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How to Clean a Saxophone

Oct. 7, 2023
Posted in: Saxophone
How to Clean a Saxophone
These are the most basic and effective ways to keep your saxophone clean and working properly. You can prevent 90% of trips to the repair shop, and prevent gross bacteria and mold from growing in your horn by following this short routine each time you finish playing.


Faculty Trainer | Sage Music

How to clean a Saxophone

Time: 5 minutes
Equipment: Saxophone pad dryer, Neck and mouthpiece swab, Body swab for alto or tenor sax, Saxophone key props, White vinegar

Follow these steps to clean the inside of your instrument after your saxophone lessons and after every time you play.

1. Swab the neck and mouthpiece

removing the neck from an alto saxophone before swabbing
guiding the neck swab string through the neck and mouthpiece
Pulling the neck swab through the neck and mouthpiece until dry.

Remove the neck by loosening the neck screw, and grab the neck close to the body of the horn. Rotate side to side and pull up until the neck comes loose. Using the smaller neck swab, guide the weight or string through the larger opening, and out the smaller opening. Pull the swab through, and repeat until the inside of the neck is dry.

You may keep the mouthpiece on the neck and swab as one piece, or separate the parts and swab them separately. If done separately, swab the mouthpiece through the shank (circular opening) and out the window. (long opening)

2. Swab the body

Guiding the body swab weight into the bell of the saxophone.
Turning the saxophone upside-down and guiding the weight through the other end.
Pulling the body swab through until the saxophone is dry.

Guide the weight of your saxophone swab through the bell of the instrument.

With both hands, carefully pick up the saxophone and use gravity to guide the weight out of the other side. Grab the string, put the saxophone in your lap and gently pull through the body of the sax. 2 to 3 passes is usually enough.

3. Dry the pads

Locating the high F-sharp pad in preparation for drying.
Opening the high F-sharp key and sliding the pad dryer underneath.
Closing high F-sharp and pulling the pad dryer out form underneath.

Using a pad dryer dry off every pad on your sax. On the open keys, place the spit sponge underneath the pad, and close the pad while pulling the spit sponge out. For closed keys, open the key by fingering the note you want to clean, slide the sponge underneath the pad, allow the key to close, and gently pull the sponge through. Do this systematically so that you don't miss anything. Start with the your high F or F-sharp if you have it, and moving lower one by one, check all sides of the saxophone body, and then finish with the pads at the end of the bell. Don't forget the pad on the neck!

4. Use Key Props

Propping the low C-sharp key open with Key Leaves.
Propping low E-flat open with key leaves.

Using Key Leaves, prop open Your C-Sharp key by fixing the prop under the key arm. Be careful not to rest the key leaves on the pad leather. Using the other end, prop open your E-Flat key. Now these keys can air-dry without getting stuck to the tone hole chimney, and without rotting or growing mold. Using Key Leaves prevents a sticky G-sharp key, which is an issue that causes a G-natural to sound when fingering a G-sharp.

5. Insert the end plug

Inserting the saxophone end plug to protect the octave key.
Saxophone end plug in place.

Place the end plug back into the neck tenon to prevent damage to the octave key mechanism.

6. Put the saxophone back in the case

Cleaned sax parts in the right place in the case.
Close the case and be sure to close the latches, too.

There's no better way to keep the sax clean than by preventing dust build-up. Put the horn in the case every time you are done to keep your instrument squeaky-clean. Note how the body, neck, and mouthpiece all have their own compartments within the case, and there is a separate compartment for accessories. Never leave any accessories on top of the saxophone.

Also, always latch your case closed! We don't want you to pick up the case to have the sax fall out and get damaged.

7. Clean your cleaners

At least once a month, your should gently wash your neck and mouthpiece swab, your body swab, and your spit sponge. Wash lightly by hand with a small amount of soap and allow to air-dry.

8. Soak the mouthpiece

Mouthpiece soaking in vinegar.

Calcium deposits accumulate over time on your mouthpiece. The more that accumulates, the more it begins to affect your playing.

About once a month, you should soak your mouthpiece in a vinegar solution.

In a small vessel, add one part cool water to one part white vinegar. Soak the mouthpiece for 5 minutes.

Rinse with cool water and wipe down the interior with your mouthpiece/neck swab.

Dry the exterior with a microfiber cloth, or pat-dry with a soft, clean towel.

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