The mouth is full of bacteria and food particles, so playing a reed instrument like the saxophone can be a messy business. Without proper cleaning, the mouthpiece of the saxophone can harbor all kinds of buildup and even mold, leading to disease. With a little care, your saxophone can maintain its great sound for many years.
Part 1 of 3: Cleaning the reed
Step 1. Take the saxophone apart
Loosen the ligature and remove the mouthpiece, reed, and neck of the saxophone. You will need to clean these parts often as they are in contact with your mouth. The reed is the part of the mouthpiece that produces sound when vibrating and is very sensitive to heat, pressure, fungi and bacteria.
Step 2. Clean the reed
The warm air that you blow contains saliva, which provides a moist place for the growth of fungi and bacteria, as well as the accumulation of food particles that damage the instrument.
- To keep the reed clean, use a dry cloth or a specialized swab after each use. This will stop the buildup of bacteria and chemicals.
- You can find specialized saxophone cleaning swabs and brushes at music stores or online.
Step 3. Wash the reed
With a cloth, you will only remove the most recent moisture. A more thorough cleaning is recommended to kill germs and prevent build-up.
At least once a week, soak the cane in a cup with two lids of vinegar and three lids of warm water for 30 minutes, and then rinse it under warm water to remove the vinegar
Step 4. Choose a clean place to air dry the cane
Any moisture can replenish bacteria if left inside the saxophone case. Place the cane on a piece of paper, after 15 minutes change the paper and turn it over. When it is completely dry, store it in the reed holder inside the saxophone case.
Part 2 of 3: Cleaning the mouthpiece
Step 1. Treat the mouthpiece regularly
Once a month, or weekly if you play the saxophone daily, remove the mouthpiece and begin the procedure. Saliva accumulates in the mouthpiece producing sediment that can affect the sound and make it difficult to remove the mouthpiece.
Step 2. Apply a mild or weak acid
An acidic substance such as vinegar or hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is used to remove thicker sediments. However, exposure to these acids can accelerate discoloration, so it is advisable to remove it by hand brushing if possible.
- Soak two cotton balls in vinegar with 4-6% acidity. Leave the first cotton on the nozzle opening. After 10 minutes remove it and gently scrub the sediment with the other. Repeat a second time in more difficult cases.
- Soak the mouthpiece in hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) for two hours. The chemical will begin to dissolve the sediment on its own.
Step 3. Wash the mouthpiece with soap and water
Avoid hot water and strong detergents as they can damage the instrument. A mild detergent and warm water is enough to remove traces of vinegar, bacteria, and still reach sediment.
Step 4. Remove sediment
You can use a small toothbrush or a special brush for nozzles.
The special brushes can be pulled from the neck through the nozzle with a string. This will remove some bacteria and saliva, but a more thorough cleaning is recommended
Step 5. Soak the mouthpiece in a germicide
Sterisol is a ready-to-use germicide on instruments, but washing the mouthpiece with mouthwash for a few minutes is also effective. This step is not required but is useful for removing any remaining bacteria.
Step 6. Choose a clean place to air dry the nozzle
This will prevent any moisture in the nozzle that can allow bacteria to grow again. When it is completely dry, store it in the mouthpiece holder inside the saxophone case.
Part 3 of 3: Cleanse the Neck
Step 1. Clean the neck with a cotton swab after use
Saliva and sediment collect in the neck. Place the cotton swab in the bell, and then run it around the neck with a string.
Step 2. Remove sediment
It is the same procedure that you used with the mouthpiece. Use warm water, mild soap or detergent, and a brush or toothbrush weekly to remove sediment.
Dip the brush in soapy water and use it to attack the sediment. Rinse the remainder in the sink with warm water
Step 3. Sterilize the neck
Again, this is optional as soap and water take care of bacteria quite well. With this procedure, you will remove any remaining bacteria or odor.
- Pour the Sterisol or any other germicide on the neck to cover the inside. Leave it on a paper towel in a clean place for a minute and then rinse it off with warm water. Dry it by hand with a cloth or cotton swab before storing it or let it drain in the open air instead.
- You can also use vinegar. After loosening the sediment with the brush and soapy water, plug the nozzle with a cork. Cover the holes, hold the neck upright, and then add either cold or warm vinegar. After 30 minutes rinse with soap and warm water and air dry or with a cloth.
Get in the habit of cleaning your saxophone after use instead of automatically putting it away
- Do not throw the pieces in the dishwasher as the heat and detergent will damage them.
- Do not use household tools to scrape off the sediment, as you will scratch the surface and deform the reed.