How to Clean a Saxophone: Tips and Advice You Should Know

Saxophones are among the most complex woodwind musical instruments. Their keys are interrelated, meaning that pressing one moves the other next to it. This is why you need to maintain proper key adjustment and cleanliness to ensure that they produce the right note when pressed.

Unwanted dirt like dust and particles can reduce the responsiveness of your saxophone’s keys. If left unattended for extended periods, these contaminants can wear down other parts of your musical instrument, such as hinges and screws.

Fortunately, most models come with a care kit that helps you keep your saxophones in pristine condition. This kit usually includes several tools that help in cleaning your instrument.

Here are the steps to follow when cleaning your saxophone. Ensure that you wash your hands before you begin the process.

Cleaning the Mouthpiece

It is advisable to wash your saxophone’s mouthpiece at least once weekly. After placing the mouthpiece in warm, soapy water, use the brush included in the care kit to clean the inside and corners.

Whenever you finish playing, remove the reed and store it in a proper case. Besides preventing the growth of bacteria in your mouthpiece, this measure also saves you money by extending your reed’s lifetime.

If desired, you can clean your reed with a food-safe detergent and water before storage. Avoid using bleach or non-food safe cleaners on your reeds. Ensuring that your reed is completely dry between uses and rotating multiple reeds at a time will keep them cleaner and increase their durability.

For those who have pad savers in their sax, use a swab for cleaning then leave the pads to dry. Shoving a fluffy stick against the pad can help keep it dry. Unless you can wash them with hot water, it is advisable to replace your pads and pad savers once every two years. This helps in preventing bad odours and keeping bacteria at bay.

Cleaning the Neck

The best way to clean your saxophone’s neck is by using a brush attachment. This equipment usually resembles a flexible metal hose with a small brush on one side and a rag ball on the other.

Pass the brush through the base opening, such that it emerges the narrow side that is attached to the cork. The brush will remove all the unwanted dirt from the neck. While doing this, ensure that the cork doesn’t touch water, as it will swell and become deformed.

Cleaning the Body

Since your breath has moisture, your saxophone’s inside surface gets wet when playing. For this reason, you need to use the swab that comes with the sax every time you finish playing to remove moisture.

Ensure that the saxophone’s inside surface is dry before storage. Besides preventing the growth of bacteria and mildew, it makes the leather pads last for longer.

If your sax has fingerprints on its body, wipe them using a polish cloth. Ensure that you don’t interfere with the keys and rods during this process. Some people have acidic sweat that can wear out the keys if they are not cleaned regularly.

Cleaning Sticky Keys

A smart way of avoiding sticky keys on your sax is by brushing your teeth before playing. Regardless, this challenge is inevitable. When it happens, use a sheet of pad paper and place it between the tone hole and the leather pads. Then, pull out the paper while holding down the sticky key. This will remove the dirt that reduces the key’s responsiveness.

Additional Tips

Assembling your sax is an intricate process that requires patience and carefulness to avoid damaging the keys. If you are not confident in your skills, you can always consult a music teacher. You can also watch tutorials on platforms like YouTube and other online resources.

When not in use, keep your sax in its original casing to avoid any possible damage. Never store playing guides and other large material with the saxophone since they can exert pressure on the keys and deform them. Also, ensure that your sax does not get exposed to moisture, direct heat, and extreme temperature conditions.

What to Avoid When Cleaning

Although it seems like a straightforward process, cleaning a saxophone is not that easy. Some substances can damage your instrument if used for cleaning. These include acetone and sulphuric acid.

Acetone can harm you if consumed which is why you should never use it for cleaning. Even worse, it can melt your mouthpiece, forcing you to invest in another saxophone. The same goes for sulphuric acid, but its effects are more severe.

Another thing to avoid when cleaning your instrument is blowing your mouthpiece. Some people think that this is effective, while it is not. In reality, blowing adds more moisture and warmth that provide an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and mildew.

When to Go For Professional Cleaning

Sometimes, your sax can get extremely dirty such that the keys become sticky and the sounds it produces become inconsistent. This is the best time to take it to a professional cleaner.

The cleaner will assess its condition, disassemble it and remove all the dirt. In some cases, they might need to install new pads. After this service, you can use the tips mentioned above to ensure that your sax remains in top shape.


Most of the problems associated with saxophones are often a result of lack of cleaning and improper care. In this regard, carelessness constitutes placing heavy material on the case, leaving the sax in a position where it can fall, failing to strap when playing, and so on. Failing to clean your sax is not only unhygienic, but it also affects the quality of sound it produces.

The saxophone has many moving parts that work together to produce different sounds. When mishandled or left uncleaned, the keys become less responsive and the sax produces inconsistent sounds. Ensure that you clean your instrument regularly. More importantly, take it to a professional cleaner at least once yearly.

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