Of all of plethora of accessories available to fine flute players, there are few that produce such confusion and mystery as one: the Pad Saver. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but I do come across students who are not sure how to use this accessory properly, at the risk of damaging their instrument, so I thought I would spend some time explaining the proper function of it.
A Pad Saver is self-described as a “de-moisturizing swab.” It is a piece of semi-flexible plastic that is covered with fibers that absorb water from the inside of the instrument. Pad Savers are probably the most popular cleaning accessory for saxophones, and they are certainly useful for flutes as well, as long as they are used properly. A common misconception that students have is that it should be used as the primary cleaning material for their instrument. They can certainly be used to clean out the moisture that accrues during practicing, but the real problem lies in its storage–unknowing students swab out their instrument, and then–since it fits perfectly in the body of the instrument–stick it right back in the instrument and put it in its case. This is actually more harmful to the instrument than not cleaning it out at all, since moisture is absorbed into the fibers and then made to sit on the pads for a longer period of time. This wreaks havoc on the pads since they are exposed to moisture for a longer period of time.
So what is the better solution? For me, as a long-time flute player, simple is better. There are many fancy swabs and cloths that are on the market, but the best solution that I offer to questioning parents and students from my personal experience is plain and simple: a plastic cleaning rod, which comes with all beginner-level instruments here at Paige’s Music, and a simple piece of cotton material threaded through it. A cotton handkerchief, or a piece of material no bigger than that, does a much better job of absorbing excess moisture and is much easier to store. This is where the Pad Saver is better served: by being stored inside the body of the instrument AFTER swabbing it out with a different piece of material, keeping the keys and pads nice and dry.
One final note about storage: many beginner-level hard cases do not come equipped with very much storage room for accessories such as cleaning materials, pad paper, pencils, etc. Students should use caution when attempting to store extra things in these cases, as it can put too much pressure on the keys. Step-up level cases are a two-part system and offer more storage options. So if you or your student are finding that you’re running out of storage space, stop in the shop to see about extra cases or instrument options!