Drum Cleaning 101

The very first thing most of us drummers do when giving our drum set new life is replace the heads. While this is a very important aspect, there exists an even more important step that’s often skipped. In fact, I’ve seen and played far too many drum kits that have simply been neglected in the housekeeping department.

Cleaning your drums and cymbals not only keeps them looking shiny and new, it actually helps them sound better!

Form a Habit

Keeping your drums and playing area clean and clutter-free should be one of the first things you take note of every time you sit down to play your kit. Most habits take 3-4 weeks to actually take hold. Of course, there are good and bad habits. Cleaning your drums & cymbals is one habit I would highly recommend starting. When you sit down to play a gig, record or rehearse and your drums and surrounding playing area looks dirty and messy, you’re playing will suffer. One of the first things I learned when taking drum lessons was to be comfortable. If things around me are in disarray, I don’t perform as well. After every session or rehearsal, clean up after yourself. Take pride in your instrument. Form a new habit.

Take Inventory

No matter if you own a brand new kit straight off the show room floor or a vintage set you bought on Ebay, take a step back and look at your instrument. Are the cymbals cracked? Are there stick shredding all over the carpet and in the rims? Do the heads have black marks and divots? Are there any broken lug casings?

Whatever the situation, be sure to look over every aspect of the drums, cymbals and hardware. Literally take note of what should be replaced. Not only will this help you place your next drum parts order, but it also puts your playing style in perspective as well. For example, if there are always divots in your drum heads perhaps you’re hitting too hard. Or if your cymbals are always chipped or cracked, perhaps your cymbal angle needs to be adjusted. 

A Few Tips

When you’re ready to clean things up, here are a few efforts I like to make to keep everything looking and sounding good:

Shells - First, never use an abrasive cleaner on the shells. An abrasive cleaner will permanently scratch that beautiful finish—you don’t want that, believe me. What I typically use is either a simple water and vinegar solution or a glass cleaner like wind-ex. Also, another quick tip: never use ammonia! Ammonia can fade the finish quickly and isn’t safe on most lacquered or wrapped finishes. Simply dusting the shells and heads off with a dust cloth works great.

Cymbals - What I love about aged cymbals is the oils of your hands and natural oxidation actually warms and softens the tone of the cymbal. I personally own a 16″ A Custom Zildjian that sounds better now than it did when I bought it 8 years ago! However, if you have other cymbals that have joined the family recently, you may want to clean things up to have everything looking shiny and new. If so, try using any type of metal polish including ones made by cymbal and drum companies.

More importantly, though, take a look at the cymbal very carefully. If you have any sign of key holing, cracks or chips, it’s time to re-think how you’re hitting those cymbals. Don’t buy a new cymbal until you’ve figured out why that’s happening. 

Hardware - Again, using any chrome or metal polish for the hardware works great. This isn’t as important as keeping the toms and cymbals grime free, but hardware does tend to get abused. First and foremost, take inventory. Make sure all of your wing nuts and cymbal sleeves are there. If you’re playing your cymbals with no protective sleeve, you WILL have key holing.

The Bottom Line

The point I’m attempting to drive home is simple: If you love to play drums, take pride in your instrument. Keep things clean, grime and clutter free. I promise, your drums will sound better and you will play better as a result.