Skip to main content

How to Swab Your Clarinet

A medium Yamaha swab is dropped over the bell of a clarinet, which is positioned on a stand.

Why should you swab your clarinet?

It is important to swab your instrument after playing to remove any moisture. This will help keep the pads in good condition and stop them from swelling, which can cause a leak in the instrument.

The Swab

Two clarinet swabs are on a table on top of each other. One is dark blue and the other is grey with a BG logo all over it.

The clarinet swab, or pull-through, is made from either cotton, microfibre, or silk. Microfibre and silk tend to be more absorbent than cotton swabs.

For cleaning clarinets, it's good to have a swab for the body and a smaller swab for cleaning the mouthpiece. The pull-throughs will have a weighted string attached to the body, which helps you get the swab through the clarinet.

When you are finished, put your swabs aside to dry and wash them every few weeks.

The Process - Swabbing the Body

Two images side by side. On the left, a clarinet reed is being removed from the clarinet mouthpiece. On the right, moisture is being wiped away from the reed.

1. When you have just finished playing, the first thing you need to do is take the reed off the mouthpiece, wipe it down and put it somewhere where it can dry before putting it in its case.

Clarinet mouthpiece has been removed and is being placed on the piano.

2. Take off the ligature, and then remove the mouthpiece.

Clarinet swab is hanging out of the end of the clarinet and is being pulled through.

3. Take the weighted end and drop in down the bell of the instrument and pull it all the way through. You may need to repeat this a few times to ensure you have removed all the moisture.

Close up image of a tube protruding into the middle of the top part of the upper joint

Make sure the swab is not folded or scrunched up, as that may cause it to get stuck. It is also important to know there is a tube protruding inwardly in the top part of the upper joint. Passing the swab from the bell to the barrel helps you get past this tube with ease.

Swab being dropped into the barrel of the clarinet.

4. If you are having issues with water sitting under the pads and gurgling while you are playing, dropping the swab through the top of the clarinet, instead of the bell, can help with this because it encourages the water to take a different path to travel through the instrument.

Arrow pointing to ground, indicated to tilt the clarinet with the barrel facing downwards.

When pulling the swab through this way, it is best to tilt the clarinet as you pull the swab through to prevent it from getting stuck.

Parts of clarinet being put into case

6. You can then disassemble your instrument and put it back in the case.

End of tenon being wiped with green Yamaha swab

7. If you have a wooden instrument, make sure you wipe the ends of the tenons after you pull it apart if there is any moisture on them.

Cleaning Your Plastic Mouthpiece

How you clean the mouthpiece depends on whether it is made of hard plastic or hard rubber. The mouthpiece that comes with student clarinets is generally made from plastic and more expensive – or upgraded – mouthpieces are made of hard rubber. For more information on cleaning rubber mouthpieces, Vandoren have a great guide on their website (here).

You can clean the mouthpiece with a smaller swab, like the Yamaha Small Cleaning Swab, by pulling it all the way through the mouthpiece.

Small green Yamaha swab being pulled through mouthpiece

You can also use a disinfectant spray like Sterisol or Sterispray, or you can rinse with some warm soapy water making sure not to get the cork wet.

Mouthpiece being sprayed

Your whole clarinet, and the mouthpiece, should be swabbed after every playing session.

Enjoy your clean clarinet!

Read More 'How To' Blogs