The Essential Cleaning Routine & The Saxophone Lung – Better Sax
The Essential Cleaning Routine - The Saxophone Lung

The Essential Cleaning Routine & The Saxophone Lung

Ever hear of saxophone lung? It’s a real thing! I promise, Google it.

“Saxophone Lung is a rare type of hypersensitivity pneumonia, in which patients develop allergic pulmonary disease when they’re exposed to fungi that invade instruments — and are never removed. Basically, the musicians have allergic reactions to the mold that won’t let up”NBC News

To avoid the saxophone lung, here is my essential cleaning routine that you should be doing after every practice session.

By adhering to this routine you can avoid the rare respiratory disease that is the saxophone lung, you will keep the saxophone playing at it’s best for decades, you can save money on repairs, and not to mention you’ll keep your instrument and case from smelling like Grandpa’s socks…

If you have anything you’d like to share regarding your saxophone maintenance routine be sure to share your experiences in the comments below!

Step 1 – Swabbing and Avoiding the Saxophone Lung

After you’ve finished your practice session the first thing to do is swab out your horn, the neck, AND the mouthpiece.

When we blow warm air through cold instrument, condensation begins to form and whatever bacteria was in your mouth will stay inside your saxophone. If you do not remove this, it will dry out and create a crusty residue inside your horn.

Overtime the residue will build up and become reactivated anytime you play creating a VERY gross sludge. The sludge builds up near neck and mouthpiece the most, so its important to always swab out both of those as well as the entire instrument.

You will need two swabs – I use the BG A32 swab for cleaning out the neck and mouthpiece, and the BG A30A swab for cleaning out the rest of the saxophone body.

I like to pass the swab through the instrument three times. Make sure you always put the weighted end in first, and when cleaning out the neck I like to wipe down the tenon to clean it off of any dirt and residue as well.

Lastly swab through the mouthpiece and be sure to wipe off the exterior, this is very important.

I think it’s a good idea once you’ve swabbed out the inside, to wipe down the outside – especially if you’ve been playing a long time. If you leave the moisture on the outside of the horn, the inside of your case could start to smell. For the same reason, I like to store my swabs in a separate compartment of my case.

Step 2 – Key Leaves

These key leaves are a GREAT invention for saxophone players. While most of the keys on the saxophone are always open until you press a key down, a handful of keys always stay closed. When using the key leaves on your instrument, they prop the keys that usually stay closed, open to give the pads a chance to dry out just like the rest of the the instrument.

This is so helpful in preventing sticky keys all over our saxophone.

They will also help significantly increase the life of your pads, reducing the amount of times you have to have them replaced.

Step 3 – The Palm Keys

I take a small microfiber cloth and I put it in all of the palm key pads to wipe off the extra moisture. The full body swab does not get all of the excess moisture. Using this little cloth helps clean underneath all of the nooks and crannies of your saxophone.

Before I started doing this I would usually have to replace palm key pads every five years. But now, my pads are so clean that they should last for decades to come before having to replace them again.

Not Swabbing Excuse 1 – Money

Having an instrument is similar to having a car. There is a lot of maintenance involved, and it’s a large investment. So if you don’t want to spend the money on all of my favorite cleaning products, you can get creative and make your own equipment.

You could take a wine cork and cut it into pieces to place underneath your pads instead of the key leaves, or you can make your own swab out of an old t-shirt like I did back in college (though I don’t fully recommend that).

Not Swabbing Excuse 2 – Time

“I don’t have time to clean out my saxophone after rehearsal today, I’m going to be late for class!” “It’s too much work to clean my saxophone, I don’t have time!” I constantly hear these kinds of excuses from people about why they don’t clean out their instruments.

So I timed it out.

If you just put your saxophone away, it takes about 20 seconds. If you do some basic maintenance it takes about 90 seconds. For roughly an extra minute of your time, you will have prolonged the health and life of your instrument for decades to come.

Plus, cleaning out your saxophone will not only keep your instrument happy, but it will keep you away from the dreaded saxophone lung.

Does your saxophone need a DEEP CLEAN? Check out “Time to Clean Your Saxophone?”

Also be sure to follow BetterSax on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube to stay up to date with us for news, giveaways, and other saxophone tips and tricks.

About the Author

As the founder of Jay’s mission is to help developing saxophone players break away from traditional music learning methods and discover a more efficient, practical and fun way to become a Better Sax player. The BetterSax YouTube channel’s videos have been watched by millions and thousands of students have made meaningful progress on their instrument thanks to BetterSax courses.

Jay Metcalf


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7 thoughts on “The Essential Cleaning Routine & The Saxophone Lung”

  1. All the key pads up and down the horn that stay open when at rest, they are wet with saliva and condensation after a session, and dry with whatever particulates and proteins adhering to them, filling pad grooves which leads to leaking. Often, I can fix a leak by gently scraping pads with a dull edge, perhaps wiping them with a light (neatsfoot) oil. But, how to prevent? Short of wiping each and every pad? What do you think about those fuzzy sticks that STAY in the body, absorbing moisture away from pads and metal? Thanks.

    1. The fuzzy sticks are useless. They may absorb some moisture, but then they are just holding it inside the saxophone in a closed case which doesn’t help anything. Best is to remove moisture with a swab and then store that wet swab outside of the case interior so the case stays dry. Wiping the moisture off the pads after playing pays enormous dividends in longevity of the pads and reducing leaks. I’ve been doing this for the past couple years now and my pads will last longer than me. Also I have not been doing my usual leak maintenance every 6 months. My pads are keeping the seal longer and longer without adjustments.

  2. I came down with Saxophone Lung and the last thing I thought of was my sax. After lots of tests and no improvement, my wife figured it out and my Dr sent a couple of my reeds away to be tested for fungus. The tests came back with 4 different fungi on the reeds and the treatment was changed and I immediately improved. I recently found reedjuvinate on the web and have been using it for reed storage and it seems to be working. I also soak my mouthpiece in Listerene occasionally as well.

    1. Wow, glad it’s working out for you. One thing I find very helpful to reduce the amount of mold on reeds is to keep your reed storage case outside of your saxophone case. It needs a flow of fresh air to avoid getting moldy.

  3. Alays a good video Jay and much appreciated. though I have done all these things for years now (witht he exception of the key leaves) it is still good to review and reinforce them.

  4. In addition to what you have mentioned, I also every few weeks or so run my swabs and Key Leaves spit sponge thru the wash (putting them in lingerie bags) followed by an air dry. Just sayin’!

  5. When I get back from a gig or rehearsal I always take my saxes back out of the cases and put them on the stands in the studio which helps to air them out and reduce time they are shut in the case. Also, if they are out, I’m more likely to practice more. I clean my mouthpieces and necks regularly too with soap and a toothbrush (not the one I use to clean my teeth). Thanks for the advice.

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