How To Fix Sticky Flute Keys

A common issue that springs up quite often on flutes is “sticky keys”, resulting from various separate (or even combined) factors. Fortunately, these issues can be solved without having to reach a flute technician.

Here's how to fix sticky flute keys:

  • Get a piece of pad cleaning paper
  • Place it under the problematic key
  • Press down the key so that the paper is pushed against the pad's surface
  • Lift the key
  • Repeat the process 2 or 3 more times, each with a new piece of paper

In this article, we'll discuss how to fix sticky flutes keys in more detail, beginning with a few preliminary thoughts on the matter.

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• Top 11 Best Flute Brands On The Market

Why Do Flute Keys Get Stuck?

“Sticky keys” are a frequent nuisance for flute players but one that ordinarily should not be a cause of major concern. We should, nevertheless, do everything in our power to prevent it from happening, for it could evolve into a more serious problem requiring a more costly repair job.

Flute pads are made out of a combination of felt and leather or gold beater's skin wrapping a piece of cardboard. Some of them have a metal backing that's supposed to make the pad more durable (like the Straubinger pads used on the Myazawas) though it could turn the mechanism a bit noisier.

Related article: What Are Flutes Made Of?

These pads get in direct contact with water particles and impurities we transmit through our breath. This is of particular importance, as the pad's materials react peculiarly bad with traces of sugary foods and drinks we ingest.

Sugar owes its adhesive properties to hydrogen bonding, which results from the attraction between its hydrogen atoms and other negatively charged atoms present in a medium. Also, if you try dissolving heavy amounts of sugar into a glass of water, you'll notice the water turning more viscous.

All of this explains why sticky keys can be a prevalent problem for people who eat food with high sugar content. Before playing, you should eliminate that sugar by either brushing your teeth or drinking generous amounts of water.

Another factor contributing to stickiness is high humidity combined with heat or extreme cold. These situations are largely beyond your control, and there's not much you can do about them other than find a place with more favourable temperatures and humidity levels.

How To Fix Sticky Flute Keys

Let's go through the step-by-step process for fixing sticky flute keys in greater detail here. Once again, the steps are as follows:

  1. Get a piece of pad cleaning paper
  2. Place it under the problematic key
  3. Press down the key so that the paper is pushed against the pad's surface
  4. Lift the key
  5. Repeat the process 2 or 3 more times, each with a new piece of paper

1. Get A Piece Of Pad-cleaning Paper

This special type of paper is designed to be easy on pads. Some people erroneously think that any type of paper would do, but I would discourage types not specifically marketed for pads.

For example, bond paper and paper money are highly abrasive, and even more so for flute pads. Paper money (such as a dollar bill) would generally have ridges capable of “sanding” the pad's surface, with the added drawback of containing harmful germs owing to its high circulation.

Yamaha is one of the few companies that offer a cleaning paper product (link to check the price on Amazon). At about $10, these sheets are pretty affordable, considering that each pack carries 70 sheets.

Another suitable alternative for flute pads is cigarette paper. This type of paper is soft and thin enough for this job. The adhesive could accidentally get onto the pad and cause further issues, so you may want to cut out that portion first.

What About Powder Paper?

This is a controversial issue. It is often claimed that using powder paper or pouring talcum on the sheet, while not extremely necessary, it's otherwise very useful for preventing keys from sticking soon after. The process for using it would be similar to that outlined below, and you may utilize it after the cleaning pad.

Furthermore, some people swear that powder paper serves to protect other keys from sticking, even if at the time they're not experiencing any issues, and that it's advisable to do this at least every two weeks as a preventive measure.

However, this advice is not without dissenting voices, with some experts claiming that the talcum or powder will adhere to dirty spots and could eventually hamper the air-tight seal. Nevertheless, if done correctly with the correct quantity and after ridding the pad of pollutants, there shouldn't be any major issues down the road.

2. Place The Paper Under The Problematic Key

After you've grabbed the piece or sheet of paper you'll be employing, place it under the sticking pad. Again, you should only use pad cleaning paper, powder paper, or cigarette paper (without adhesive) to this end.

3. Press The Key Down

After the paper is in position, gently push the key down and press the paper against the tone hole. You should not have to apply extreme force. Close the key as you normally would when you play the instrument and hold it for a few seconds.

Some experts recommend pulling the paper out while the key is pressed, but this isn't necessarily the best option. Saxophone pads normally resist the friction a bit more, but flute pads are much more sensitive, and you could end up shredding them.

To learn more about saxophone pads, check out the following My New MIcrophone articles:
How To Fix Saxophone Pads (Sticky, Unlevel, Worn)
How To Soften Saxophone Pads
How Often Should A Saxophone Be Repadded?

4. Lift The Key

I should stress that you should not retrieve the piece of paper while the key is down. Lift the key to get the paper out. You could press down a few more times to eliminate the excess moisture. Since the sheets tend to be larger than the keys, you can take advantage of an unused spot for this goal.

5. Repeat The Same Process 2 Or 3 Times

It usually happens that the key will not get back to shape after one cleaning session. Hence, you would want to grab another piece of pad cleaning paper to repeat the entire process a few more times (typically, no more than 3 times).

It's crucial that you replace the paper and don't reuse the same one, for you might have all the removed gunk being transferred to the pad again, defeating the whole purpose.

After this is done, play the flute to see whether the sticking problem is gone. If the key keeps getting stuck, don't hesitate to repeat the procedure again.

What If The Sticky Pad Problem Persists?

If your key keeps getting stuck after several tries, you should try to apply some additional measures, such as pouring a small amount of lighter fluid onto the cleaning paper. Rubbing alcohol could also do the trick. After lifting the key, blow on the pad until the alcohol or fluid is completely evaporated.

However, be mindful that these chemicals can damage the pads if we overuse them, so they should only be employed as a last resort.

Related article: Is It Possible To Soften Flute Pads?

This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.


Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and the author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement ( or producing music. For more info, please check out his YouTube channel and his music.

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