Why Is My Woodwind Reed Turning Black?

Woodwind reeds are relatively inexpensive yet sensitive components that require specific storage conditions and maintenance measures. Some people have reported that their reeds turned black and raised concerns that they might have gotten spoiled. If you're reading this, you're probably experiencing the same occurrence.

Why would a woodwind reed turn black? A woodwind reed will turn black because of mould (black mould, to be more precise). If that happens, you may try to submerge your reed in hydrogen peroxide in an attempt to eliminate the mould, though, in some instances, it's better to replace the reed entirely.

In this article, we'll be delving into the common mould issues that beset woodwind reeds. We'll also explain how to avoid them and what to do when they transpire.

What Is Mould?

Mould (sometimes also called mildew) is a type of fungal growth that develops and spreads on overly moist or decaying matter, especially organic matter. These growths may come in different colours and are found in all biomes, though fungi typically thrive in humid locations.

These fungi are attracted to decaying organic matter as they search for a source of nutrition. They reproduce by casting spores that travel through the air until they settle on a viable habitat, forming new colonies.

Why Does Mold Grow On Reeds?

As stated earlier, mould thrives on wet/decaying organic matter. This is relevant due to what we're about to explain.

Woodwind reeds have been traditionally made out of organic material. More specifically, they are pieces of cane or bamboo, which are types of grass that grow in various kinds of environments. These were, to put it in simple terms, living beings that in regular circumstances would feed other creatures.

Reeds are not only dead organic matter (in most instances, at least), but they're prone to get wet due to the very purpose they serve: to be inserted into our mouths as we play our instruments. If natural reeds are not properly sanitized and maintained in optimal storage conditions, mould will eventually find a way to settle in them and grow.

Can I Get Rid Of The Mold On My Reed?

When a woodwind reed acquires a black coating that cannot be removed by ordinary means, this is a good indication that the mould has pretty much settled at a nearly irreversible stage.

Even if you attempt to scrape the mould off with a knife, there will always be a remnant underneath that will eventually form a new colony on the scraped surface.

When your reed turns black and acquires a foul odour, the best course of action is to dispose of it and get a new reed. You should not risk playing with a mouldy reed, even if it may not apparently affect your tone, because the problems that could ensue go beyond your musical output.

Related articles:
When To Stop Using A Reed (How To Tell A Reed Has Expired)
5 Reasons Your Saxophone Smells Bad & How To Fix The Issue

ATP levels can measure the amount of microbial contamination present on a surface or substance. Some measurements on mouldy reeds have shown an astounding contaminant count, which would then be transferred to our mouths. If you interact with those pathogens, you could risk catching “saxophone lung”, a type of allergic pneumonia that could potentially induce severe reactions and even death if not treated in time.

Possible Solutions

Let's consider two solutions to help eliminate mould on a woodwind reed.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Notwithstanding what we said above, some reeds could be salvageable. If you place your reed on hydrogen peroxide for a few minutes and allow it to foam, you could rid the reed of all the bacteria and fungi located therein.

After the foam has died down, take the reed out and place it inside a glass of fresh water for a few minutes to dissolve the hydrogen peroxide that remains. In most cases, the hydrogen peroxide traces are not of a significant quantity so as to pose a grave health concern, but you should err on the safe side either way. Plus, hydrogen peroxide leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.


Another possible solution is using Reedcure, though it has had mixed reviews. Essentially, it's a reed-cleaning device that uses a combination of UV light and ozone to revitalize the reed and sanitize it. It is claimed to eliminate a wide variety of health problems – such as Escherichia coli or Staphylococcus aureus – and also release stress on the reed's vascular structure.

However, its results on overly moldy reeds are a bit underwhelming, with ATP levels hardly decreasing to tolerable levels, as shown in this video. Considering also its hefty price tag, we would not recommend this for reeds with a heavy mold count. It could still be useful for everyday reed usage, though.

How To Prevent Mould On Woodwind Reeds

The first course of action is to try to buy synthetic reeds instead of natural reeds whenever possible. Due to their organic character, natural reeds tend to go awry much quicker than synthetic reeds, and the probability of them gathering mould is much higher for that reason.

For more info on synthetic reeds, check out my article How Long Do Synthetic Saxophone Reeds Last?

However, if you wish to preserve your natural reeds from mold, you should perform correct maintenance work and look for optimal ways to store them.

In terms of storage, you would need to find ventilated cases or cases with proper humidity control mechanisms.

Also, don't neglect to sanitize your reeds after use. Our saliva is very attractive to mould, and storing reeds containing saliva traces will ultimately make your reeds vulnerable to fungal invasion. You may immerse them in hydrogen peroxide or mouthwash. You could alternatively use Reedcure (the device mentioned earlier) for that purpose.

Another useful method consists of cycling through various reeds. That way, you'll allow your reeds to rest and they will not be constantly exposed to saliva and, in turn, to mould.

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


Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and 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 (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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