We’re in the midst of cold and flu season right now, so don’t let your instrument make you sick. Your clarinet can become a cylindrical petri dish of biological nasties if you don’t keep it clean. Here are a few suggestions.
Use a Swab
Wipe out your horn each time that you play it. This advice seems so obvious, but about half of the clarinet-pickers I run into don’t do this. Don’t just pull the swab through the entire assembled horn at once; take it apart and wipe out each piece separately as moisture gets caught between the joints.
Also, get rid of the cotton hankie swabs and those fake chamois-on-a-string things; they don’t dry very quickly in the case. Get yourself a silk or microfiber one and lay it out on top of the horn in the case to dry. Toss it in the laundry once a week.
Wash Your Mouthpiece
Washing the mouthpiece daily is best. Hot water will warp it, so use cool water and dish soap or toothpaste. Remember, germs can live on your mouthpiece for a day or more even if it appears to be dry.
Stop Touching the Top Half of Your Reed!
I am constantly amazed by the moldy, yucky sticks of wood I see students (and pros!) put in their mouths to wet and then slap onto the mouthpiece. There’s really no reason to ever touch the tip of your reed. Always handle the reed by the bark (the bottom half). When you place it on the mouthpiece, leave the ligature a bit loose and adjust the reed up and down with your thumb on the bark and side to side with the “shoulders” (that little section just above the bark where the shaved part starts). This way, you’ll never have to touch the part that goes into your mouth.
Disinfect your reeds occasionally with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide and a toothbrush. Be sure to rinse them well and lay them on a flat surface to dry. You’ll be amazed at how much longer the reeds will last—and how much money you’ll save—if you keep them clean.