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A New Year, A Fresh Start: How to clean your mouthpiece

A new year can be a great time to get a fresh start on many things...including your mouthpiece!

To clean the calcified residue that builds up over time on your mouthpiece (to simplify, let's just call it "crud"), there is a very easy and inexpensive solution. Lemon juice!

Have a look at the two photos above showing the crud on this mouthpiece. You can see that it is only on areas where ones mouth makes contact. However, I have also seen crud built up inside the mouthpiece’s chamber and bore. If left alone, it can actually change how the mouthpiece performs, because the crud will interfere with airflow and reed vibration.

I recommend the following regimen every six weeks or as necessary. Some people develop crud on their mouthpieces very quickly, and other people can go months before the buildup becomes an unsightly problem. But rest assured, it happens to the best of us, and the following solution is easy and harmless to your mouthpiece.

What type of lemon juice?

The lemon juice I use comes from my grocer’s juice aisle (top shelf). I simply get the cheap, generic stuff, but any brand will do. You can even use real lemons if you prefer an all-natural approach.

HINT: You can pour used lemon juice back into the bottle. Be sure to mark it if there is someone else in the household that uses bottled lemon juice for other reasons. If you reuse your juice, this bottle should last a really long time!

The best vessel for your cleaning...

I like a shot glass or a very small beaker, because you don’t need much juice to clean your mouthpiece (due to its narrow shape). You only need to pour as much juice to fully submerge the crud.

Remember, I'm trying conserve to get a lifetime out of that generic bottle of juice!

lemon juice to clean calcium deposits off a clarinet mouthpiece

Place your mouthpiece into the juice and let sit for five to ten minutes.

Carefully place your mouthpiece inside the juice. Most of the crud will be on the tip area of the mouthpiece, so place your mouthpiece tip-first into the glass. If needed, add more juice, making sure to fully submerge the crud.

Let your mouthpiece rest in the juice for five to ten minutes. Note that you need to let your mouthpiece rest in the juice long enough to allow the acid to soften the crud.

Have a cup of tea...

After finishing your tea, carefully remove the mouthpiece from the juice.

NOTE: Don't dump out the juice just yet. Save it for the possibility of redoing this process in the event your mouthpiece hasn't been fully cleaned upon inspection.

Rinse away the crud.

Under lukewarm water, gently rub the crud with your thumb and first finger (don’t use a rag or paper towel as that could scratch). If necessary, you can gently use a Q-tip to access the hard-to-reach areas. Stay away from the facing, unless you have crud there too. If so, be very gentle as you don’t want to scratch your mouthpiece!

NOTE: The crud should have softened in the juice allowing to easily slough off in just seconds under running water. If you still see a lot of crud, you can repeat the last two steps.

Dry your mouthpiece.

Don’t dry your mouthpiece with paper products, because paper can actually scratch! Do gently tamp dry your mouthpiece with a cotton towel, and let it air dry for fifteen minutes or so. You can also swab your mouthpiece’s insides; however, you must use a proper swab and method. Maybe we can cover this in a future blog post.

Yes, I do swab my mouthpiece frequently. I think it is a healthier way of living. And I have never destroyed a mouthpiece from the swab and proper technique. More to come on this later…

Now you have a clean mouthpiece which you can be proud to be seen in a public!

a mouthpiece that has been cleaned with lemon juice

You will find that your mouthpiece is much cleaner and free of calcium deposits. This method, however, isn’t great at removing sticky residue (from a mouthpiece patch perhaps). For that, we recommend a gentle thinner. Perhaps we may cover that in a future post as well. Stay tuned.

What if my mouthpiece is still not clean?

If upon close inspection a few areas of calcium deposits remain, you can always repeat this process by soaking in juice for another 5-10 minutes as necessary. If a mouthpiece hasn’t been cleaned in a really long time, it may need more than one session in the juice. But once you have a regular regiment going every six weeks or so, you should find that only one application is necessary.

Why does my mouthpiece look dull after cleaning?

After your mouthpiece has fully dried, it may appear to have lost its luster. It may appear to have oxidized more, allowing its natural state of discoloration (grayish, greenish, brownish) to appear worse. Not to worry, all that has happened is your mouthpiece has been stripped of the oils on its surface. Give it a few days of regular handling. The oils from your hands alone will transfer onto your mouthpiece, bringing it back to its state prior to cleaning in the juice.

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