Saxophone mouthpieces are not that hard to clean, which is good news considering the amount of saliva and bacteria that they can gather from our mouths after one or several gigs and rehearsals. Since boiling water is able to kill bacteria and clean many products, we may wonder if it can be effective with sax mouthpieces.
Can saxophone mouthpieces be boiled? It's not recommended to boil saxophone mouthpieces. The materials used for making mouthpieces are, for the most part, prone to melt, crack, or stain under the action of boiling water or at very high temperatures. The best way to clean a saxophone's mouthpiece is by using cold or lukewarm water.
In this article, I'll be offering a detailed explanation of why a saxophone's mouthpiece should not be boiled as a general rule, as well as the best methods for cleaning it.
Why Can't Saxophone Mouthpieces Be Boiled?
We've already disclosed how the mouthpiece's build material could get damaged or discoloured when boiled. Let's elaborate a bit further on these effects for better illustration.
As you may probably know, a great number of mouthpieces sold today are made of ebonite, a kind of hard, vulcanized rubber (mixed with sulphur) also famously employed for electric plugs and hockey pucks. Other materials used for the mouthpieces include plastic, glass, wood, and metal.
Ebonite, while sturdy and not likely to deform after a boiling session, can get discoloured and give out a yellowish appearance, all the while releasing sulphurous gases carrying a very strong and offensive odour. Some vintage ebonite mouthpieces would turn greenish instead, but the results are similarly displeasing.
If made of plastic, you could end up with an unusable mouthpiece. Plastic and certain other polymers used for saxophone manufacturing are not very resistant to heat and can suffer more substantial damage than hard rubber would. A plastic mouthpiece may thus melt, warp, and/or crack if exposed to high temperatures.
While you may conceivably try boiling metal, glass, or wooden mouthpieces, they're not totally safe, either. Keep in mind that some of them could still sport plastic or rubber parts that are susceptible to deform or melt in the same manner described before. Of course, results may vary according to the build, but you should tread carefully either way.
To learn more about mouthpiece material, check out my article Are Metal, Plastic Or Rubber Mouthpieces Better? (Woodwinds).
Understandably, boiling would initially seem like an enticing idea. Not only does boiling aid in killing lingering pathogens on a given surface, but it also prompts any stuck grime or gunk to loosen up, making the boiled product much easier to clean. This is because heat excites water molecules and makes them move faster, hence attracting all the greasy particles more effortlessly.
Unfortunately, in light of the setbacks we described above, boiling their mouthpiece is not an option for most saxophonists.
How Can We Clean Saxophone Mouthpieces?
Once we've discarded boiling water for a majority of saxophone mouthpieces, luckily, we still are left with other viable methods for disinfecting and sanitizing them. Water is naturally utilized, but you may have to include an additional chemical that can rid the saxophone of grease since cold water is not as efficient as hot water normally is for these purposes.
To clean your mouthpiece, you'll have to use:
- A sink or bucket.
- Cold or lukewarm water.
- Dish soap.
- A toothbrush or mouthpiece brush (preferably with firm bristles).
The procedure goes as follows:
- First, you have to fill the sink or bucket with cold/lukewarm water and drip some dish soap in it.
- Next, place the mouthpiece into the water and allow it to remain submerged for about 20 minutes.
- Afterward, take the mouthpiece out of the water and start rubbing it gently, albeit firmly, with the brush. You will probably find some resilient grease spots, in which case you ought to submerge the mouthpiece again in the water for a few more minutes and repeat the process.
Some people suggest using a sponge instead of a brush for the toughest gunks. You could risk wearing the mouthpiece over time (depending on the material), but it's still doable for periodic cleaning sessions.
After every rough spot has been taken care of, rinse the mouthpiece with fresh running water to remove traces of soap and loose gunk and use a lint-free towel or cloth to dry it.
Remember to remove the reed before performing this cleaning method. The reed deserves a separate treatment due to its peculiar characteristics. You can detach it after unfastening the ligature.
Also, please refrain from using hot or warm water. Even if not boiling, it may still cause structural damage to the mouthpiece.
Related article: Can Saxophone Mouthpieces Be Washed In The Dishwasher?
What Other Measures Should We Follow To Keep Our Mouthpieces Clean?
The mouthpiece is one of the primary components factored into the saxophone's sound, and proper care and treatment should be undertaken routinely to make sure it stays in top shape.
Saliva is probably the main contaminant building up inside a mouthpiece. If this saliva is not removed, limescale will form, making it difficult to detach the mouthpiece from the neck. The tone will also get affected as a result of this.
Limescale is a compound – comprised of calcium and magnesium – that remains as residue after hard water and other watery substances have evaporated. It can be identified by the presence of a white, chalky stain you may see stuck to the mouthpiece's surface.
In extreme situations, you might have to use a soft acidic chemical like vinegar or hydrogen peroxide to rid your mouthpiece of this residue. You ought to use these sparingly, for they have the potential of damaging the mouthpiece's finish.
A common technique consists of submersing the mouthpiece in hydrogen peroxide for a couple of hours. After that, the limescale should dissolve in the liquid without much effort.
As we just noted, you should not leave your mouthpiece permanently exposed to these acids. Wash the mouthpiece thoroughly with water and dish soap afterwards, avoiding the use of any strong detergent.
Finally, I have three more maintenance tips:
- Swab the mouthpiece after every execution and clean it more thoroughly at least once a week or every two weeks.
- You can optionally submerge the mouthpiece in Sterisol – a germicide that is specifically marketed for instruments – or mouthwash.
- Try to find a ventilated area to allow the mouthpiece to remain dry. If you have to store the mouthpiece separately, use a properly ventilated case.
To learn more about cleaning saxophones, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• How Often Should A Saxophone Be Cleaned?
• Can Saxophone Neck Straps Be Washed In A Washer & Dryer?