How to Disinfect Your Clarinet After You’ve Been Sick

It’s never fun being sick. This is especially true for musicians, who often have to suffer through rehearsals, lectures, and performances. After all, the show must go on!

Whatever your ailment, it’s important to take proper precautions to sterilize, disinfect, and germ-proof your instrument when you’ve been sick. With everything that comes into contact with our mouths (reeds, mouthpieces, water bottles), clarinetists must be extra careful to disinfect everything to keep the germs at bay.

If you’ve been sick, here are some steps you can take to disinfect your clarinet and other equipment:

  • Sterilize your reeds. Reeds are gross. If you don’t believe, just watch Michael Lowenstern’s video on reed mold! Not to be a nag, but you should already be sterilizing your reeds periodically, regardless if you’ve been sick or not. Grab some hydrogen peroxide and sterilize those reeds! You can also use this opportunity to go through and exile the less-than-stellar reeds from your case. If you want to be extra careful, just throw out your reeds and start fresh!
  • Disinfect your mouthpiece. Use sterisol or another disinfectant to clean your mouthpiece. I mix dish soap with warm water and use cotton swabs to clean my mouthpiece. Clean the interior and exterior of your mouthpiece, being careful to avoid getting the cork wet.
  • Replace your mouthpiece patch. Are you beginning to see a pattern? Anything that came into contact with your mouth should be sterilized or replaced.
  • Replace your teeth protectors and cushions. I’m guilty of using my beloved EZO cushions way past their prime. Make sure you replace your teeth protectors/cushions occasionally, especially if you’ve been sick.
  • Get a new toothbrush. You should be changing toothbrushes at least every three months, more if you’ve been sick.
  • Replace any lip products. If you use lip balm or any other lip products, replace them so you’re not spreading germs (especially after strep throat, which is stubbornly persistent). You should be replacing your lip products at least every year anyways – check the label on the package to see if your products are past their prime.
  • Launder your swab (or get a new one). Add this to the list of things you should be doing occasionally but probably forgot about.
  • Wipe down your case. Use an antibacterial wipe or other disinfectant to wipe down handles, latches, or any other high traffic areas to kill germs. Just be sure that the disinfectant won’t stain or affect whatever you’re using it on.
  • Clean your screens. If you use your phone, iPad, or any other tech device in the practice room, wipe it down with a disinfectant wipe. Don’t forget your metronome!
  • Throw out old pens and pencils. Pens and pencils harbor millions of germs, especially if they’re shared with others. Get some new writing utensils for your stand.
  • Throw out old water bottles (or wash reusable ones). Hopefully you regularly wash or replace your water bottles. If not, now’s a good time to start!
  • Friendly PSA: You should be washing your hands and brushing your teeth every time before you play. Not only will this prevent gunk from entering your clarinet, but it will help you stay healthy!

Happy (and healthy) practicing!



    • jennymaclay

      All of these tips will help you clean and disinfect a clarinet, but please check the CDC website and other official sources for any specific questions, as this blog post was written before the COID-19 pandemic.

  • Cameron

    Just offering my own assurance and experience that most colds are caused by viruses, and since your immune system learns the “antidote” of the current cold, *you* don’t have to worry about it’s presence on *your* equipment. I personally don’t do any of this cleaning after sickness, and have been fine for almost 20 years of clarinet playing.

    If there is an infection that is bacterial in nature, then one should certainly practice some sanitizing.

    Of course, this doesn’t overshadow or outweigh the importance of regular cleaning maintenance.

  • Dan

    Personally, I’m a fatalist when it comes to respiratory infections and I’ll happily share reeds with any of my friends who’s not visibly sick, and I don’t catch cold more often than anyone else despite that.
    That is, when I’m not sick myself of course — if I am, I just won’t go and play, since blowing air under pressure through a pipe with holes all over its surface while sick is probably banned by the Hague convention.

    I acknowledge that my own approach may be a bit extreme and I don’t advocate it, especially not to very young players whose immune system is not yet mature, but facts say your approach is equally extreme.

    Most “germs” are very short lived. You will be surprised how much effort goes into keeping them viable in live vaccines and similar. There are notable exceptions such as M. tuberculosis which can remain viable for up to a year in a dark place even after drying up, but they are, fortunately, far from common these days. Common ones also have pretty large infectuous doses.

    Check out these papers for example:
    The bottom line is that for all intents and purposes they all will be dead by the morning if you leave them alone overnight.

    I wash my reeds and mouthpieces and launder the swab though, but that’s because I don’t like the build up of organic (and mineral) matter on them, and if it’s dirty, how can I share it with friends? ;)

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