How To Clean Cymbals (Step-By-Step Guide)

In this essential YMI guide you will learn:

  • What Do I Need To Clean Cymbals?
  • How Do I Clean Cymbals (Step-By-Step)?
  • How Do I Take Care Of Cymbals Properly?

And Much More!

The subject of cleaning cymbals is a source of much debate within the drumming community. 

How to Clean Cymbals

Some drummers like to never clean their cymbals, arguing that the years of dirt, sweat, oxidization, and finger marks (together referred to as ‘Patina’) give the cymbals a warmer, more ‘matured’ character. 

On the other hand, some drummers like to keep their cymbals immaculately clean and polished all the time.

Wiping them down after each use so they never lose their beautiful glassy finish.

If you’re in the latter camp and you just can’t deal with dirty cymbals, then this article will be essential reading.

Cymbals are expensive, so the last thing you’ll want to do is accidentally damage them by trying to clean them in the WRONG way. Luckily I’ve got you covered, so you can polish up those pies until they look good as new!

What Do I Need To Clean Cymbals?

Cleaning cymbals is actually quite a straightforward task and needs minimal, if somewhat specific, equipment.

Cymbal Cleaner/Cymbal Polish

If you have traditional, traditional dark or any specialty finish cymbals DO NOT USE CYMBAL POLISH!

Cymbal polish is for Brilliant finish cymbals ONLY. 

Getting a cleaner/polish that is specifically designed for use on cymbals is ESSENTIAL.

Most high-end cymbals have a protective coating applied to them that you don’t want to damage. 

Don’t be tempted to use over the counter brass or metal cleaner/polish (such as Brasso) from your local hardware store as this may damage your cymbal or leave nasty streaks. 

Most cymbal manufacturers will make their own cymbals polish, such as Zildjian Brilliant Cymbal Polish or Sabian Safe And Sound.

The key is to make sure the cymbal cleaner is ok to use on your type of cymbals. 

If possible, I’d always try and use the cymbal polish made by the same manufacturer as the cymbal you intend to clean.

This is especially important for Paiste cymbals, as they use a special protective coating that can be damaged by other cymbal cleaners. 

Another useful and effective cymbal cleaner is Groove Juice cymbal cleaner.

Which you simply spray on, leave for a while, then wipe off. Done!

Microfiber cloths

You will need a couple of CLEAN microfiber cloths to clean and dry your cymbals. Microfiber cloths are the best for cleaning cymbals as they get right into all the cymbal grooves and pick up a lot of dirt.

The yellow wood polish cloths have a nasty habit of leaving fluffy residue on your cymbal and sponges can risk scratching your cymbals (especially if they are rough). 

Bucket of soapy water

Use a very gentle soap, gentle washing up liquid is ideal. Just mix a little with some warm water into a bucket and you’re ready to go. 

Read More >> What Are The Best Cymbal Packs For Your Drum Kit?

Did you know: Modern cymbals originate from the "Turkish" design that produce a more brittle sound that Western Orchestras like to use. But, there are other styles like Chinese cymbals that create different sounds.

How Do I Clean Cymbals? (Step-By-Step)

Brilliant cymbals

(ex. Zildjian A Customs, Paiste 2002’s, Sabian AAX)

Step 1

Take your cymbal cleaner/polish of choice and apply a small amount to your microfiber cloth. Gently apply the cleaner to the whole cymbal, following the circular lathing lines where a lot of dirt can accumulate. Leave the cleaner on there for a couple of minutes.

Step 2

Once the cymbal is suitably covered in polish.

Take a new dry cloth (or a dry portion of the used cloth) and start to work the cymbal cleaner into all the grooves of the cymbal. Don’t be afraid to use some elbow grease.

You should immediately start to see your cloth accumulate that nasty black grime!

NOTE: Be very gentle around the cymbal logos (or avoid them altogether) as the cymbal cleaner will take the ink off!

Step 3

Once you’ve gone over the whole cymbal, cleaning the grime off, you should already be left with a pretty clean cymbal. 

Take a new dry cloth and go over the cymbal once more, to really buff it up and get that mirror shine!

And that about it!

Repeat for the underside of the cymbal. 

Traditional Finish Cymbals

(ex. Zildjian A or K Custom, Sabian HHX, Paiste Masters)

Personally I like to leave the Patina on my traditional finish cymbals.

The dirt and grime tend to mellow out cymbals slightly and give them a warmer tone that I find very pleasing.

However, if you still want to clean up those old matte finish beauties, here’s how…

Step 1

Fill a bucket with warm soapy water. Use mild washing up liquid, DO NOT use any harsh bleach-like chemical cleaning products.

Take a cloth and submerge it in the soapy water, then squeeze out the excess water.

Step 2

Run the moist cloth along the circular lathing lines that run around the cymbal. Using a little bit of elbow grease, try and get into the grimiest areas.

Be careful going over the logos as excess rubbing will cause them to come off. 

You should immediately start to see the dirt coming off onto the cloth.

You may have to rinse the cloth sporadically so it doesn’t smear. Try not to use lots of water on the cymbal.

Remember if it’s a natural finish/traditional finish cymbal you’re not going to get a mirror shine so don’t scrub too hard! (you’ll end up removing any protective coating). 

Step 3

As soon as you’re done cleaning. Take a dry cloth IMMEDIATELY and run it around the cymbal in a circular motion. You’re looking to dry the cymbal as soon as possible as lingering water is not good for metal instruments! 

And you’re done!

Read More >> What Are The Best Cymbals For Metal?

How Do I Take Care Of Cymbals Properly?

If you want to minimize the amount of cleaning you have to do, here’s some tips that will help reduce the amount of dirt build-up on your favorite cymbals. 

Wipe Down

Keep a microfiber or soft polishing cloth in your gig bag. After a gig or rehearsals just quickly run it over your cymbals to get rid of any new fingermarks or dirt.

This will help keep your cymbals looking shiny and new for much longer, reducing the need for deep cleans as often. 

Hold It Properly

I cringe every time someone picks up one of my cymbals with their greasy mitts, leaving fingerprints all over the edge.

Cymbals should be handled with care when moving or placing them on stands. 

You should hold the cymbal with two hands, gently squeezing both sides between your palms or fingertips.​

It’s worth teaching your bandmates this technique too if they insist on helping out! 

Don’t Over-tighten!

This is more of a general rule to help your cymbals live longer.

When you place them on a stand, don’t tighten the wing nut like crazy until the cymbal can’t move. The cymbal should swing freely when struck, allowing it to vibrate and sing in all its glory.

If you tighten the cymbal until it barely moves, this causes a lot of stress on the metal when struck, making it very easy to form cracks. It also chokes the cymbal, making it sound dull with shorter sustain. 

You should also angle your cymbals slightly towards you and glance them with your stick, don’t BASH! 

Final Thoughts On Cleaning Cymbals

The main rule of cleaning cymbals is simply to avoid harsh chemicals (stick to purpose-built cleaners for brilliant cymbals) and make sure your cymbal is dry when you’re done. 

So there you have it, everything you need to know about keeping those cymbals nice and squeaky clean! 

Russell Keeble

Russell Keeble

Russell is the Lead Drums insider here at YourMusicInsider. He has been a professional drummer, producer and audio engineer for over 10 years. He has worked extensively in the music industry in London UK, and from his own dedicated recording studio has tracked drums for a huge range of artists worldwide.

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Russell Keeble

Russell Keeble

Russell is the Lead Drums insider here at YourMusicInsider. He has been a professional drummer, producer and audio engineer for over 10 years. He has worked extensively in the music industry in London UK, and from his own dedicated recording studio has tracked drums for a huge range of artists worldwide.


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