You can buy one of the best harmonicas, but it won’t last as long as it should if you don’t know how to clean harmonica components to preserve the playing life of your instrument. While harmonicas are generally sturdy instruments, the inner pieces are fragile when removed from the protective casing. This can make cleaning the harmonica a delicate task.
The good news is once you know what you’re doing, cleaning a harmonica is easy. Just follow the process outlined below and you’ll be good to go.
Jessica Simms is a saxophonist and life-long student of music. She works as a freelance writer and ghostwriter in Pittsburgh, PA.
You don’t need to run out and buy some expensive repair equipment before you can clean your harmonica. They do sell harmonica repair kits, which can be helpful for more advanced tasks like replacing reeds.
Remove the screws and set them aside in a place they won’t roll away or get lost. Once the cover plates are removed, dampen a clean cloth with rubbing alcohol and wipe both sides of the cover plates, making sure to clean away any stains or build-up. Once you’ve finished cleaning them, use a dry cloth to wipe away any excess alcohol.
Grab your screwdriver again and use it to remove the screws on the reed plates. Unlike with the covers, the screws may be different sizes at different points of the plate, so keep the screws in order so you can put them back in the right place. Once you’ve removed the reed plates, soak them in a mixture of equal parts distilled white vinegar and water for 20-30 minutes.
While the reed plates are soaking, you should have just about the perfect amount of time to clean the comb. If there are stains or deposits beyond what the cloth alone can clean, use a toothbrush or firm-bristled paintbrush; for especially stubborn build-up, you can use a toothpick or similar tool to chip them away.
The material used in the comb will determine the best way to clean it. Wood combs should be kept free of moisture, so use a dry cloth to clean it. If the comb is metal or plastic, rubbing alcohol is the best way to clean it. Just dampen a cloth and use it to massage away any stains or build-up.
The reeds are the most delicate part of the harmonica, so you need to be especially gentle during this step. Brush the reeds gently with a cloth from base to tip. Never brush across or against the reed, and don’t scrub or apply pressure, or you risk damaging them. You can be a bit rougher on the non-reed side and can even use a toothbrush to clean off stubborn dirt.
You can use a cloth to remove excess moisture or allow the pieces to air dry if you’d rather. Once they’re completely dry, start the assembly by re-inserting the reed plates. Put each of the screws in about halfway, then gradually tighten them evenly across the plates until they’re as tight as they’ll go. Next, put in the comb and then put on the outer cover, tightening the screws gradually like you did with the reed plates.
Now that you know how to clean harmonica insides (and outsides), you’ll be able to keep your instrument playing better for longer. Do you have a favorite cleaning technique that wasn’t discussed here? Let us know in the comments!
If you’re a daily player, you’ll want to thoroughly clean your instrument no less often than once a month. If you’re more of a hobbyist, you can do it every few months, or whenever the harmonica isn’t feeling or sounding the way it should.
The most important thing is to tap it out on your palm after each use. This will help keep saliva from building up inside the instrument and prevent damage from rust or bacteria. Also, make sure the harmonica is completely dry before you close it inside its case.
The answer might be nothing. Sometimes a bit of water can get trapped under a reed and prevent it from vibrating correctly. Tap the harmonica out on your palm and try it again. This should dislodge any trapped spit and free up the hole.