument. It is also a good idea to use the swab after playing. Wash these cloths occasionally in warm water and a mild detergent. Make sure they are dry before storing them either in your cleaning kit or instrument case.
Properly Clean the Mouthpiece and Neck
Remove the reed and mouthpiece from your instrument. Using a cleaning swab, gently wipe out the mouthpiece while taking extra care not to damage it. Next, wipe out the neck with the cleaning swab using the pull-through method.
A Pull-Through, or Swab, can be made at home using a cloth, piece of string, and a small weight. Attach the weight to one end of the string. Hang the piece of cloth at the other end of the same string. A piece of chamois or a microfiber cloth works best with leaving little to no lint behind.
Drop the weight into one opening of the neck and flip the instrument upside down to let the weight fall through the other opening. Gently pull the string until the cloth wipes through the neck, coming out of the other opening.
Another tool that can be used to clean the neck and mouthpiece is a bottle brush. The bristles are gentle and effective at removing buildup and dirt without damaging the instrument’s parts.
Remove Moisture From the Pads
If the pads of your saxophone are damp, take cleaning papers to remove the moisture. Cigarette papers are a good alternative to more expensive cleaning papers. This process is tedious, but also necessary to extend the life of your pads.
Take a paper and place it between the pad and the tone hole. Lightly press the key to blot away the moisture. This may take three, maybe ever four times to get the moisture to absorb completely. Changing the position of the paper by slightly shifting it will also absorb a good bit of the moisture.
Tip to remember: Do not pull the paper out while the key is depressed. This will mess up the pad and possibly damage the tone hole over time.
Sometimes the keys need to be removed to clean the tone holes. It is recommended that this be done by a professional at a music store. Improper cleaning can cause long-term problems and more costly issues to fix in the future.
Clean the Body of the Saxophone
Cleaning the inside of the body is just as important as a properly cleaned mouthpiece. Without proper cleaning, buildup can occur. This buildup can cause a poor sound quality, deteriorating pads, and fragility of the instrument.
This process can also be done with a swab, or pull-through. You will also follow the same process of dropping the weight in the larger opening (or bell) and turning the instrument upside down to make the weight fall through the opening where the neck attaches.
After catching the weight at the smaller end, slowly and gently pull the cloth through the body of the saxophone. This should be done around three, or four times to ensure the moisture is absorbed before storage. You could also wipe the inside of the bell with a clean cloth for extra precaution.
The outside of the body will also need to be polished and wiped clean of fingerprints. Using a fresh cloth, gently wipe down the exterior of your instrument. You can use a chamois, a microfiber cloth, or a regular polishing cloth to do so. Some professionals recommend not using a polish to avoid causing additional buildup on the instrument.
Do Not Forget the Octave Key
This small key and tone hole is often easily overlooked. The tone hole is tiny, so it is easily clogged by buildup. It is recommended that you use a tone hole cleaner for this delicate area.
As with all cleaning tools, be careful not to damage the tone hole with the metal tip of the tone hole cleaner. A Q-tip is a great alternative for regularly wiping out the tone hole. When cleaning tone holes, take care to not bend the small springs attached to the keys.
Extra Steps for Special Circumstances
The above steps are sufficient for basic maintenance and regular cleaning. However, sometimes your saxophone needs some extra tender loving care to get clean or stop your sax squeaking. If your saxophone has tarnish or rust you will need to add one of the following steps to the beginning of your cleaning routine.
Cleaning Tarnish Off Your Saxophone
If you have a lacquered saxophone, you can use a water-alcohol solution and a cotton swab to clean it. Rub the cotton swab dipped in the water-alcohol solution over the tarnished areas. Then use a soft cloth to wipe over the treated areas to dry them. Use a lacquer polishing cloth to buff the surface of your instrument.
If you have an unlacquered, silver saxophone, you will need to apply a thin coat of metal polish to the affected areas. This polish will need to sit on the surface until it is dry. The rule of thumb, “less is more” is something to keep in mind. Too much oil and polish could cause buildup. After polishing, you will then need to buff the surface area with a polishing cloth.
Per some manufacturer’s warning, wear gloves when applying polish. Some can be harmful to your skin.
Cleaning Rust Off Your Saxophone
Your saxophone can rust just like any other metal that isn’t taken care of properly. Improper storage and exposure to the elements can also cause rust to form.
Rust, not to be confused with tarnish, has a reddish-brown color and is raised. Tarnish is usually a green, gray, or black color on the material’s surface.
To remove the rust, you will need to get a damp piece of sandpaper. Start with a coarse grit paper, and follow with a finer grit to give a smooth finish. Be gentle when using the sandpaper to avoid scratches on the instrument. Once most of the rust has been removed, use a metal polish or a polishing cloth to wipe away the rest and then carry on with normal cleaning.