Sweat The Small Stuff

Cymbal Cleaning / Cymbal Care:

Have you ever noticed that some drummers’ cymbals shine so much that it always looks like they’re brand new? Then there’s the rest of us. We’d rather take a bullet in the head then to have to clean those darn things.

Most like the way cymbals look when they’re shiny and bright. The stage lights reflect off of them and really set off our drumset. But…are we often too lazy to clean them? I must admit, I rarely ever cleaned my cymbals. When I did, I dreaded it as it would make a complete mess out of the kitchen. I’d have cleaners spread from one end of the room to the other. I’d have numerous rags, and usually papers or towels on the floor because the things were always so awkwardly big that you couldn’t fit them into the kitchen sink. I was relieved to finally play with a few big artists where the stage crew (and hired union workers) would clean them for me.

And so…
Well, I’ve written this article to help with the laborious task of cleaning your cymbals. Hopefully you’ll learn a thing or two and you won’t ruin a few of your cymbals the way I did. Remember there are numerous opinions on the subject and this will vary depending on personal experiences. Here are a few pointers based off of my own experience and research:
Cymbal Cleaner

1. Do it in the yard, not in your bathtub or kitchen sink. Take a bucket of warm water out there just like you’re going to wash your car. Leave your bath or kitchen be. It does nothing but make a huge mess and pisses off your girlfriend or spouse. Ha!

2. Experiment with all the cymbal cleaners. I’ve listed them below. Be careful with scouring mixes like Comet. They can scratch the surface of your cymbals if you’re not careful.

3. Determine whether your cymbal needs a polishing, a quick once-over, or a deep-cleaning (dirt and grime has built up on the cymbal over a period of time as opposed to just stick markings). If they only need a quick polish, buy a spray-on type of cleaner. It’s usually quick and effective.

4. When you clean your cymbal, wipe in the direction of the grooves of your cymbal. You can use an abrasive sponge or scrub brush but make sure that the wires of the brush are not metal or that they’re not something that will scratch the cymbal.

5. Some drummers will use household cleaners such as Fantastic or Formula 409 to help remove the initial deepened grime. It won’t get it all out but it might help loosen it up. You can also soak your cymbals in hot water before cleaning them. This will help loosen the dirt.

6. Remember that some commercial cymbal cleaners are more for polishing or touching up rather than deep-cleaning (and visa versa) so be sure to read the label before proceeding.

7. Clean small sections at a time, especially with really dirty cymbals. Again, think of it like your washing your car. You don’t wash the entire car at one time right? Take it one small section at a time.

8. Some drum shops have professional cymbal cleaning machines and they offer this as a service to their customers. It will cost you a bit but will save you a lot of time if you’re one that simply detests the chore.

9. Some cleaning agents can be harmful to your health. Be sure to use rubber gloves or a breathing mask if necessary. Make sure there is proper ventilation.

What are cymbals made out of?
An alloy (or combination of metals) consisting of copper, tin, nickel silver, brass, or bronze.

What makes cymbals get dirty?
Dust, cigarette smoke, and especially oil from your fingers.

Why do cymbals turn green sometimes?
This is a result of tarnishing. The cymbal becomes discolored due to slow oxidation. When there is brass or copper in the cymbal alloy, it will turn green over time if not polished.

Drum Lessons

What drummers often use to clean cymbals:

Drum Products:
Zildjian Cymbal Cleaning Polish
Paiste Cymbal Cleaner
Sabian Cymbal Cleaner
Groove Juice
Buckaroo Cymbal Cleaner
Blitz Cymbal Cleaner
Household Products:
Graffiti Remover
Fantastic or Formula 409
Car Wax
Lemon Juice

– Usually cymbal ink labels will rub off during cleaning. It is difficult and sometimes impossible to clean around them effectively.

– Although it’s debatable just how much, metal is lost in the process of harder scrubbing and if care is not taken to follow the grooves, it could affect the overall tonal quality of your cymbal.

– Avoid using a high speed drill with attachments. This could prevent undesirable results and/or you could ruin your cymbal.

– Vintage cymbals: Altering their age properties or original design structure could de-value the cymbals in the resale market. Use extreme caution.

Other Tips and Advice:
– Keep your cymbals covered. Store them in a cymbal bag (individual cymbal sleeves are recommended) or in a cymbal case. Keeping them properly stored keeps them cleaner longer. If you have to have your cymbals on stage for long periods of time, invest in cymbal sleeves or take them down each night.

– Pick up your cymbals by the edges and try not to touch the surface area. If you have to handle your cymbals frequently, keep a pair of gloves in your accessory bag and put them on before handling the cymbals.

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