Flute swabs

Posted by
Erin Nichols
 October 13, 2015

One question that I get asked by customers frequently is “What should I be using to clean my instrument after playing?” It goes without saying that proper care of your instrument starts with, at the very least, cleaning out the moisture that accrues inside the instrument while it is being played. I wanted to address some common facts and myths about swabbing out a flute and discuss the best materials to use to do so.

I often joke with customers that I am not a very good salesperson when it comes to inside swabbing materials. Many people come in looking for what they assume is a special material to use, and I usually send them on their way empty handed–but with good reason. In my experience, there is no better flute cleaner (keep in mind, we are talking about the inside of the instrument, not the outside silver finish) than a handkerchief-sized piece of plain white cotton from your rag pile at home–provided it is free of dyes or chemicals. For most people this includes something like a piece cut out of an old men’s undershirt or something similar. Cotton is both absorbent and gentle on the inside of the instrument, which will remove excess moisture and keep the inside material from being scratched over time. This can also be washed multiple times and re-used. I suggest staying away from liquid fabric softeners when washing anything that is going to come in contact with your flute; liquid softener leaves behind a film that can be transferred to the instrument.

With this simple piece of material, players will also need a cleaning rod through which to thread it, which are inexpensive and sold in the IFS. An alternative to this set-up is a cloth swab with a weighted string, which oboe and clarinet players often use. The disadvantage of this is that it is not very easy to clean the headjoint this way; I still suggest keeping a cleaning rod handy for this purpose. Lastly, always make sure that the cleaning cloth is stored outside of the main part of the flute case so that it can dry out properly.

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