Like any other instrument, saxophones gather impurities, grime, and corrosive pollutants and need caretaking from time to time. If a player neglects to clean their saxophone, it may develop unwanted signs of deterioration or even dangerous fungi. The frequency of regular and detailed saxophone cleaning could determine the endurance of all its main components and the player's health.
How often should a saxophone be cleaned? Saxophones should ideally be cleaned after every practice or playing session or at least once per week. Clean the body with a swab and soft microfiber cloth. The mouthpiece needs monthly cleaning with warm water and soap. Skipping these tasks may cause health issues for the instrument and player.
In this article, we'll discuss cleaning methods, recommended cleaning frequency, and possible consequences of not properly cleaning a saxophone.
Related article: Top 11 Benefits Of Learning & Playing Saxophone
Saxophone Cleaning Methods
As mentioned in the above paragraph, saxophones should be cleaned regularly, every time you end a playing session or at least every week, or every month in the case of the mouthpiece.
For the saxophone's bore and body, it's recommended to use both a swab and a cleaning microfiber cloth, respectively. Let's consider the following cleaning methods:
The swab used for saxophone cleaning is not the same regular swab you would normally use for other everyday objects. It's a special swab designed to reach all parts of the saxophone's bore. It consists of a strap made out of a chamois-like material or similar, with a weight attached by a long string.
Usually, the weight is introduced at the bell and pulled out at the mouthpiece end as the saxophone is rotated. This allows the swab to reach the entire length of the instrument.
Some people improvise their own swabs by attaching a weighted tip to a piece of cloth with a long string. This could be useful with no other option available, but the swabbing would have to be performed in a way that ensures that the string won't break or detach from the swab, as the swab would end up getting stuck in the bore.
Likewise, the string would have to be long enough to reach the other end of the saxophone. This is why swabs are usually sold in various sizes relative to the saxophone type (soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone being the most common ones).
Generally speaking, cleaning out the neck and mouthpiece is crucial. Provided the instrument is used regularly, the body portion will be exposed to airflow constantly so that impurities won't gather as much in that area. Fortunately, swabbing the neck and mouthpiece is easier because they're the most reachable spots.
The mouthpiece is known for being one of the most sensible and sensitive parts of a sax. Any installation glitch or, more important to the subject of this writing, any accumulation of dirt can affect the installation and output in significant ways.
Mouthpieces should be routinely washed (every month) with warm water and soap. A soft, dedicated mouthpiece brush can also be used for this task to get rid of the small buildups that get stuck in the mouthpiece's surfaces.
The recommended method of washing the mouthpiece is to soak it in a bowl of warm soapy water for a few minutes. This will aid in loosening up all the stuck grime, particles, and calcification present on it. Then, try to scrub it on the inside and outside with the brush (it can be a regular toothbrush if you don't have a mouthpiece brush available).
Be mindful that hard rubber (ebonite) mouthpieces can be discoloured with heat or cold, so it's better to use lukewarm water on these mouthpieces. Metal mouthpieces can withstand heat, so even hot water is permissible.
Also, avoid using strong acidic products such as vinegar, as they will cause a negative impact on the mouthpiece's finish. Stick to soft soapy water instead.
Finally, if your mouthpiece has a patch attached for bite mark prevention, remove it before washing so that the spot under the patch may also be cleaned.
There is no complexity in polishing a saxophone; A soft microfiber cloth will get the job done optimally. You can rub the polish cloth on the keys and rods. This will remove all the oily compounds, buildups, and shavings from the saxophone's surface, as well as the exterior of its different parts.
If the saxophone has a lacquer finish, polishing is only necessary on the portions of naked metal. You may still want to remove smudges, though.
There are several saxophone polishing kits on the market that can be put to good use, complete with chemicals specially designed for this purpose.
Cleaning and/or polishing a saxophone's surface, as stated above, should be done at least every week, but it's better to perform these cleaning chores after each practice or playing session.
All-in-one cleaner kits are available online, like the Rochix Saxophone Cleaner Care Kit (link to check the price on Amazon). Saxophone polish, like the MusicNomad MN700 Lacquer Polish (link to check the price on Amazon) is also available.
What Happens If We Don't Clean Our Saxophones?
If we overlook our cleaning duties towards our saxophones, a bunch of issues can and probably will arise.
At times, these will only be superficial damage such as tarnish or oxidation, which do not affect playability but rather the appeal and overall value of the instrument. Most saxophones will not rust because they are made out of brass (a non-ferrous alloy), but they could develop some unpleasant sights on the finish.
Allowing impurities to accumulate extensively on the mouthpiece and neck will ultimately affect playability and tone, owing to the roughness created on the instrument's surfaces. Beyond that, and most importantly, is the potential danger an unclean saxophone poses to the player's health.
What Is Saxophone Lung?
“Saxophone Lung” (also called hypersensitive pneumonitis) is an uncommon condition resulting from interacting with unclean woodwind instruments, or sometimes even brass instruments. It's a product of inhaling a black fungus that gathers inside the instrument's bore. Saxophone Lung can potentially require hospitalization and can be fatal if not treated in time.
This is not to say Saxophone Lung will definitely affect those who don't abide exactly by the cleaning timeframes expressed above (as they are meant to be merely referential). Still, the risk is highly increased with each passing day of not cleaning the woodwind.