How should you clean drums and cymbals? Cleaning and Maintenance Tips

Drummers often wonder how to clean their instruments. Drums and cymbals may be cleaned with common household products, automotive cleaners, and cleansers specifically made for cymbals.  It is important to test cleaning products on an inconspicuous area before using it on the complete surface.

Light Cleaning/Dusting

Light cleaning and dusting can be accomplished through the use of a slightly dampened microfiber cloth. To avoid water spots, make sure the cloth is not too damp.  Compressed air can be useful in removing dust from cervices.  This light cleaning/dusting can be done as needed. 

Drumset covers are pieces of cloth that drape over the drumset.  Covers are not always necessary, but can be useful in dusty environments or rooms with an abundance of pet hair.

Detailing a Drumset

Chrome Parts

Just like cars, drum sets can be given either a light or detailed cleaning.  When detailing a drum set, automotive cleaners can be utilized.  Turtle Wax Chrome Polish is very effective for shining chrome lug casings, stands, and hoops.  It may also be used on chrome snare drum shells.  The chrome polish should be applied with a terrycloth towel and wiped off with a clean cloth.  This should remove oxidation and light non-pitted rust spots in the chrome. 

If small parts (such as tension rods and washers) are rusted, they may be soaked overnight in Evaporust.  This is a safe-biodegradable rust remover.  When reassembling the drumhead and rim, petroleum jelly or white lithium grease (in a tub or tube – not spray) may be used on the edge of the lug for lubrication of the lug casing.  Be sure to wipe off any excess lubricant.

After all chrome has been restored to a shiny finish, a coat of carnauba wax may be applied to prevent oxidation.

Cleaning and Protecting Rubber Feet

Cymbal stands and floor tom legs have rubber feet that usually are black in color.  Over time, these may develop a grey or white discoloration.  A very effective spray that will shine and protect the rubber is 303 Marine UV Protectant.  It is formulated to protect rubber from drying out.  It also leaves a great shine!  It can also be used for electronic drums, which often have rubber rims and cymbals.

Detailing the Drum Shells

Many drum shells have a wrap-style finish.  If the finish has light scratches, a plastic polish should work well to remove these types of blemishes.  Product such as those meant to remove scratches in automotive plastic can be applied and removed in a similar fashion as the chrome polish mentioned above – wipe on with a terrycloth towel and buff with a clean cloth.

Cleaning Drum Heads

Plastic polish can also be used for clear, plastic heads.  Coated heads are a bit more difficult to clean.  They can be sprayed with an all-purpose cleaner, but one must be sure not to rub too hard since the coating may come off.  If part of the coating is accidentally removed, the head will still be playable.  However, it will be less responsive when played with drum brushes.

Dark marks on the drumheads (especially white, coated heads) may be the result of dirty drumstick tips. In this case, the drumstick tips can be cleaned with a paper towel and isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol).

Tip: Drumheads such as the Evans UV1 tend to be easier to clean.  They would be a good replacement for a standard coated head. 

Removing Dents from Drumheads

Many drummers ask, “Can I remove dents from drumheads?”  Yes, many dents can indeed be removed from drumheads through the use of heat.  The most common way to apply heat to a drumhead is through the use of a hairdryer on high heat or a heat gun. The head should be on the drum at a medium tension (or tighter).  Move the heating source over the head.  Use caution with a heat gun, so it does not melt the drumhead.  The dent should pop out and the head will be flat again.  This works with small dents. It will not save a drumhead that is caved in.

Tip:  To prevent dents in drumheads, make sure the head is not very loose.  Loose drumheads tend to dent very easily.  Also, be sure to have the drum at an angle where the tip of the drumstick meets the head flush.  If a drum (such as a tom) is at a severe angle, the tip of the drumstick will tend to poke the head, causing dents.

Changing Drumheads

Many drummers ask, “How long do drumheads last?” and “When should I change my drumheads?”  Obviously, drumheads should be changed if they are ripped or broken.  They should also be changed if the stick response is largely diminished.  Some drummers rarely change their heads, while others change them quite frequently.  This is a matter of taste: some drummers prefer a new sound (and look) while others prefer the “broken in” sound.  A drumhead will tend to change in sound quality as the head wears.  As previously mentioned, good technique and proper tensioning are both important factors in drumhead longevity.

Protecting the Bass Drum Head

Due to its size, the bass drum head is usually the most expensive head of the drumset.  Because of this, drummers will want to get as much life out of the drumhead as possible.  Drummers originally affixed patches made of leather or moleskin to the bass drum to protect the head and improve the sound.  Today, synthetic bass drum impact pads are available.  They have peel-and-stick adhesive that makes for easy application. 

The impact pad will not only protect the head – it will also add a nice “click” sound when played with a plastic or wooden bass drum beater.  This effect is very popular in today’s music.  If a mellow sound, without the added attack (or click) is desired, a felt bass drum beater may be used. 

How to Remove Logos from a Drum Head

Drumhead manufacturers customarily place their logos on drumheads.  This is especially visible on the front bass drum head. Some drummers prefer to not have any logos or markings on their drumheads at all.  Logos may easily be removed from non-coated heads through the use of acetone (nail polish remover).  The nail polish remover should be applied to the head through the use of a cotton ball or paper towel.  Wipe with a clean cloth and repeat the process, if necessary.

Logos may be removed from a coated head with a product known as Goof Off.  It may be applied to the drumhead and wiped off. 

Here is a video by Jason Hutchinson showing the removal of a logo.

Drum Logo Removal by Jason Hutchinson

Removing Stickers and Tape

Stickers and tape marks may be removed with Goo Gone.  This is a citrus-scented spray that removes adhesives from many types of surfaces such as drumheads and drum shells.  Simply spray Goo Gone onto the surface, allowing it to penetrate.  The sticker or tape may lift off, or a few applications (and scrubbing) may be necessary.  Again, be sure to test it in an inconspicuous area before spraying onto a larger surface area. 

Cleaning Cymbals

To clean or not to clean – cymbals?  That is the question.  Obviously, drummers want to have nice, shiny cymbals.  Unfortunately, cleaning with chemicals (even some cymbal cleaners) can eventually make cymbals less shiny.

Just how can cymbal cleaners make cymbals less shiny?  Cymbals have a protective coating on them (similar to clearcoat over a car’s paint).  If a cymbal is cleaned too aggressively (even with a “cymbal cleaner”), the protective coating can be removed.  The logo and other markings on the cymbal may also prematurely come off as well. 

Cymbals should be wiped with a dry or slightly dampened microfiber cloth.  This will remove dust and light marks, such as fingerprints and stick marks.  If a cymbal polish is used, be sure to test the polish on an inconspicuous area of the cymbal.  The underside of the cymbal bell is a good area for testing.  It is also a good idea to test the polish on a small part of the writing (to ensure that it does not fade). The size marking (for example 16”, 22”, etc.) is a convenient area for testing.

If the protective coating and print have already worn off the cymbal, it is now a matter of cleaning the metal.  For this, a more abrasive cleaner may be used.  A cleanser such as Barkeeper’s Friend will work wonders in shining up an older cymbal.  Those who prefer natural alternatives may use a lemon.  Simply cut the lemon in half and rub the juice onto the cymbal.  Then turn the lemon around and use the rind side to scrub the cymbal.  Finally, rinse the cymbal with warm water and dry it with a soft towel.  Since the older cymbals will usually have the protective coating worn off, carnauba wax may be applied after the cymbal is dry.

Check the Cymbal Sleeves to Protect Your Cymbals

Metal-on-metal contact can be very damaging to the cymbal. Over time, it can elongate the hole in the center of the cymbal.  This is known as “keyholing,” since the cymbal hole now resembles an old-fashioned keyhole.      

One may ask, “How do I prevent keyholing in cymbals?”  To prevent keyholing, metal-on-metal contact must be avoided through the use of a plastic cymbal sleeve.  This protects the cymbal from making contact with the threaded metal rod. 

It is also necessary to have the felt cymbal washers on both the top and bottom of the cymbal to ensure that it doesn’t rub against any other metal objects (such as a metal washer or wing nut).

Tip:  Don’t angle the cymbal so the weight is in between the legs of the tripod (cymbal stand legs).  Always have the weight angled over a cymbal leg.  This prevents the cymbal stand from tipping over.  This tip is especially useful for lighter stands or heavier cymbals.

Check for Broken Snare Wires

From time to time, one side of a snare wire may break off at the solder joint.  If this happens, disengage the snare strainer (using the lever on the drum).  Then pull the broken snare wire away from the drumhead and clip it with a pair of wire cutting pliers.

If one or two snare wires are broken, the overall sound of the drum will not change much at all.  Multiple broken wires usually indicate that the snares wires are getting worn, and others will probably break soon.  In this situation, it is best to replace the snare wires.  There are many replacement options available.  Some drummers find that their snare drum sounds better after replacing or even upgrading the snare wires. 

Check Snare Cord/Snare Strap

Snare wires are connected to the strainer unit by either a braided cord or a plastic strap.  Snare cord can stretch or break over time.  A replacement cord can be purchased and easily installed.  Depending upon the type of snare mechanism, the cord is either clamped down or tied.  Many drum companies offer snare cord made specifically for this purpose.

Snare mechanisms that use a plastic strap must also be examined from time to time.  If the strap is starting to rip, it must be replaced.  Drum companies also manufacture snare straps. 

Tip: Grosgrain, a strong type of ribbon, is often used in place of plastic strap.  It can be purchased at most craft stores.  Be sure to get the width that fits the strainer. 

Lubricating Pedals

Squeaky pedals can be quite annoying.  They are especially troublesome when recording drum parts (no one wants to hear a great groove with a high-pitched squeak in the background).  The moving parts of the bass drum and hi-hat pedals may be lubricated with a spray lithium grease.  Spray a small amount on the hinge of the heel plate as well as the part where the chain meets the footboard (if it is chain-driven pedal).  The bearings and springs may also be lubricated, if needed.  After lubricating, work the pedal back and forth.  If there are any squeaks, try to find the location and lubricate that one spot.  Do not simply relubricate everything again.

Protecting the floor or carpet

Oils from the pedals will often work their way down to the floor below, causing stains.  This can happen even if the pedal was never lubricated by the owner.  The pedals are lubricated at the factory. 

It is recommended to use a carpet remnant under the drumset.  This will help to avoid stains on the floor and deter the bass drum from moving forward when playing.  Commercial carpet remnant works well, since Velcro can be stuck to the underside of the pedals.  Velcro attaches very well to commercial carpet.

Protecting the Drums from Scratches

The snare drum rim often scrapes against the small tom, causing scratches on the tom. 

The small tom often gets scratched due to from the snare drum rim rubbing up against the tom.  A snare drum bumper will attach to the snare drum, protecting the shell of the tom.

Drums can also become damaged or scratched during transportation.  Drummers who take their drums to rehearsals or performances should consider drum bags or cases to protect their instrument.


General care and maintenance will keep your drumset looking and sounding good for many years. Always be careful when working with cleaning agents. Follow the instructions on the packaging and spot-test in an inconspicuous area to ensure that the cleaning materials will not harm the instrument.

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