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How to Clean a Drum Set: Shells, Heads, Cymbals and the Hardware

While they’re an integral part of music creation, drum sets are a work of art in their own right, using a mixture of woods, synthetics, and metals to provide the backbone of a song. They are also beautiful to look at, with lacquer shells, chrome hardware, and shiny cymbals popping under the bright lights of a stage. But after a while, if not regularly maintained, that sparkly drum set can lose its luster under a blanket of dirt and grime.

To keep your kit in top working conditions, we recommend you take some time to learn how to clean it – properly. Sure, you can get away with removing hand smears and fingerprints with a quick wipe now and then, but the kit will accumulate debris in its nooks and crannies as time goes on. Removing this dirt will keep it at peak performance while maintaining its natural good looks.

As there are many different parts to a drum set, they all need to be cleaned in a specific way. We break down everything you need, as well as everything you need to know about completely cleaning your drum set.

Cleaners To Use

Restoring your drum set to its original state requires time, a bit of elbow grease, and the right cleaning products. You should have the following weapons in your arsenal to give your kit the proper shine it deserves.

Non-Abrasive Cleansers:

A general, all-purpose, and non-abrasive cleansers such as 409, or Windex, are the top choices for cleaning your kit. It is so important not to use abrasive cleaners that contain ammonia, as they will eat away at the finish on lacquer drums, and fade wrapped ones. If you want to go the all-natural and route and while saving money, a homemade 50/50 solution of water and vinegar works very well for light debris. For any tough residue that might be on your shells, you can use Goo Gone to remove it. Goo Gone does leave a greasy residue though, so we advise you to clean it off with 409 or Windex.

Lube:

Even though drums are a static instrument, the hardware contains moving parts – specifically the hi-hats stand and kick drum pedal. Both of these use metal chains that need to be maintained properly fluidity, and WD-40 Lubricant Spray will keep them operating smoothly. Other areas that may require lube maintenance are the lugs, tension rods, and the drive shaft if you have a double-bass pedal configuration.

Polish:

A safe, chrome polish will have your kit sparkling like new again. We recommend using Brasso, which is a multi-purpose metal polish that you can use on chrome. Its versatility means you can also use it on things you might have around your homes like stainless steel appliances, wheel rims, brass instruments, and antiques. For your cymbals, we suggest Groove Juice, as it is easy to apply and one of the least messy options for cymbals cleaning.

Shop Towels:

You will need something to wipe and buff your kit without scratching it, and a pack of shop towels is the best choice. They not only have excellent absorption, but they retain their strength when wet or dry, and they won’t leave behind any lint or marks. As they are designed for multiple uses, you can use them for general cleaning around your house or in your car as well.

Prep Your Kit

Unless you are just looking to do a quick wipe-down, cleaning your drum set is going to take some time and you should fully disassemble it. This means not only breaking it down but taking everything apart so you can individually clean each item. Dirt and grime build up over time, especially on an instrument like the drums, where it just sits and collects debris. If you’ve ever shared rehearsal space, or lugged your kit to shows, you know how easily it gets exposed to dirty environments.

You can also take this time to examine the kit for any defective areas. Things might be cracked, chipped, or have loose or missing hardware. It’s also a good time to replace any tension rods and lug casings that might be damaged or underperforming. Remove the hoops and head from the drum shells so you can see exactly what needs to be cleaned, and what areas need special attention. You will be surprised how grimy drum shells can get even when their heads are attached.

How To Clean Your Drum Shells

After you have stripped your drum shells down to the bare minimum (this means removing the hoops, drum head, lugs, and tension rods) you are ready to get down to business. Load up your rag with your choice of non-abrasive cleaner and gently wipe the shells down. Always apply cleaner to the rag and not directly onto the shell. The inner shell won’t be finished or wrapped, so take care that it’s not exposed to cleaners and liquids that the wood could absorb.

You may notice heavier residue and dirt around the rim and under the lug casings. For these areas, use Goo Gone on a separate rag and it should come off. As Goo Gone is oily, clean off any remaining residue with the all-purpose cleaner. With all the hardware separated, lube up the lugs and tension rods one by one. This will ensure superior performance when tuning the heads. If you have any smudge marks left on the shells, buff them out with a dry rag.

How To Clean Drum Heads

Probably the easiest piece to clean is the actual drum head, which can be passed over with a rag and a non-abrasive cleaner. The only time you may need a bit more elbow grease is in cases where you’ve applied dampening materials like tape or sticky gels. In cases like this, a dab of Goo Gone can remove any lingering sticky residue.

How To Clean Drum Hardware

Cleaning the drum hardware consists of wiping down all chrome pieces of your kit. This means lugs, rods, hoops, stands, legs, mounting brackets, and pedals. Where your hi-hat and kick drum pedal are concerned, you will want to make sure you lube up the metal chains that control their operation. This will keep their mechanics functioning efficiently, so you don’t end up with bum gear mid-performance. As all hardware is chrome, you shouldn’t have a problem removing any dirt or dust with more than a wet cloth.

How To Clean Cymbals

Cleaning your cymbals can be a messy endeavor. The majority of them are made from an alloy (a combination of metals), with bronze and brass leading the way. To keep the mess to a minimum, we suggest using Groove Juice, which is a spray-on liquid that you wipe off after 30 seconds. It works very well to restore your cymbals, removing fingerprints and deep stains, and won’t eat away at the logo and labeling. Additionally, most manufacturers make a cleaner specifically designed for their cymbals’ alloys, and this is another good way to go.

Polish Your Drum Kit

Once all the individual pieces are cleaned, you can put everything back together and add a layer of polish to make your kit sparkle once again. You want to make sure that the polish is safe for chrome, and for that reason we recommend Brasso, which is an extremely versatile polish that can be used on a variety of metals, chrome included.

With your drums looking sharp once again, you can now tune them up and bang away to your heart’s content. While this full clean is a good idea, it only needs to be done when you notice a lot of debris buildup. By maintaining their cleanliness every few days, and being smart about what you bring around them (ie. no drinks), you can have a clean, great-sounding kit at all times.

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