How to Clean Cymbals – The Ultimate Guide

When it comes to drums, cleaning probably isn't the first thing that springs to mind. However, without proper care, your cymbals can suffer. In this blog we've outlined the simple techniques you can use to take care of your cymbals properly - in turn increasing their lifespan and maintaining their value.

Will Brook-Jones

Will Brook-Jones

Cleaning drums can be broken into a few distinct sections: cymbals, hardware, drum shells and drum hoops. You’ll want to make sure each of these elements of your kit are cleaned every so often. Your drums and cymbals will pick up dirt, dust and grime over time, meaning it’s important that you look after them. After all, dirty gear can have an impact on not just its look, but the sound of it too. In this blog, we will be focusing on cymbals specifically.

How to Clean your Cymbals

Does Cleaning Cymbals Affect Sound?

Before you actually start cleaning, you should consider how you like your cymbals to sound – because yes, cleaning a cymbal can have an effect on it. A cymbal that’s either brand new or has been cleaned is going to sound brighter than one that’s seen a lot of use (and hasn’t been cleaned regularly). This is due to a gradual build up of something called patina. This is a brown or green film that can be found on the surface of bronze and other metals. It’s created by the oxidation process. This patina usually leads to a slightly darker sound, as it reduces any high frequencies. Tonal changes, all because of a bit of grime eh?

It’s also worth pointing out that from a visual standpoint, this patina will result in a darker look, which contrasts with the brighter shine of a freshly cleaned cymbal. Ultimately, deciding to clean your cymbals can simply be down to how you like them to look and sound.

How do you Clean Dirty Cymbals?

Firstly, you need to determine whether you’re looking to clean them, polish them or do both. Cleaning is meant to remove dust, dirt and fingerprints, but polishing is intended to add the final shine after an intense clean. It’s meant to augment and compliment. Some cleaning products will claim to do both, other times you’ll need a specialist product for each process.

Anyhow, cleaning/polishing is a good idea if you want to prevent your cymbals from becoming discoloured, dull, rusty or cracked. However, make sure that while you clean your cymbals that you don’t apply too much force or bend them accidentally! You’ll also probably want to do this cleaning outside as it can occasionally get a bit messy.

On a basic level, you can simply use a fresh microfibre cloth and clean the surface – removing any dust, dirt, moisture or fingerprints as you go. Anything more severe and caked on can either be removed with a bit of warm water and soap (as long as you dry it off after) or a cymbal cleaner (which you can find out more about below). You should make sure that you pay attention to the cymbals edges too; splinters from your sticks can sometimes mark and stick to this area if you’re a hard-hitter.

If you want to prevent these minor blemishes on your cymbals, you can always store them away in a cymbal bag when not in use. This defends against potential metal-on-metal scratching from occurring. Also, when you carry them or take them off a stand, only handle the edges of the cymbal, as this will prevent fingerprints from covering the rest of the surface. Some drummers will even clean their cymbals (in a basic manner) after each session – but that can be a tad excessive!

How do you Polish a Cymbal?

Cymbals shouldn’t be polished every single time you decide to clean them. You should only be polishing them every so often. In many polishing formulas, the abrasives that are present can remove certain layers if it’s used too much. This can sometimes go as deep as the lathing, which will be detrimental to the sound of your cymbal. Many brands have now produced their own versions, meaning there are plenty of options available out there.

You’ll want to use one of these branded cymbal polishes. Add a small amount of polish to a soft microfibre cloth. This cloth should then be rubbed over and into the cymbals grooves, ensuring that you don’t miss any of the surface area. Once this is done, you can either get rid of the excess polish with another microfibre cloth (that’s ideally clean and dry), or by running the cymbal under water that’s warm – drying it off completely once you’re done, with all of the polish taken off. If you’re using water, ensure that you’re gently rinsing and aren’t soaking/submerging the cymbal in a bucket.

You can then repeat this process again on the cymbals underside if you prefer a complete and in-depth polishing process. Remember though: any leftover moisture on either side can damage the metal alloy itself. Moisture and metal are really not a good mix.

What’s the Best Cymbal Cleaner?

The main cymbal cleaner(s) that we stock comes from a brand called Groove Juice. They’ve carved a solid niche in this space, becoming the go-to choice of many drummers when it comes to keeping their cymbals in working order. This is because it’s so quick and easy to use. There’s a reason why it’s maintained its place on the market for over 10 years now! Their Groove Juice Cymbal Cleaner was developed to be used on premium, professional bronze cymbals, while the Groove Juice Junior Cymbal Cleaner is formulated for use on entry-level and budget cymbals.

Groove Juice Cymbal Cleaner is incredibly simple to use; just spray it onto the surface of your cymbal and wipe the mixture (using either a paper towel or a soft cloth) over the tonal grooves. The fluid should be evenly distributed and then left on the cymbal for between 30 seconds and a minute. It can then be rinsed off using warm water – which should remove any remaining residue. If there is a serious amount of detritus on your cymbal, you may want to consider using an old toothbrush to really get into the crevices. However, never use a wire brush as it can scratch and remove your cymbals surface. You should then use a towel to dry off the cymbal and get rid of any left over moisture. If done correctly, your cymbal should now be free from smudges and dirt, with a restored shine and sheen too.

Can Any Cymbal Cleaner & Polish be Used on Any Kind of Cymbal?

It’s always worth reading the description of any cymbal cleaner or polish. Some will state that it should only be used on cymbals with a brilliant finish for example (and should not be used on any with a traditional, patina or natural finish). This is the case for a product like the Zildjian cymbal polish. Ultimately, you should always use the correct polish/cleaner for the specific recommended kind of cymbal.

Zildjian Cymbal Polish

The main two finishes mentioned above for cymbals are traditional and brilliant. Traditional ones do not have a shine; brilliant ones shimmer like a mirror and must be polished to maintain this look.

You should always test cymbal cleaner/polish on a hidden test area before fully committing to using certain products. This is because discolouration can sometimes happen. If it does, you should stop using it. Logos may be affected occasionally too, meaning we recommend cleaning around them if you want them to remain completely intact.

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Will Brook-Jones
Will Brook-Jones
Will is the Tech & Drums Category Marketing Lead at Andertons. The sole drummer in the web team, Will favours TAMA Drums and Sabian cymbals. His love of Hip-Hop and Jazz is reflected in some of his favourite musicians, from Anderson .Paak and Mac Miller, to Thundercat and Yussef Dayes.

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