Being a musician it can be scary to imagine the risks of going to rehearsal and performing during such a world-wide pandemic as the novel corona virus of this year. So, I thought it would be worthwhile to make a post about instrument care, to help you reduce your, or your bandmates’ or students’ risk of spreading any type of germs.
So, let’s take a look at some standard hygiene care techniques to keep you and your instrument clean!
First, Antiseptically clean and Sterile are two very different things. Sterile is somewhat impossible once an instrument is bought, for as soon as you open the case, it will be exposed to the air and anything you tough. Much like washing our own hands to prevent the spread of contaminants, we should clean for our instruments. This can be difficult though, due to the shape and mechanize, but below I’ve provided a simple breakdown of steps you can take to make your instrument antiseptically clean.
Generally speaking, most instruments require you to make contact with your hands or mouth. For the complication of using a mouthpiece, it is best to avoid the sharing of any instrument, especially the mouthpiece or reeds used. I know the phrase, ‘sharing is caring, but when it comes to musical instruments and cleanliness, it’s not a moral we should be practicing.
A list to keep in mind from the School of Music at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
- All musicians or students should have their own instrument
- All musicians or students should have their own mouthpiece
- All students and faculty sharing reed instruments MUST have their own individual reeds. Reeds should NEVER be shared.
- If instruments must be shared in class, alcohol wipes or Sterisol germicide solution should be available for use between different people.
So, if you’re teaching or have instruments that you share, try setting up a cleaning station with the tips from below to make sure everyone stays safe!
Cleaning of instrument mouthpieces and parts
Cleaning the Flute Head Joint
- Use a damp cotton swab, soaked in a watered-down solution of isopropyl alcohol, carefully clean around the embouchure hole.
- Alcohol wipes can be used on the flute’s lip plate to kill germs if the flute is shared by several players.
- Using a soft, lint-free silk cloth inserted through the cleaning rod, clean the inside of the head joint.
- Do not run the head joint under water as it may cause the head joint cork to become wet and eventually shrink.
Double Reed Instrument necks (Bocals)
(A bocal is a curved, tapered tube, which is an integral part of certain woodwind instruments, including double reed instruments such as the bassoon, contrabassoon, English horn, and oboe d’amore, as well as the larger recorders.)
- Bocals should be cleaned every month (But for now perhaps after every extended use) with a bocal brush, mild soap solution, and running water.
- English Horn bocals can be cleaned with a pipe cleaner, mild soap solution, and running water. Be careful not to scratch the inside of the bocal with the exposed wire ends of the pipe cleaner.
Clarinets and Saxophones
Cleaning Hard Rubber (Ebony) Mouthpieces
- Mouthpieces should be swabbed after each playing and cleaned weekly.
- Select a small container that will accommodate the mouthpiece and place the mouthpiece tip down in the container.
- Fill the container to where the ligature would begin with a solution of half water and half white vinegar (50% water and 50% hydrogen peroxide works too). Protect clarinet mouthpiece corked tenons from moisture.
- After a short time, use an appropriately sized mouthpiece brush to remove any calcium deposits or other residue from inside and outside surfaces. This step may need to be repeated if the mouthpiece is excessively dirty.
- Rinse the mouthpiece thoroughly and then saturate with Sterisol germicide solution. Place on a paper towel and wait one minute to dry.
- Wipe dry with a paper towel.
- Note: Metal saxophone mouthpieces clean up well with hot water, mild dish soap (not dishwasher detergent), and a mouthpiece brush. Sterisol germicide solution is also safe for metal mouthpieces.
Cleaning your reeds! You can use a vinegar solution to disinfect your reeds too!
Cleaning Saxophone Necks (Crooks)
- Swabs are available to clean the inside of the saxophone neck. However, saxophonists can use a flexible bottlebrush and toothbrush to accomplish the same results.
- If the instrument is played daily, the saxophone neck should be cleaned weekly, and swabbed out each day after playing.
- Use the bottlebrush and mild, soapy water to clean the inside of the neck.
- Rinse under running water.
- Sterisol germicide solution may be used on the inside of the neck at this time if desired. Place on a paper towel for one minute to dry.
- Rinse again under running water, dry, and place in the case.
Cleaning Brass Mouthpieces
- Mouthpieces should be cleaned monthly.
- Using a cloth soaked in warm, soapy water, clean the outside of the mouthpiece.
- Use a mouthpiece brush and warm, soapy water to clean the inside.
- Rinse the mouthpiece and dry thoroughly.
- Sterisol germicide solution may be used on the mouthpiece at this time. Place on a paper towel for one minute.
- Wipe dry with a paper towel.
- String, percussion, and keyboard instruments present few hygienic issues that cannot be solved simply by the musician washing their hands before and after use.
According to Dustrystrings.com, alcohol wipes of 70% used to disinfect their own therapy harps for the duration of a month had no ill effects on the wood finish. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are a variety of finished used to varnish wood instruments and that isopropanol is a minor ingredient in lacquer thinners. Alcohol will dissolve other types of finish, such as tung oil or shellac, so be careful! It is always advised to do a test on your own instrument if you are unsure.
I mustn’t forget these. This depends on the material of your keys! So here’s a list from musictoyourhome.com
- Ivory keys aren’t exactly white, but more off-white in colour.
- Plastic keys are smoother and have a clear-like coating on them.
- Ivory keys will have two parts joined together that you can visibly see.
- Ivory keys will look more yellow as they dirty over time.
They have a list of things NOT to do, which may cause damage.
- Do NOT use chemically-based cleaners or polish. These cleaners are too harsh and will most likely damage your keys. Stick to mild soaps.
- Do NOT use paper towels when wiping them down. You want to use cloths that are lint-free and won’t leave any residue.
- Do NOT wipe your keys from side to side, you risk moisture getting in between the keys and causing more harm.
- Do NOT use the same cloth when wiping black keys and white keys, use separate cloths. Sometimes the paint can wipe from the black and then you will smear the whites.
- Do NOT use spray disinfectants during cold/flu seasons, these can destroy the surface of your keys and the spray itself can carry into other parts of the piano (which will cause further destruction!)
They recommend you dust first before applying any cleaner.
- Use filtered water with white vinegar to wipe them down. Use a cheesecloth or flannel, and make sure you wipe vertically down and take time to dry the keys in between wipes. (Remember to change cloths from white keys to black keys.)
- Warm water and white vinegar solution is the best for cleaning plastic keys since anything else over plastic (including soaps) can be too harmful. Make sure you only use a little bit, a good rule here is one part vinegar to four parts water because the acid in the vinegar can cause damage if you use too much.
- For ivory piano keys, there is a mild solution of just warm water with a little bit of dish soap that will be sufficient and effective. Be sure that whatever cloth you decide to use, it is best if it is white in colour so that no other colours bleed onto the white keys. Utilize a brushing motion when wiping so that you’re not being too abrasive (like scrubbing), which could lead to damage.
There are a variety of disinfectants that can be used, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Acute Disease Services.
1. Combination Phenolics (Synthetic), a non-corrosive, and non-irritating, odourless compound that will not hurt most metals and plastics.
2. Buffered chlorine products will disinfect without corroding metals. Both of these products can be found at medical and dental supply companies.
3. Quaternary ammonium Other potential disinfectants, including alcohol, boiling water and bleach are NOT recommended for disinfecting mouthpieces or instruments because of their effect on skin and/or plastics and metals.
• Whichever disinfectants are chosen, it is very important to read the product instructions and follow them closely.
• Disinfectants do not remove dirt, so mouthpieces and instruments must be cleaned well before using disinfectants.
For more information, please check out your local music store for disinfects, or browse these site which carry recommended brands and have more information on the best hygienic care for your instrument.