How To Clean A Saxophone

How to clean a saxophone

Regular saxophone maintenance is important to keep your instrument sounding its best, but it’s also essential to clean your instrument regularly due to the contact it makes with your mouth. This way, you’ll keep both you and your saxophone healthy. 

Cleaning a classic half-bell-shaped saxophone is straightforward and can be made even simpler with a saxophone cleaning kit. If you’re uncertain about how to clean your saxophone without damaging it, fear not - we’ve put together a handy guide for you to follow. 

Cleaning the interior of your saxophone

1. Swab the body

  • If you’ve got a saxophone cleaning kit, it should come with a brush or cleaning device that allows you to swab the body of the saxophone. To do this, you’ll want to put the brush or weighted cloth into the bell of the saxophone and turn the body of the instrument upside down. You should then be able to gently pull the swab through the body several times to remove any dust or dirt. 
  • Swabbing is the best way to clean the interior of your saxophone, and remove any saliva, food or drink particles, and dust from the inside of the instrument. It also helps dry the interior to prevent the pads from damage, as well as reduces the risk of bacteria growth. 
  • You may see a slight green color on the pad after pulling the swab through the body of your sax. Don’t worry though, this is normal and is not necessarily an indication of rust or metal damage.

2. Swab the neck

To clean the neck of the instrument, insert a flexible swab through the larger base opening of the neck so that it comes out on the narrow side on which the cork is attached.

Do the same motion as you did with the body - brush the inside of the neck thoroughly to remove any foreign particles.

  • You can also run water through the neck of your saxophone — just be careful that no water comes in contact with the cork, otherwise, it may swell and deform.
  • Another way to combat excess build-up is to soak the neck with vinegar or brush it with detergent. 

3. Use a pad saver.

  • If you have a pad saver, these are great for removing excess moisture, but you need to use them after swabbing. Simply insert the pad saver through the body's narrow end, let it absorb moisture for a few moments then carefully remove.
  • Items such as "bell brushes" or "neck savers" work in a similar way to these, and will do an equally good job at absorbing moisture in specific parts of the saxophone. These items are not necessary for regular saxophone maintenance but can be good for an occasional deep clean. 

4. Inspect and clean the keypads

If your fingers aren’t clean when playing the saxophone, you may transfer bacteria, moisture, or residue onto your keypads.

Inspect the keypads for any sticky residue, and check under the pads for wear and tear. 

To clean them, you can use wet cotton swabs or a thin piece of paper to intricately clean where the pads meet the tone. You shouldn’t need anything more than a few drops of clean water to do this. 

Cleaning the mouthpiece of your saxophone

1. Clean the  interior

  • This is one of the most important parts of the saxophone to clean due to the regular contact it makes with your mouth, and you'll want to clean the mouthpiece often.
  • First of all, remove the reed, then use a mouthpiece brush to remove any residue inside the mouthpiece. If you don’t have one of these, a bottle brush or even a small toothbrush should do the trick. 
  • It’s a good idea to run cold or lukewarm water through the mouthpiece to rinse away any residue, and then pull a clean, lint-free cloth through it to remove any particles missed by the brush.
  • For particularly dirty mouthpieces or ones with bad odors, you can soak your mouthpiece in antiseptic mouthwash or detergent. 

2. Sand out scratches

  • If your mouthpiece has light marks on it and you want to restore it to its former glory, you can use sandpaper or a fingernail sanding block. Start with the coarsest grit on the nail file to remove the scratches, then progress to the finer grits to smooth the mouthpiece out, just like you would a nail. 

3. Clean the reed

  • Blowing warm air into your saxophone means saliva often harvests inside, and this provides a moist environment for bacterial and fungal growth, as well as food particles that could potentially damage the instrument.
  • After every use wipe down the reed thoroughly using a clean towel or cotton swab. This will stop bacteria and chemicals from congealing.

4. Soak the reed

  • If required, you can soak the reed in antibacterial liquids such as alcohol, mouthwash, or mild hydrogen peroxide. Always allow the reed to dry before reinstalling.

Finishing up

  1. Polish your saxophone 

  • Finish up the cleaning process by polishing the body of the sax with a brass lacquer polishing cloth. You can also add a small amount of spray furniture wax, just be sure to use the correct cloth, as washcloths, paper towels and any cleaning product not specifically made for brass instrument care can damage the instrument. 

2. Clean your cleaners

  • It’s important to keep your cleaning devices clean, otherwise they won’t do much good when it comes to the next time you clean your sax. 
  • You can wash specialty swabs, pad savers, and bell brushes by hand using a small amount of soap. This should dramatically prolong the lifespan of your cleaners. 

3. Reassemble your saxophone

  • Finally, reassemble your saxophone, and tighten up any loose screws. Your new saxophone should feel brand new again, play beautifully, and sound better than ever. Don’t forget, if you experience any issues with your saxophone even after cleaning, it’s best to seek advice from a professional.