Clarinet Care 101

Another school year is right around the corner!

Whether you’re just beginning your clarinet journey or would like to review common clarinet care tips, I’ve got you covered!

Welcome to Clarinet Care 101! Below, I’m covering basic clarinet care and maintenance, as well as answering some common questions.

How often should I swab? I try to swab my clarinet about every 15-20 minutes. If your clarinet starts sounding spitty or you hear water in your keys (that annoying gurgling sound that always seems to interrupt a beautiful phrase), it’s time to swab. If you are breaking in a new clarinet, you should swab much more frequently.

How often should I use cork grease? This depends on several factors, including the temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors, as well as the condition of your cork. Newer corks might need to be greased more frequently. A good rule to follow is that if your clarinet feels tight or difficult when assembling, it’s time for cork grease. (Pro tip: apply cork grease after your practice session to avoid playing with greasy fingers! If you need to apply cork grease before playing, be sure to wash your hands to avoid getting it on your keys.)

Do I really need to wash my hands and brush my teeth EVERY TIME before playing? Yes, unless you want your clarinet to slowly build a supply of food and/or liquid particles inside your instrument. (I’ve even seen pads turn blue or other unnatural colors due to sugar and other food buildup which accumulates in the instrument!) The clarinet police won’t come and arrest you if you forget a few times, but it’s always better to follow this routine before playing your clarinet. At the very least, you should rinse your mouth with water before playing.

How long does a reed last? This also depends on several different things, such as its play time, how you store your reeds, and even the chemical composition of your saliva. Some reeds only last a few days while others last several months. If a reed still feels and sounds good, you can still use it as long as you sanitize it regularly to avoid germs. When in doubt, throw it out! (Unless you want to save your reeds for a fun clarinet craft.)

How should I store my clarinet? I encourage all of my students to disassemble their clarinets and put them back in their cases after each practice session or performance. It is convenient to have them ready-to-go on a clarinet stand or peg, but these are more prone to damage from heating and air conditioning, which can wreak havoc on wood clarinets. Even plastic clarinets aren’t immune from a curious cat or dog who might knock them over! Be sure to keep clarinet cases away from heating or air vents.

How can I remove water from the keys? If you hear a weird gurgling sound when playing, that means that water is trapped under one of your keys. Once you’ve identified which key has the water, you can use cigarette or pad paper to remove it. After blowing out the water and using the paper to soak it up, it’s also a good idea to swab.

To oil or not to oil? Oiling your clarinet is a highly debated subject, so it’s best to discuss this with a trusted repair tech to see what they advise for your instrument. They can advise based on considerations such as temperature, humidity, and other factors.

How often should I take my instrument to a repair technician? In general, it’s a good idea to take your clarinet to the shop at least twice a year just to make sure everything is working as it should. If you experience other issues, it’s always best to take your clarinet to a trusted repair technician as soon as possible to get these resolved.

I hope this helps you keep your clarinet in prime playing condition so you can focus on creating beautiful music!


  • Jim

    I enjoyed reading your Clarinet 101 article. I suggest adding some words in the “how do I store” section about tarnish. Something about my environment must be high in sulfur as silver parts on my instruments seem to tarnish quickly. Storing instruments in cases seems to slow the tarnishing of things like tenon rings. An example not related to clarinet is my so far unsuccessful attempt to learn to play flute. I stored it on a peg for a few weeks to encourage many short practice sessions. Now it might cost more to polish and repad my flute than I paid for the instrument!

    • jennyclarinet

      Thanks for your comment, Jim! Tarnishing is a very real concern, depending on the environment in which the instrument is stored. Hopefully your flute polish and repad won’t be too much!

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