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You’ve had your drumset for a while and you’ve noticed that it’s starting to look a little dingy. How do you clean your drums without damaging them? Furthermore, it would be nice to know if you can clean them with what you have around the house…
Many household cleaners are effective at cleaning the drums especially dishsoap. Never use ammonia, bleach, or any abrasive cleaners.
There’s more to know--we’ll get into specific cleaners you can use and which ones to avoid. Let’s get your kit sparkling clean again!
Man… I gotta say, though. I didn’t anticipate this topic being quite so controversial. Lots of people have their go-to cleaners and methods they use which they swear by, while others will say that those methods will destroy your drums.
I tried to find materials that were effective as well as non-dangerous for your drums. Be careful! Always start with more dilution with more gentle cleaners.
What Household Items Can I Use to Clean the Drums?
You’ve got a busy life and you don’t want to spend too much time finding specialty tools or equipment to clean your drums. I’ll go through the different parts of the kit and we’ll talk about what things you can use to clean each part.
Drumheads are often made with synthetic materials, particularly Mylar, but some other polymer and even Kevlar.
Occasionally they can be made from animal skins, such as goat or cow hide.
Before you reach for your cleaning cabinet, I’d recommend using a lint-free cloth and using a little bit of water first.
Water is a polar molecule and just by itself it can loosen dirt and other particles, and you may find that’s all you need to clean your drumheads.
Even if you have animal skin drumheads, water is probably the safest way to go. A little can do everything you need--animal skins can expand and contract if gotten wet so make sure you don’t play your animal skin drumheads for an hour or two after you clean them.
I actually did an experiment cleaning bongo drums (with animal skin drumheads)… if you’d like to see a difference in cleaning with water and cleaning with oil I did a comparison here:
Hand soap is awesome because it’s designed to be less aggressive because it’s meant to be used on your hands. However, it has the annoying fragrance that often accompanies it. Which is kind of less than ideal.
Even if it’s safe for your hands doesn’t mean it’s the best for your drums. But it should be fine if you only add a tiny drop to a cup of water or so.
If you want a better chance of cleaning your drumheads without smelling like lavender, a better option is to use fragrance-free hand soap.
Be careful! Read this twice!
Not all Windex is safe to use on your drums!
Not all Windex is safe to use on your drums!
Windex is a brand name, and so there are tons of different cleaners out there, all with “Windex” on the label.
Windex Glass Cleaner, for example, has listed as one of its ingredients: Ammonium Hydroxide. In other words, Ammonia with water.
Ammonia can be detrimental to your drum heads and can discolor and even damage them.
There are some Windex labels that use vinegar instead--I would still caution against vinegar. I was trying to do research on the effects of vinegar on mylar, and some report that mylar window film is damaged by vinegar cleaners (but especially ammonia cleaners).
The multi-surface cleaning bottle should be safer, but I would say skip Windex and try something safer first for cleaning your drumheads.
This applies to Mylar drumheads, but it’s especially true for animal skin drumheads. If you wouldn’t use it for your hands, you probably don’t want to use it for your drum skins.
This is a tough one because dishsoap can have some strong surfactants (stuff that breaks down other stuff and helps them to be carried away by water) that can damage your drumheads. However, if you water down your soap, (like a drop for 4 cups), that can give you a little extra cleaning power without damaging your drumheads.
Don’t pour two cups of water on your drumheads, by the way. 🙂 Use a lint-free cloth.
This is probably the most tricky section because drum shells can come in so many materials and be treated with so many different types of finishes, varnishes, lacquers, etc.
The key here is to use the least aggressive cleaner and go from there.
Use a microfiber rag--Pearl says that paper towels are too abrasive.
If you really want to have a successful cleaning session, you’ll have to take off all the chrome hardware. I share a video later on in the hardware section that goes through the process of how to do that.
Furthermore, if you have a chrome plated snare, you can refer to the below hardware section as the materials are similar.
As like the rest of the drumset, try a slightly damp rag to clean your drum shells. Be careful – water left on your drum shells can damage the lacquer finish. Make sure to dry your drum shells completely after cleaning.
A diluted dishsoap does have some surfactants and detergents, so even with dishsoap you need to make sure and add enough water (a drop in a quart should be plenty) to make sure you don’t damage your drums. This should be plenty to remove any dirt or other grime that your drum shells may have picked up over time.
Don’t Use Windex
Windex does come in many different forms these days, but traditional glass cleaner will damage your drums, if not immediately, definitely over time thanks to the ammonia. In general, Windex cleaners are going to be too aggressive to clean your drum shells and you’re better off using something else.
Cymbals are a different animal--they are made from brass (inexpensive) or customized bronze alloys.
Although cymbals are made from brass or bronze (copper, tin, zinc), they are sometimes given a lacquer finish to protect the cymbal from oxidation (when a cymbal starts to “age” it starts to darken--this is actually a weakening of the cymbal in action).
So, what you need to be careful of is to not damage any protective coatings as well as the metal itself.
Again, do not use bleach or ammonia to clean your cymbals.
Make sure you do not use abrasives so as to not damage the delicate grooves of the cymbal. You can use a non-abrasive cloth to along the grooves.
Water by itself will not likely be able to restore a cymbal, but you should always try it first with an abrasive-free cloth. Make sure to always dry the cymbal completely if you do this. Also, avoid using hot water. Hot water (or even just water at all) can soften any lacquer or other coating.
Best to avoid soaking the cymbal and using a non-abrasive cloth dampened with water first.
As above, some dishsoap has some aggressive detergents, but if you water it down enough it’s a solid option that can clean your cymbals. Start as diluted as possible (a drop per quart) and slowly move upwards until you get the result you are looking for.
When Life Gives You Lemons
Clean your cymbals! This is an age-old trick that allows you to clean the oxidation off of your drum cymbals. I really wish I had known this for my first drumkit--the cymbal was so far oxidized that it was a dull brown.
Cut a slice of the lemon and wipe the cymbal along the grooves--you are using the citric acid from the lemon, plus the water and the lemon pulp to wipe up the oxidation.
I recommend not cutting your lemon on the cymbal and I do recommend putting a towel underneath because that oxidation is going to come off.
You don’t want to leave an acid on your cymbals--make sure you clean off any lemon juice when you’re done with water. Make sure to dry your cymbals completely, though.
As I have mentioned above, you want to avoid any products with bleach or ammonia. Windex calls their ammonia Ammonium Hydroxide which is ammonia in water. Make sure to not use the traditional Windex Glass Cleaner.
However, the other Windex types may be okay. The ammonia-free wipes, or the vinegar Windex are options that can work. Before you try any of these, just try warm water first.
Barkeeper’s friend is another common cleaner people use for various metals. It’s active ingredient is Oxalic acid (same as drum cleaner Groove Juice), and it has some abrasive action in its powder form.
Be very careful and do not use undue pressure on the cymbal when cleaning because Barkeeper’s friend is abrasive. You want to use as little pressure as possible. A little goes a long way.
Make sure you wash your cymbals extra well after this so as not to let the acid damage the cymbals.
What Not To Use: Brasso
It’s very common for people to reach for Brasso--this is a common household cleaner used for cleaning brass and for a number of other things. However Brasso has ammonia, which can weaken the protective coating of the cymbal.
Just as in cleaning the drum shells, if you really want to clean your drum hardware, then it’s best to detach your hardware from you shells. The cleaners you can use are much different than what you should usefor your drum shells and to avoid the hassle of trying to avoid any contact with your drum shells, you should probably remove the hardware.
Chrome, although a bit more tough than other parts of the drum, should not be used with abrasive cleaners as this can scratch the chrome which will shorten its life.
Rust is the enemy! Keeping up with your drum will help the drum hardware last longer.
For an example of how this gentleman cleaned rusty chrome, check out this video:
He jumped straight to using chrome polish--while this isn’t a bad thing, you should always start with gentler cleaners first.
Good old dishsoap and water! as always, don’t soak your chrome hardware, but with a rag and a little bit of dishsoap this will do well to remove any dirt or any particulates. Use a non-abrasive cloth and make sure to buff the chrome dry after cleaning.
Turtle Wax Chrome Polish
If you have a chrome polish, such as Turtle Wax’s Chrome Polish that you use for your car or other household products, this can be used for polishing the chrome on your drum hardware.
This is where this gets controversial, some people use lemon juice/vinegar and backing soda as a chrome cleaner. Although the pH is neutralized this method, they both can work together to polish the chrome, others use aluminum foil as a polishing abrasive.
Use your best judgment – backing soda and vinegar pastes will be a bit gentler than other homemade methods.
Goof Off/Goo Gone (removing tape residue)
For one reason or another, you may find that your chrome hardware has that terrible tape residue. You can use goo gone or goof off as a way to get this tape residue off. Make sure and clean the chrome thoroughly after using these chemicals--goo gone in particular has kerosene in it. Some swear by kerosene as a chrome cleaner, but probably not something you want to leave there.
What About Windex?
Windex is probably gentle enough to not cause a real issue, but I would still avoid using glass cleaner because of the ammonia--ammonia will eventually work its way through that chrome plating.
Don’t Use Brasso
Although this is used for chrome at times, you should avoid it if possible because Brasso is an abrasive and can damage your chrome.