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How to Swab & Polish Your Flute

Two cloths, one blue and one white, are in the foreground with a black plastic rod lying across them. There is an open flute case with flute sitting inside it in the background.

Why do you need to swab your flute?

Flutes should be swabbed after every playing session to remove moisture from inside the instrument. Not doing this can cause damage to the pads and head joint cork. 


Swabbing a flute requires a cleaning rod and cleaning gauze. Both of these come with new flutes but can be purchased separately at a low cost. It is important to use a thin cloth, as a thick cloth may get stuck.

The Process

Diagram of flute pieces. Headjoint in the back, main body in the middle, foot joint in the front.

1. Disassemble your flute into its three parts. We’ve got the head joint, the main body, and the foot joint.

A thing white cloth with blue edging is being pulled through the eye of the black plastic rod.

2. Insert a corner of your cleaning gauze into the eye of the cleaning rod and wrap the cloth around the top. This will prevent the rod from scratching the inside of the flute.

The white cloth with blue trim is wrapped around the flute rod.

3. Twist the rest of the cloth around the length of the rod.

The flute rod with cloth wrapped around it is being inserted into the foot joint.

4. Insert the rod and cloth into the foot joint, twisting to remove all of the moisture.

Making sure not to place extra pressure on the keys as you are holding it and do not use force to insert the cleaner. If it doesn't fit, rewind the gauze cloth around the rod, but slightly looser.

Two images side by side. On the left, the cloth and rod are being inserted into one end of the main body. On the right, the cloth and rod are being inserted into the other end of body. There are arrows showing the directly the rod is being inserted.

5. To clean the main body, insert the rod and cloth, whilst twisting slowly.

Do not attempt to reach all of the way through the flute from one end.  Aim for the middle, turn the flute around, and do the same from the other end.

Cloth and rod are inserted into the flute head joint. You can see the cloth through the sound hole.

6. To clean the head joint, insert the rod so that you can see the swab through the sound hole but do not push hard against the cork. Carefully twist the rod and cloth around a few times and pull it back out. 

Now your flute will be moisture free!

Tip: Make sure you do not keep the swab in your case as this can place extra pressure on the keys when your case is closed. Also, make sure to let the cloth dry out after using it.

The white cloth with blue trim is being folded on top of the flute in the flute case. There is a red cross next to it.

Polishing Your Flute

As your flute is silver-plated, it may tarnish over time due to your perspiration and its exposure to the air. Keeping your flute looking shiny is possible, but you must wipe it down every time you use it and always store it in the case. 

Most new flutes will come with a microfibre cloth, which you should use to wipe finger prints off your instrument every day. This will help prevent tarnish from developing.

Some with a colourful shirt is wiping the flute with a brown cloth.

If your flute does become tarnished, wipe it with a silver polishing cloth and simply rub on the metal until the tarnish disappears.

Two images side by side. On the left, there is visible tarnish on the flute. On the right, the same spot is shiny and the tarnish has been removed.

A note about silver polish

Unlike brass instruments, do not use liquid silver polish on flutes as this can get under the mechanism and cause damage to the pads and cork.

Now that your flute has been swabbed and polished, it's ready to go in its case until your next playing session.

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