How to clean a harmonica

So your harmonica's dirty and you want to give it a clean, but you don't know how? Well, you're in the right place...

Other instruments - guitars, for example - won't stop playing immediately if you don't clean them regularly. Unfortunately, harmonicas require regular cleaning. This is because they very easily gather dust, dirt and (frankly quite disgusting) remants of anything that might be in your mouth. Follow this simple guide to ensure you keep your harmonica clean and in good condition for longer.


Regular cleaning routine

To avoid saliva buildup in the harp, rinse regularly with warm water.


STEP 1: Rinse the harmonica with water, then tap it against your hand to remove any leftover water.

STEP 2: Leave to dry thoroughly.


IMPORTANT NOTE: if your harmonica has a wooden comb, it's safer to use a soft, dry brush rather than risk swelling and cracking the wood through introducing too much moisture.


Deep clean

Even if you rinse your harmonica regularly, it still helps to give it a deep clean every so often. I'm gigging a lot so I try to do this once a month. It's a more involved process of taking the harmonica apart so it takes more time and can be a little fiddly, but I always find my harps play better after a deep clean, and last longer when they're looked after in this way.


You will need:

  • Screwdriver (type needed varies)

  • Cocktail sticks/toothpicks

  • Feeler gauge (or piece of paper)

  • Surgical spirit/rubbing alcohol

  • Small bowl (for surgical spirit)

  • Toothbrush

  • Hand towels/flannels

  • Large bowl of water

STEP 1:

Remove screws holding the cover plates, then remove reedplates from comb. Keep the screws in a safe and obvious place - they're very easy to lose!


STEP 2:

Use cocktail sticks to remove excess dirt and stuck-on saliva from all parts. The comb can be especially gunky.


STEP 3:

Wipe lengthways with surgical spirit and place in bowl of water. Dry thoroughly with hand towel.


STEP 4:

Gently use feeler gauge to check reeds are free and working properly.


STEP 5:

Re-assemble harmonica.


This cleaning process is suitable for diatonic, tremolo and octave harmonicas. The same idea applies to chromatic but you have to extra careful so consult a chromatic expert before dismantling your instrument.


To see the cleaning process by video, either watch the link at the top of this page for a fast-forward 2 minute summary or watch this full 30 minute video of the process:


Cleaning a harmonica using an ultrasonic cleaner

I'm pretty old-school when it comes to cleaning, but you might like to save time by using a Supersonic Cleaner. Here's a respected model (disclaimer: I receive a small affiliate payment if you buy through this link to a popular ultrasonic cleaner for harmonica.


I hope these cleaning tips help you. Feel free to comment as always!


Want step-by-step lessons?

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#cleaning #maintenance #repair