Believe it or else, harmonicas do require fairly regular cleaning in order to maintain their sound and function. Here are some tips on how to clean a harmonica on a regular basis, and how to give it a good, deep clean on occasion.
Note: these tips are for diatonic, octave, and tremolo harmonicas only.
Washing Your Harmonica
Your harmonica should be cleaned after every time you play it. This will help limit the build up of spit in the harp part of your instrument. These directions are only for harmonicas that have alloy metal, plastic, or heavily sealed combs.
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First, rinse your harmonica out with lukewarm water. After rinsing, tap it against your hand. Make sure the mouthpiece is facing down while tapping. This will help remove excess water from the instrument. WIpe down the outside of the harmonica and allow to air dry.
If your harmonica has no sealing on the comb, you should avoid this step. Instead, clean with a dry soft-bristled brush instead.
A Deep Clean
This process is lengthy, so it is definitely not recommended after each play. However, performing a deep clean after a significant amount of playing time will help keep your harmonica in tip top shape. I like to deep clean mine once a month, but it should depend on your playing time.
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First, unscrew the cover plate with a screwdriver. I recommend keeping these small (and easily lost) screws in a small Ziploc bag and then sticking the bag on your fridge with a magnet for safe keeping. Out of the way, but not out of sight!
Then, you will need to clean the cover plates. I use a spray bottle filled with 2 parts rubbing alcohol and 1 part water. I rub them down gently with a soft cloth and set them to the side to air dry.
Next, take out the reed plates. In a small bowl, mix together a solution of lukewarm (not hot!) water and a splash of distilled white vinegar. Let them sit for 20-30 minutes.
While the reed plates are soaking, you are freed up to wash your comb with a gentle soap and lukewarm water. Use a soft-bristled brush to gently scrub the comb.
A warning, the soap and water should only be used on metal or plastic combs. Wooden combs will absorb the water and this will negatively affect your harmonica.
When the reed plates are done soaking, brush them with a soft-bristled brush. Be sure to only brush up and down the reeds, never across. Rinse with clean water and let air dry.
Once all of your pieces are completely dry, you are then able to reassemble your harmonica. Don’t forget to grab those screws off your fridge!
When screwing the cover plates back on, be sure to tighten them enough to make your harmonica airtight. Be careful though, you don’t want to tighten too much that it causes damage.
That’s it! You now know how to clean a harmonica and you’re ready to recreate your favorite Blues Traveler song (or allow your child to torture you with their favorite toy instrument).