Chromatic Harmonica Cleaning


How to Keep Your
Chromatic Harmonica

This covers everything from daily habits to a thorough clean, but please if you own a Customised Harmonica ask your customiser for guidelines on safe cleaning habits as they may have different design features that are vunerable to some products. eg. Bleach, solvents & detergents could be a problem for certain designs.
* Bleach will ruin and discolour any silver plating or components.
* Some custom designed harmonicas rely on certain adhesives which solvents and detergents could ruin or remove.
* Wood if submerged in water will swell, warp, and later on shrink and possibly split.
* Some solvents (and solvent glues) can ruin certain types of plastic on contact.

NB. This page currently does not cover Bass & Chord harmonicas despite their chromatic nature.

Guide to Cleaning your Chrom
Treat your chromatic harmonica with respect.
Keeping your harmonica clean keeps it playing better & you healthier.

I think it is important to thoroughly clean my chromatics from time to time for health reasons, as well as to avoid a sticky slide action and reduce windsaver problems.
Thourough cleaning is especially important when you sell or purchase a second hand harmonica.
By its nature the harmonica is an ideal breeding ground for little nasty cultures, when food debris and sticky saliva is blown through with a players warm breath. In the past I have been disgusted by the green fuzz & other unmentionables I've found under the covers after a few months of playing. Hopefully that's enough motivation for you to get the covers off your instrument.

Food for Thought

An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of .... well you know.
What you put in your mouth will end up in your harmonica when you play it.

Remember: Confectionary foods are our number one enemy!
IE. Roasted peanuts, chippies, popcorn... etc.

Daily Cleaning

Unsticking the Slide, Errant Windsavers and Keeping the Mouthpiece Clean
When you go to play your chromatic you may find the slide is stuck, usually its due to dried saliva and residue from playing that makes the slide stick.
There are a few things you can do to free up the slide action:

If a windsaver sticks to the reedplate, the comb, the coverplate or sticks up and you can get at it easily. Get a toothpick or pin and use it to pull it away from the stuck surface. If it is a two flap
windsaver then you can pry apart the two sticking flaps with the point. This is a quick fix until it becomes terminal and requires a better clean.

After playing clean the mouthpiece with a little water after every practice. Either wipe it with a damp cloth or dip only the mouthpiece (holes down) into water until the water level reaches just over the slide. Shake off excess liquid, give it a wipe with a clean dry cloth and let it sit for while before packing it away in its case, just so it can dry out.

Monthly Cleaning

Cleaning the slide assembly & windsavers on a fairly regular basis will avoid problems. I figure about once a month is close enough, but whenever troubles begin is a good indicator anyway.

Cleaning the Slide Assembly

When the slide resists pushing, sticks regularly or has sluggish reaction its time to give the slide assembly a good clean.

As a general rule water is the best lubricant for the slide action. Other lubricants can be poisonous, and also can cause collection of food particals and bacteria. Its better to keep the slide mechanism clean and use a small amount of water.

Cleaning Windsavers

When you start getting regular popping and buzzing from your harmonica its time to give the windsavers a good clean.
Following the disassembly instructions above, remove the covers & reedplates from your harmonica. (The mouthpiece & slide can stay)

Polishing Out Corrosion

The only times I'd recommend using any kind of polish on your harmonicas metal parts is if light rust is begining to form, or you are about to sell the instrument and want to give it a nice finish, and of course if you are customising or repairing damage.
By no means do I recommend regular polishing as I have found out the plating eventually wears through.
Anytime the covers are off I look out for any spots of corrosion on any of the metal work. If it can't be scratched off with your finger nail or a rag, only then using a fine metal cream polish (like AutoSol, Silvo, Brasso, etc) to lightly polish out the rust in the immediate area.
Toothpaste used lightly in the same manner is a safer method of removing tarnishing and light rust. Thanks Ken

However with Gold or Silver plated parts typically the mouthpiece, DO NOT use abrassives. You can safely use PURE lemon juice and water with a soft cloth, this can also remove mild tarnishing.


This is a full blown routine I follow when I receive or sell a second hand chromatic harmonica. Its also good to do once in a while just to keep your harmonica healthy for you. The idea is to wash out or kill anything that can breed and make it nice & clean so it works smoothly. If you own a customised harmonica please ask your customiser on safe methods, some bleaches & detergents can cause problems for custom harmonicas. Don't use bleach with silver plating or components.

After using either dishwashing liquid or bleach solution, which leaves a slightly odd taste for a short time, but its harmless and goes away. Dishwashing liquid and bleach produces chlorine gas. Bleach will discolour silver plating and components.

I do NOT recommend
general use of
Denture Cleaning Tablets
Chromatic Harmonicas

I have personally done my own experimenting as well as had personal discussions about them and found:

However Denture Cleaning Tablets are useful for sanitising certain parts of the harp depending what they are made of. For instance a chrom plated mouthpiece would be a good candidate since matter gets caught in nooks & crannies. However I wouldn't put a silver plated components in with these tablets. If you're not sure, then don't do it.

Sanitising Diatonic Harmonicas

As a side note, its a lot simpler to clean diatonic harmonicas:
With plastic comb (non-valved) diatonic harmonicas:
You can simply drop a Denture Cleaning tablet into a tub of water with up to six harps per tablet for about 20 minutes.
Then rinse out the harps with tap water and pad dry with a cloth or drip dry.
NB. This process discolours the brass.


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