How To Clean Cymbals: The Ultimate Cymbal Care Guide

how to clean cymbals

Cleaning cymbals is something that should be performed regularly as part of regular drum set maintenance.

Cymbals collect all sorts of dirt, residue, dust and grime that find their way onto the cymbal surface. Keeping cymbals clean will help them to retain their beautiful sounds and looks!

Proper cymbal care is certainly underestimated as an activity that needs to be performed routinely. Not only can cymbals become dull and discolored, but rust and cracking can also occur as a result of neglecting cymbals. For this reason it’s important for all drummers to learn how to clean cymbals.

Fortunately, there is a wide range of specialized cymbal cleaners on the market that will help to improve the sound and lifespan of your valuable cymbals.

Two Types of Cymbal Finishes

Cymbals are offered in either a brilliant finish or a traditional finish. Brilliant finish cymbals boast a mirror-reflective shine and will need to be polished to retain their beautiful finish. Traditional finish cymbals do not gleam or shine like their brilliant finish counterparts.

To clean brilliant finish and traditional finish cymbal you will be required to use different products. Cymbal polishes are reserved for use with brilliant finish cymbals such as Zildjian A custom cymbals. Traditional finish cymbals can still be cleaned, but the process is a little different.

Some drummers are averse to cleaning their traditional finish cymbals, and like the natural patina that builds up on the cymbal surface. This is because the oxidization removes high frequencies and creates a darker tone.

Cleaning Cymbals (Basic Cleaning)

Not to be confused with cymbal polishing, basic cymbal cleaning is a way to remove dust and finger prints from your cymbals. It is an activity that can be performed regularly after playing drums.

Simply gently wipe down your cymbals with a microfiber cloth to remove dust and any moisture on the cymbals. If there is any dirt or residue build up on the cymbals, use some mild detergent and water to clean the affected area. It is essential to dry the cymbal immediately!

Be sure to wipe down the edge of the cymbal carefully with a soft cloth because drumstick chippings can stick to the edge of the cymbal if you are crashing on them particularly hard.

Avoid bending the cymbal or applying too much pressure when wiping a cymbal.

Cleaning Cymbals by Polishing Them

There are lots of quality cymbal cleaning products on the drum market including Groove Juice and all the large cymbal manufacturer’s own versions such as the Zildjian cymbal cleaner and the Meinl cymbal care kit.

The majority of these cleaning products come in a spray bottle for easy application of the cleaning formula.

First thing to do when learning how to clean cymbals is to find a large floor space where you can lay your cymbals flat, and place them down on a towel or cloth large enough to accommodate the cymbal.

Always refer to the specific instructions for your cymbal cleaning product.

As a general guide, the cleaning formulas all typically work the same and will require applying the formula for a short time before buffing the cymbal clean along the grooves of the cymbal lathing.

After applying the cymbal polish formula across the surface area of the cymbal, allow 30 seconds for the formula to work before wiping the cymbal clean with a soft cloth. Afterward, use a fresh cloth to wipe down the remainder of the cleaning solution and to dry the cymbal.

Repeat the process for the underside of the cymbal and take special care not to apply too much pressure on any part of the cymbal to prevent it from warping or being damaged.

If you want to know how to clean cymbals that are particularly grimy, you may wish to use a soft-bristled brush such as a toothbrush to get into the grooves and clean any residue off. Do not use a wire brush!

Be sure to dry the cymbals thoroughly with a towel to make sure there is no leftover moisture that can tarnish the metal alloy.

cymbal cleaning

Top Tips for Cymbal Care

  • In order to help prevent cymbal blemishes and fingerprints, try to prevent touching your cymbals wherever possible. When carrying cymbals or taking them off a cymbal stand, use two hands on the edge of the cymbal to avoid leaving fingerprints.
  • When transporting them between shows and rehearsals, it is important to carry your cymbals in a protective, padded cymbal bag. Ensure there is no metal-to-metal contact because this can cause scratches.
  • Always take your cymbals off a drum set first whenever you are packing down your drums. A knocked over cymbal stand will likely break a cymbal, and on a dark stage in a venue you’ll be surprised how easily this can happen.
  • Whenever you are cleaning cymbals, ensure to dry your cymbals thoroughly! Metal and moisture do not go together well. Especially with premium bronze that quality cymbals are crafted from. This is very important when learning how to clean cymbals.
  • Never soak your cymbals in water by submerging them. I have seen some very ill-informed advice online regarding how to clean cymbals. Do not place cymbals underwater!
  • When mounting your cymbals, ensure you always place the cymbal on a cymbal stand with a nylon cymbal sleeve and felts on either side of the cymbal so there is no metal-to-metal contact. Playing a cymbal on a stand without a cymbal sleeve in place can cause keyholing and cracks can form on the hole of the cymbal.
  • Make sure not to over-tighten the cymbal when it’s mounted on a cymbal stand. The cymbal should be allowed to swing freely and therefore allowed to flex. When a cymbal is over-tightened it is not allowed to flex properly and the cymbal will be rigid and prone to cracking.
  • If your cymbals are not being used for prolonged periods of time, keep your cymbals in a protective cymbal case or separately wrapped in towels to minimize air moisture and dust from finding its way onto the cymbal surface.
  • Avoid exposing your cymbals to extreme cold or heat temperatures!
  • Cymbal cleaning solutions contain chemicals that will eventually remove logos. If you would like to maintain your logos try your best to clean around the cymbal manufacturer logo print.
  • Always clean your cymbals on a soft surface and never leave them down on a hallway or somewhere where somebody can accidentally stand on them. Believe it or not, this does happen.
  • Use proper technique when playing your cymbals! Instead of hitting straight through the cymbal in a downwards motion, swipe across it with a whipping motion. This will put less stress on the edge of the cymbal and allows the cymbal sound to open up more.
  • Remember that cymbals are very expensive and valuable instruments! If a cymbal is cracked, it loses most of its value, and therefore, cymbals should be treated with care to ensure they last you years of service.
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