How To Clean A Saxophone

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One of the first things any band director or lesson instructor teaches their students is how to clean the saxophone. When I heard about saxophone lung and the respiratory disease which may develop from a chronically dirty sax, I knew I had to spread this message. 

There are 5 simple steps you need to follow when cleaning your saxophone after you play it: 

  1. Wipe the moisture off and run a brush through your mouthpiece.
  2. Run a swab or cloth through the neck joint of your saxophone. 
  3. Use a cleaning pad to remove moisture from under the keypads. 
  4. Run a larger swab or cloth through the body of your saxophone. 
  5. Use a microfiber cloth to wipe down the exterior of your saxophone. 

These are the quick and easy steps to remember, but each one is a little more involved if you want to make sure you avoid the buildup of grime and bacteria. 

Let’s dive into all you’ll need for the quick cleaning maintenance on your sax. 

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What You’ll Need To Clean A Saxophone

Here is a list of items you’ll need. We’ll link to any you may not have at home.

Disclaimer: Links may be affiliate in nature, which means we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting us and making all this happen! 

Video On Cleaning Your Saxophone

Step By Step How To Clean A Saxophone

It’s time to dig into the details and make sure we understand the easy steps for keeping your saxophone clean. 

These steps work with every type of saxophone, though you may need larger swabs and cloths for the tenor saxophone and baritone saxophone. 

These steps take place after you’ve played your saxophone and are ready to put it away. 

#1 Wipe Off And Brush Mouthpiece

First, loosen the ligature screw (but don’t remove the screw) and take the ligature off. 

Put the ligature and reed down. Take your microfiber cloth and wipe off the moisture on the exterior of the mouthpiece. 

Grab your mouthpiece brush (a bottle brush works, too) and scrub the interior of the mouthpiece. Run the cloth through the inside, too, if possible. 

Put the ligature back on, place the mouthpiece cap over the mouthpiece, and store it in your case or mouthpiece pouch. 

Note: This step isn’t a mouthpiece deep-clean. For this, check out our guide on how to clean a saxophone mouthpiece

#2 Swab The Neck

The next step is to take your smaller cloth or swab and clean out the inside of the neck.

Some cleaning kits come with a bendy brush to do this, but I prefer the smaller cloths with a piece of string. The brush doesn’t always seem to get every crevice, and it’s harder to push through. 

Remove the neck from the body of the saxophone. Insert the string through the end, which fits into the body until it comes out the mouthpiece end. 

Then pull the cloth through. Do this at least 3 quick times to remove moisture and prevent debris from building up. 

Put the neck in its spot in the saxophone case (click to check out how to replace a sax neck cork).

#3 Clean Pads

Now, it’s time to clean the pads. Water hurts the pads in two ways: 

  • Moisture will prevent the pads from sealing around the hole when used. This causes air to leak out and notes to sound wrong. 
  • Moisture will, in time, cause the adhesive in the pad to release, making you lose the pad and need to replace it. 

Use your cleaning pad paper to cover each hole with the pad up off the hole. Then, press the key or pad down onto the paper. 

Pull the cleaning paper out. Do this several times to remove moisture. 

Unlike every other step on this list (which should be done every time you play), cleaning the pads only needs to be done once per week or as needed. 

Note: A regular old computer piece of paper will do in a pinch, but the official cleaning pad/papers work better. 

#4 Swab The Saxophone Body

Like the mouthpiece and neck, we now need to swab the inside of the saxophone body. This will remove water and debris inside the body and prevent bacteria from growing. 

Sadly, this is the step I’ve seen most players skip. Really, it’s the worst one. 

Yes, the neck and mouthpiece are narrower and tend to get hit with the most, but the body has all of the edges near each tone hole, which also are targets for big buildup.

I know it’s inconvenient, but make sure you do this every time you play your sax; it only takes 30 seconds. 

Drop the string, weight-end first, of the larger cloth into the bell of the sax, and turn your woodwind instrument, so the weight comes out the top end where the neck goes. Pull the string, so the cleaning cloth is pulled through. 

Repeat this 3 times. 

If you use a large, soft brush as some cleaning kits do, you have two steps instead of this one. 

First, stick the brush in the neck end of the body and twist it before removing. Then, put the bell brush into the bell and wipe around the inside.

This is yet another reason I prefer the swab or cloths. 

#5 Wipe The Outside Down

You’re almost done! Take your microfiber cloth and give a quick wipe down of the exterior surface. 

Pay close attention to the areas where your hands go (so the keys). You want to remove the oils from your skin. 

Some people have more acidic sweat (like me) and will wear off the lacquer finish quickly if you don’t. 

Congrats! These simple steps will help you keep your saxophone clean. 

Do these every day, and you’ll keep your musical instrument working well and prevent bacteria from getting blown into your lungs. 


What can I use to clean my saxophone? – Microfiber cloths and soft brushes are the best cleaning product options if you don’t want to buy the saxophone cleaning kit. Most of them are pretty affordable, though, so I’d buy them if I were you. 

How do you clean the inside of the saxophone? – Clean the inside of a saxophone with a large cloth with a string or a long, soft brush. 

If you don’t clean it regularly, you’ll need to take it into a music shop, and they’ll use a special chemical bath (or sometimes a sonic one) to remove the built-up grime. This professional cleaning is a little pricey, though. 

It’s better to do the ordinary cleaning every day, so you don’t have to worry about the heavy buildup. 

How often should you clean your saxophone? – The cleaning steps should be done every time you play your saxophone as this will prevent severe buildup. The pads may be cleaned only once per week, though it won’t hurt to do them every time you play. 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher in Michigan with 12 years of experience. He's the President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and founder of the Dynamic Music Room.

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