How often should you clean or replace your clarinet swab?

If I ask you a question, do you promise you’ll give an honest answer?

When was the last time you cleaned or replaced your clarinet swab?

If you’re like many clarinetists (especially younger students who are learning the ins and outs of the instrument), chances are it’s been a while.

Before I share my advice, I would like to offer a huge disclaimer that I am a classically trained clarinetist – not a medical or scientific professional. If you have specific questions about germs and the clarinet, especially concerning the clarinet during the current pandemic, you should look for scientific, peer-reviewed studies for this information.

Back to cleaning your swab.

After browsing a few clarinet forums and websites, it appears that there is no general consensus as to how often you should wash, launder, or replace your swab. Swabs seem to be a lot like towels – some people wash their towels after every use, while others wash them once a week or less frequently.

I try to wash my swab at least once every week or two, but if it looks particularly dirty I’ll wash it more frequently. Depending on the material of the swab you’re using, you can hand wash or use a washing machine. Different materials like silk can have specific cleaning instructions, so be sure to contact your swab’s manufacturer to inquire about the best ways to wash your swab.

If your swab is torn or you can’t remember the last time you cleaned it, it’s probably time to get another one. As the old adage goes, when in doubt, throw it out.

While we’re on the topic of clarinet care, here’s your gentle reminder to always brush your teeth and wash your hands before playing (yes, really). This will not only extend the life of your swab (because it’s not cleaning up food and drink particles), but also your reeds and instrument.

If you’re feeling brave, you can leave a comment telling the world when the last time you swabbed was!


  • Tom Laird

    I tore open a new one this Wednesday. The old one was last washed, I don’t know, three years ago? Kind of brown and streaked but didn’t have the heart to toss so soaked overnight in Oxyclean and guess what? Washed up totally white though the red and blue stripes for the Buffet logo were really, really pale. Probably because of the previous Oxyclean soaking and washing. Safety pin worked well securing the weight on the string. Intend to shorten the intervals between washings.

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