Skip to main content

How to Swab Your Saxophone

Tenor saxophone with green silk swab being pulled through the bell

Why should you swab your saxophone?

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

The Swab

Three saxophone swabs. The brands are BG, Superslick, and Hodge.

The saxophone swab, or pull-through, is made from either cotton, microfibre or silk. Microfibre and silk tend to be more absorbent than cotton swabs. You will need two swabs for cleaning your saxophone - one for the main saxophone body, and one for the saxophone neck and mouthpiece.

The pull-through will have a weighted string attached to the body, which helps you get the swab through the saxophone. Before you use the pull through, make sure it isn’t folded or scrunched up as that may cause it to get stuck.

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

Swabbing the Saxophone Body

Hand on saxophone neck swab, twisting to remove it from the body.

1. When you have just finished playing, the first thing you need to do is take the neck off the saxophone.

Two side by side images. On the left, a reed is being removed from the saxophone mouthpiece, and on the right, moisture is being wiped off the reed.

2. Take the reed off the mouthpiece, wipe it down, and put it somewhere where it can dry before putting it in its case.

A hand is grasped around the saxophone mouthpiece, twisting it to remove it from the saxophone neck.

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

A cleaning swab is being pulled through the bell of a saxophone, with the swab hanging out of the bell. The saxophone is angled with the bell in the air.

4. Drop the pull through down either end of the saxophone. You will need to tilt the saxophone until the weighted end comes out the other end.

A swab has almost been pulled through the whole saxophone body, with the swab only being visible at the top of the saxophone body. The saxophone is angled with the bell in the air.

5. Pull the swab all the way through the body. You may need to repeat this a few times to ensure you have removed all the moisture. 

An alto saxophone has been placed into a saxophone case with a hand resting on the body.

6. Once you have finished swabbing the body, put it back in the case.

Swabbing the Saxophone Neck

Swabbing the saxophone neck will require a smaller swab, such as the Yamaha Small Cleaning Swab. Just drop it down one end of the neck and pull it through! 

A small green swab is being pulled through a saxophone neck.

Cleaning Your Plastic Mouthpiece

How you clean your mouthpiece will depend on whether it is made of hard plastic or hard rubber. The mouthpiece that comes with student clarinets is generally made from plastic. More expensive 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 the same swab you used for the neck, by pulling it all the way through the mouthpiece.

A small green swab is being pulled through a saxophone mouthpiece.

You can also use a disinfectant spray like Sterisol or Sterispray, or you can rinse with some warm soapy water. Make sure you don't get the cork wet!

Read More 'How To' Blogs