How to clean a woodwind mouthpiece

Let's face the facts.  You probably need to clean your mouthpiece.  I've known for a while that my mouthpieces needed a good cleaning.  It's one of those things we know we as woodwind players know we should do more often but don't.  After reading this article on NPR about wind players getting sick from the filth in their instruments, I finally decided to do something about the declining state of my mouthpieces.  (one could argue that while some instrumentalists are suffering from hypersensitivity pneumonitis, there are still millions of professionals, amateurs, and students who do not)    

What you will need:  

  • Liquid dish soap
  • Warm water
  • Woodwind mouthpiece brush OR a soft bristled toothbrush

First, begin with the water.  You can either fill the sink if your mouthpiece is really dirty, or simply turn the faucet on and use just the running water if the job can be done quickly.  Use warm water, but not hot so as not to cause any damage or discoloration.  If you are soaking, use the dish soap and get some suds going.  I used two dishes as I had so many mouthpieces to clean.  You can also apply a small amount of soap directly on the mouthpiece (do this if you aren't soaking).  

Once you're ready, begin to scrub, both the inside and out.  Be sure you are using a soft bristled brush.  Most instrument care kits come with specific woodwind mouthpiece brushes, but an old toothbrush will do just fine.  It is important to use soft bristles so as not to make any scratches inside your mouthpiece.  Don't use a brass mouthpiece brush that your older brother had lying around, those are designed for metals only.

After you've gotten at least a layer of grime off, rinse and let air dry.  And that's it.  

Tips for keeping your mouthpiece clean: 

  • Never leave a wet reed on the mouthpiece.  

Not only does that cause damage to the reed by not allowing it to dry flat, leaving the wet reed on the mouthpiece and closing the case traps the moisture inside the mouthpiece.  Mold loves moist, dark places to grow.

  • Don't eat, drink, and play.  

Be aware of what your mouth feels like when you play.  It should feel clean.  If you just ate, at least rinse your mouth, or brush your teeth.  Many professionals will even carry a travel toothbrush and paste in their case.  Anything you just ate (or drank) will get blown right back into your instrument and the first place sediment must pass through is your mouthpiece.  It can be especially troublesome with sugary substances like candy and soda.  

    before (mouthpieces face down for a reason)