Care and Feeding of your Band Instrument: Flute

This post is the first installment of the “Care and Feeding of your Band Instrument” series from Willis Music. This series is geared toward informing the young wind player of some basic cleaning, care, and maintenance techniques to keep your instrument in good working order. Today’s lesson: the flute.


As far as the woodwinds go, the flute is the most straightforward when it comes to care and maintenance. The main thing to remember is that woodwinds and water DON’T MIX. There is a small ring of a soft material covered by a film under each key (called a pad) that seals the key to the hole when it is closed. This mechanism is necessary for the instrument to work. When the pads get wet (water, rain, breath condensation), they disintegrate and fail to seal the keys. Pads will need to be replaced occasionally, but it is best to avoid needing to do it prematurely. Proper care of your instrument will ensure that it will last longer.

Necessary Care Supplies:
Cleaning rod
Rod cloth (cotton, flannel, or felt)

Occasional/Optional Care Supplies:
Microfiber Polishing cloth
Key brush
Key cleaning papers
Treated dry polishing cloth for silver
Fine steel wool

After EVERY USE, you should swab (clean the inside of) your head joint at the very least. If there is visible moisture inside of the body or foot joints, these should be swabbed as well. To swab your instrument, thread a corner of your rod cloth through the loop of the cleaning rod. Drape the rest of the cloth over the rod loop, and turn it around the rod to cover any exposed metal/plastic/wood (the exposed rod could scratch the inside of your instrument). Insert the rod/cloth assembly and gently turn to wipe moisture from the inside of the instrument.

After EVERY to EVERY FEW uses, you should wipe down the outside of your instrument with your rod cloth or a microfiber polishing cloth to remove any dirt or finger oils that may have gotten on the instrument while playing.

OCCASIONALLY, you may want to clean and sanitize the lip plate of your head joint. You can use rubbing alcohol or a mouthpiece cleaning spray with a soft cloth or paper towel for this.

AS NEEDED, you may want to polish the outside of the instrument with a dry treated silver polishing cloth to remove any tarnish that may have developed. This should only be done occasionally, as polish will remove a small layer of the silver plating. Take care not to get any residue on the pads. Only use a DRY cloth intended for this purpose – DO NOT attempt to use a liquid or cream silver polish intended for jewelry.

Tenons are the two joints where the parts of your instrument come together. If they become dirty or bent, it may be difficult to put the instrument together or the joints may become loose and wobbly. When assembling the instrument, take care to be sure that the joints will go straight together, and that you are not putting pressure on the tenon at an angle. If it becomes difficult to assemble your instrument, the tenons may be dirty. Clean them with your rod cloth or polishing cloth, or if they are especially bad, you can gently use fine steel wool to remove any residue. DO NOT attempt to lubricate the tenons with Vaseline or cork grease, as they are not intended to need it. Having a substance on the tenon will attract dirt and make the problem worse. Simply keeping the tenons clean should be sufficient to keep them working well.

We hope this has been informative for our young flute players. If you have any other questions, we would be happy to answer them at Willis Music. Keep an eye out for “Care and Feeding of your Clarinet,” coming soon!