Hardware synthesizers have long been part of the music-making and sound design process. Your collection of classic synthesizers can be gaining value by the day. So, how can you keep them clean for optimal aesthetics and performance?
How to clean a synthesizer effectively and safely: The first step to cleaning a synth is to wipe it down with a dry and then a damp cloth. Secondly, remove grime from sliders, buttons, and keys. Thirdly, open it up to remove any dust. Finally, return keys to their natural colour using chemicals. Repeat this sequence regularly for proper maintenance.
In this article, we’ll go through step-by-step how to clean a synthesizer effectively and safely to maintain optimal performance, aesthetics and longevity.
Advice Before You Start Cleaning The Synthesizer
Before starting with step number one, there are some precautions we should discuss. Please read them carefully and try to apply them to every step to avoid common pitfalls.
Try The Cleaning Products First
Although most of the products named in this blog post are safe, every synthesizer is different. Thus, to avoid any bad chemical reactions, apply these products in a non-visible, non-essential part of the synth first. Furthermore, you can try them on a similar surface too.
As a rule of thumb: If the product looks (or reads to be) harsh, abrasive, or damaging, it probably is. It is always better to err on the safe side.
Take Pictures At Every Step
A very common mistake, especially with complex devices such as synthesizers, is not remembering what goes where. This scenario could be catastrophic. To avoid it, snap a picture before every step, so you know for sure every part’s position. Moreover, this approach has no limits; you can take pictures several times within each step.
Take those extra seconds to avoid complications with reassembly and the potential damaging of your synth.
Another complication that might arise for newbies is misplacing parts once removed. Use receptacles to store each part you remove to prevent the scenario of not knowing where those small screws went. This is especially important if you have little children or pets that might find it amusing to play with them.
Clean The Work Area First
Another important precaution is to clean the area you’ll be working in. In this sense, having a large, clean surface will not only make the job easier but can also spare you more than a headache. Accidentally mixing the loose synthesizer parts with other loose pieces, tools, etc., can lead to unnecessary difficulty in the long term.
Additionally, ensure the working space is clean of its own debris. The goal is to clean the synthesizer (of dust, mould, residue, etc.), so having a dirt-free workspace is essential.
Finally, when handling chemicals (like in step 5, for example), always wear gloves and use eye protection. Protecting a synthesizer is important; protecting eyes and hands is even more important.
Step 1: Wiping
After you’ve deposited your synthesizer over a clean area, the first thing to do is to use a dry cloth and remove debris and dirt. This is a superficial cleaning that can take away all the visible accumulated dust.
After the initial dry wipedown, it is time to go for the damp cloth. You can use water only or add a drop of detergent to it. For this step, it is paramount that you wrung out the water excess from the cloth. If any drop of water gets into the circuit board through the sliders, there could be serious consequences.
If you notice any stubborn stains at a surface level, you can always use denatured alcohol with a piece of cotton to remove it. Just beware of the paint and labelling/lettering because alcohol might wipe them away too. Having a plethora of blind controls to work with is not recommended. Furthermore, that might lower the synth’s resale price.
Once you’re completely done with the second part of step 1, you can repeat the first and dry it with a fine microfiber cloth to remove debris from the surface.
Step 2: Submerging
Dirt, combined with sweat, skin’s natural oil, and repetition, can create grime. This is especially true for those parts of the synth that receive the most use. This category includes buttons, knobs, slider tops, and keys.
A warm, damp cloth is not enough to remove grime; it needs to go a step further.
So, to remove grime, the first step is to fill the sink with warm water. To get some bubbles and more cleaning power, some droplets of dishwasher detergent are a great addition. Once it is ready, all slider caps, buttons, and knobs should go in.
Bearing in mind the fragility of each piece is paramount not to damage the synthesizer. Let’s consider the typical steps to remove these parts of the synth safely:
Slider caps: Making even pressure, make sure you pull them out without wiggling to the sides. This is important because that side movement might cause the slider to break.
Knobs: Knobs usually come out the same way slider caps do. If they are old and have never been removed, you can carefully and gently use a flat element to help to wedge. Try to refrain from the use of metal elements that can scratch the surface beneath the knobs.
Buttons: These are the most difficult to remove. They are usually secured to the control board from the inside. Thus, you have to open the machine up and remove certain parts to get to them. If this is not suitable for your expertise level, use an old toothbrush to clean them thoroughly.
Some people also include the synth’s keys in this process. Once you’ve left them inside the warm water solution for half an hour, it is time to do the final cleanup. For this endeavour, all you need is an old, soft toothbrush and a lot of patience to remove the most stubborn grime.
Please read the user manual for your specific hardware synth to learn how (or if) its parts can be removed without damage.
Finally, make sure you also clean the bottom part since you don’t want any grime building up there either.
Step 3: Stickers & Blemishes
It is not uncommon for synthesizer owners to put stickers on their possessions. With time, they either lose their colours or their meaning/”cool factor.” So, another great way to embellish and maintain the synth is removing them.
First of all, refrain from using any harsh elements, especially those that contain metal parts. Instead, try to go for warm water and detergent to remove the top part. If the sticker is made of paper, you’ll notice it will peel off from the surface, leaving only the glue behind.
If what’s left behind is glue or gunk, it is time to go for WD-40. This will help you disintegrate the remains of glue and wipe them off the surface. Beware if you bought any sticker-removing spray because they can also take away some of the paint.
Speaking of which, if you don’t want to apply WD-40 to your synthesizer’s surface, you can opt for olive oil. Damp a paper towel on either of them, place it over the glue remains and let it act upon it. It might take more than one application, but it will get the job done.
Step 4: Interior Cleanup
Some synthesizers can continue to smell bad even after a thorough external cleanup. If that is the case, then it is time to go inside the apparatus and clean it too.
Remove all screws and open up the synthesizer. If it has any wooden parts and you live in a humid place, look for traces of mould. Otherwise, look for any debris or accumulated dirt.
Vacuum the inside very carefully. Once vacuumed, utilize denatured alcohol to wipe clean all the parts on sight. This is the perfect moment to put the entire apparatus apart and wipe clean every possible part of it.
If you encounter mould, then you need to take it a little further. Use a solution made with 1 part detergent, 10 parts bleach, and 20 parts water. Wipe the affected parts with a sponge making sure it penetrates any cracks.
Whether you find mould or not, let the synth open and expose it to direct sunlight. This is because sunlight works wonders on odours and mould. If you are worried about leaving it outside, use an open door or a window.
Once the synth has been in sunlight for at least 4 to 5 hours, put it back together.
Step 5: White Keys & Clean Screws
Removing synthesizer keys is not an easy endeavour. Moreover, it will take some time to take them apart and time to reinstall them. That being said, in the case your keys are yellow, and you want them to be white again, you can use liquid hydrogen peroxide to submerge them.
Cover the recipient (holding the keys and liquid hydrogen peroxide) with a plastic wrap to avoid evaporation, and let them sunbathe for 4 or 5 hours. Checking them every hour to see how it’s going is paramount to avoid overdoing it and ruining the keys.
Another detail that most collectors look at before buying a synth is how rusty or new the screws are. The best option is removing them and buying exact replacements if they are rusty. Once you have them, insert them on cardboard and spray them black. That way, they will look brand new.
The right approach to synthesizer cleanup is looking at it as a time and energy investment. Indeed, a little time invested in prevention and maintenance might enhance the synth’s performance and dramatically extend its lifespan.
So, follow the steps above, clean your synth regularly, and keep it playing and looking amazing for years to come.
When buying a synthesizer, it can be challenging to choose the most ideal option within your budget. For this reason, I’ve created My New Microphone’s Comprehensive Synthesizer Buyer’s Guide. Check it out for help choosing the best synth for your applications.
This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.