In this guide, I want to talk to you about how to clean a saxophone and clarinet mouthpiece. I'm going to use two woodwind mouthpieces as an example — a tenor sax, and a clarinet.
No. You should not boil your mouthpieces, especially rubber mouthpieces as this will destroy them. You should clean your saxophone mouthpiece at least once a week with a soap and woodwind mouthpiece brush.
Let's go over this step-by-step.
How Often Should You Clean Your Saxophone, Clarinet Mouthpiece
First of all I want to talk to you about how often you should clean your mouthpiece.
You should definitely be cleaning out your mouthpiece at least once a week, and after every time you are sick.
It would, of course, be ideal if you cleaned it out every day, at night, perhaps, but this is not practical for most people to do. So once a week is sufficient.
The reason also say after you're sick is because sometimes when you're sick, you might not be able to play, leave alone cleaning out your mouthpiece.
If you're playing with a cold, you should try to clean out your mouthpiece every day that you are sick.
Nonetheless, you want to completely clean it out after you are sick. You want to make sure all the germs and yucky stuff is out of the mouthpiece.
How to Clean Your Saxophone Mouthpiece (Step-by-step Guide)
Because the process is slightly different for saxophone and clarinet, I want to start with the tenor mouthpiece first.
What You'll Need
Here's what you're going to need:
- A woodwind mouthpiece brush. The woodwind mouthpiece brush has bristles that are much larger than the brass mouthpiece brush. You could get away with using the latter but the woodwind brush will be better because it will fit more areas even on the clarinet mouthpiece.
- Some dish soap.
- Some lukewarm water (in a tub, or tap).
- A dry towel.
Step #1 — Disassemble the Mouthpiece
You want to make sure you take the cap, ligature and reed off. If you have a mouthpiece patch like I do, leave it on.
Here's a how to clean, sanitize and disinfect your reed properly step-by-step. The rest of this guide is about cleaning the mouthpiece only, so you need to follow that guide to also clean out your reeds.
Step #2 — Squirt Soap into the Rails, Baffle, Chamber, Throat of the Mouthpiece
The next thing you need to do is squirt some soap on the rails, baffle, chamber, and into the throat of the mouthpiece.
We need lukewarm water for this — not too hot.
You definitely dont wan't the water too hot, especially with hard rubber mouthpieces, that will damage them for sure.
Step #3 — Scrub the Entire Mouthpiece
Next, take the brush and scrub into the mouthpiece. Work the brush in and was it out as you do this.
Next, make sure you scrub the mouthpiece tip, lay, table, and shank besides the parts we mentioned earlier. Make sure that you get the edges, especially, because they tend to get a little bit nasty.
You need to repeat this, and the previous steps, a couple of times as you occasionally clean and shake out the brush under a faucet.
Step #4 — Rinse out the Mouthpiece
Next, rinse out the mouthpiece under the faucet since with the saxophone mouthpiece you can get away with wetting the whole of it.
Shake out the brush and set it aside to dry by itself.
Step #5 — Dry the Mouthpiece
Next, after you are done cleaning, shake out the mouthpiece and then dry it off by wiping it with a dry towel.
Obviously, you won't get the entire inside with a towel, but shaking ot out helps. Just get the outside as dry as you can, let it dry and then stick it back into your case.
How to Clean Your Clarinet Mouthpiece
Now, the difference with with the tenor sax mouthpiece vs the clarinet mouthpiece — and this can be a little tricky, is the cork.
You don't ever want to wet the clarinet cork.
You want to do the best than you can to not wet the cork as you clean the mouthpiece.
What I would suggest is put the water on not too hot, and don't put it on like a big gushing stream. This is a much easier way to control where the water goes.
Wet the reed in the tip end, not the shank end with the cork that does into the clarinet. You can cup the shank end with the palm of your hand.
Repeat the same steps as with the saxophone mouthpiece taking care not to wet the shank end all the time.
When you are done, you will carefully go down the shank end of the cork with your woodwind brush making sure not to get the cork wet.
After you are done cleaning, you will rinse off all the soap from everything and towel dry the mouthpiece. Again taking care not to get the cork wet.
If you happen to get the cork will it ruin the cork? No. But the thing is, you don't want to soak the cork with water.
So dry the mouthpiece off, and shake as much of the water out as you can, and you're all set.
How to Clean Calcium Carbonate Deposits from Mouthpieces
Even if you clean your mouthpieces regularly, you can still get this build up of calcium deposits on your mouthpieces.
We can calcium in our saliva and over that time that builds up on the mouthpiece. As you will notice, these deposits are really hard to get off.
Here's a quick way you can take it off that easy and cheap to do.
What You'll Need
- An acidic solution (for your cleaning agent). Something like white vinegar or apple cider vinegar will do. You can also use lemon juice or lime juice.
- A cup
How to Clean Calcium Deposits
- Take of your mouthpiece patch. Sometimes the calcium deposit can build up around the mouthppiece patch. Hold on to the mouthpiece patch because it will stick right back on to your mouthpiece, you might want to use it again.
- Pour the vinegar into a cup. It doesn't need to cover the entire mouthpiece, just enough to cover the calcium that's on it.
- Dip the mouthpiece in the vinegar.
- Set a timer for about 10 minutes.
- Pull it out and clean your mouthpiece normally with soap.
After doing this soak, a lot of the white should already be gone. The only build up you should see after soaking will be really soft.
So if you just take a paper towel you can just wipe it off, but you still need to completely wash the vinegar off your mouthpiece. Cleaning with soap will make the calcium deposit come right off, and there you are.
Clean as new!
How to Clean, Disinfect Really Dirty Mouthpieces
If your mouthpiece is really dirty, of course, just soap and water might not really suffice for a proper cleaning and disinfecting job.
To disinfect your mouthpiece, soak it in 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, just like with the reeds. Perhaps, you might even want to take your chances with an original Listerine soak, only if you cannot get your hands on some hydrogen peroxide — which is really easy.
The process of disinfecting with hydrogen peroxide is clearly explained in the reed disinfecting guide.