Developing a good relationship with your instrument repair technician is so important to getting the most mileage out of your instrument. As a result, you can become aware of the tendencies of your particular instrument (what is the first thing to go out of alignment? What little things should you be taking note of that could lead to bigger issues?), how to preserve your instrument (ie. brushing your teeth/rinsing out your mouth before playing), and what cleaning tools are helpful or harmful to your instruments.


The Beginning

Like most beginning flutist, I started with the cleaning rod that came in my flute case and an interior cloth to swab through the flute. . . That was it.

At the basic level, that is all you really need to keep the flute from rapidly becoming worn out. HOWEVER, you must not leave the cloth and rod INSIDE the flute.

Why? Because leaving the rod and cloth inside the flute – the moisture that your just swabbed out (with the rod and cloth) will be sitting in the flute as if you didn’t even both to swab which is problematic for the flute’s pads which will – as a result – collect moisture and start to stick and deteriorate. Likewise, you do not want to take the interior cloth and place it OVER the flute for the same reasons. So what do you do with it?

SOLUTION! If you are working with a standard student flute case – that would be one that does not have a separate case cover or exterior pocket – this is one smart way to store your rod and interior cloth. The rod already has a spot in the flute case (typically this is at the bottom edge adjacent to the case latches).
If you take the interior cloth and tie it around the case handle – the cloth will be able to dry much faster than it would in the case and it will not be damaging the flute.

It is also IMPORTANT to note that for the interior swab there are two options that DO NOT work well with the flute. Avoid these swabs types with your flute:

  1. A weighted swab – these work well with instruments like the clarinet or saxophone – however, given the thin diameter of the flute and delicate keys: the string and weight can cause damage to the flute.
  2. The caterpillar or fuzzy swabs (you’ll know them when you see them) – these are problematic for two reasons.
    1. The fuzzy fibers can pill off and get stuck on the pads or within the mechanism (causing it to become worn down).
    2. The tendency with these swabs is to just leave them inside the instrument. As mentioned earlier, this will allow moisture to collect and can cause damage to the pads.

A good interior cloth will not have any frayed or loose edges that can get caught on the small parts of the flute. Likewise, the material should be able to absorb any moisture inside the cloth with 1-2 pass throughs; and should be thin enough that it is not getting stuck in the instrument. Interior swab suggestions:


Moving On Up

These are cleaning supplies I found useful as I started to play more.

Pad Paper

Pad paper was the first addition to my cleaning accessories – if you do not have a case with storage or a case cover, I would recommend keeping these in a separate bag. Pad paper does not need to be used after every playing – if you hear a sticky key or feel like key is leaking you can place the paper under the key, press down for several sections (DO NOT PULL THE PAPER OUT WHILE THE KEY IS DOWN) and then lift the key and remove the paper. Repeat on a different area of the paper becomes soaked.

Things to be aware of:

  • NO DOLLAR BILLS!!!! You may of heard of band directors using dollar bills as a quick fix… it would be better off if you did nothing at all than use a dollar bill. Ask your repair tech, a dollar bill may absorb some of the liquid, but can very easily add gunk (dust, bacteria) to your pads.
  • You CAN use cigarette paper though.
  • I will say it again, DO NO pull the paper out while the key is pressed down – this can tear your pads (to replace your pads can get expensive real fast, ask your tech what their rate is for pad replacement and the number will amaze you how much those tiny things cost).
  • Be wary of powdered pad paper, sometimes okay – I prefer to er on the side of caution and avoid it.
Anti-Tarnish Strips

Look at the body of your flute – particularly where you place your right hand (behind those three keys). What do you notice? Overtime, you may see what appears to be dust and gunk build up. Whatever you do DO NOT attempt to clean it with Q-tips or even think of sticking anything near the rods. Ask your repair technician and they will warn you to proceed at your own detriment. So if you can’t go in and clean it – what are you meant to do?

In this case, there are 2 solutions you can use in tandem:
(1) You can blow a quick stream of air to loosen or remove the visible dust. You don’t want to spit on your flute, but using your air to dislodge the dust is the first step.
(2) This is a preventative step. What you are most likely noticing is tarnish, hence, placing anti-tarnish strips somewhere in your case – usually underneath the flute. Please know, there is not anything you can do to fix it on your own (please DO NOT try to DIY this at home), you would need to bring your flute in to get a full COA to remove the tarnish – do not worry so much about tarnish because it is a cosmetic issue that in most cases does not effect the mechanism.

Anti-tarnish strips can be placed in the case with your flute. Read and follow the directions for the specific strips you buy – typically, they will need to be changed out every 6 months (and one pack of anti-tarnish strips will be more than enough; especially if you end up cutting the strips to fit into the flute case).

Exterior Cloth

Exterior cloths are like pad paper – they do not have to be done after every use. Although with the exterior cleaning cloth, many of us may prefer to wipe down the flute to get rid of finger prints.

Microfiber is the standard material for cleaning cloths. The wonderful thing about these exterior microfiber cloths is that you only need ONE because you can just wash it once it starts to get dirty and it can last you years!

Like interior cleaning cloths you want a cloth that does not have any frayed or loose edges that can get stuck on the flute. Be aware that a cut up shirt or piece of old fabric WILL NOT BE EFFECTIVE because this material tends to unravel (making it very easy to get snag on the flute) and usually can’t fully remove grime.

Here are some exterior polishing cloths:

When using the exterior cloth be sure to avoid going near the pads and rods. When cleaning the body and foot joint with the cloth: just stick to the top of the keys, and parts of metal that are easily accessible. You DO NOT to stick the edge of a cloth into the mechanism and risk moving something out of alignment or tearing a pad!

Isopropyl / Cotton Ball

The days before COVID-19 when conventions and fairs were safe and instrument vendors brought dozens of flutes to try – isopropyl and cotton ball/pad where used on the lip plate to disinfect between players. Of course, currently, instrument sharing is not happening, but it is good to have these on hand. For example, when I get sick, I’ll clean around the lip plate just out of precaution.

REMEMBER you do not want to submerge the head joint because there is a cork that will need to be replaced if submerged (the cork should be replaced annually anyway), but you DO NOT need to apply the isopropyl INSIDE the flute, only apply it (if you feel so inclined) to the lip plate/exterior of the head joint.


Finally…

Flute Flag (Interior Swab)

If you own a case cover or have a case with a separate pocket, I have found the Valentino Cleaning Flag to be an efficient way to swab my flute during and after practice sessions. First, it’s only one piece so I don’t have to worry about threading a cloth through a cleaning rod. It’s easy to just grab and go. And like the exterior microfiber cloths you only need ONE – these are very easy to clean (I usually just do soap and hot water, and let it dry for 1-2 days).


What do you use to clean your flute? Has it changed since you started playing? Do you use any of these tools? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Hello! I’m Emma Piedilato, thank you for taking an interest in my blog. In this introductory post I will be giving an overview of what my current flute set-up as a graduate Master of Flute Performance student. This is my current set-up as of July 2020 which I’ve maintained since the 3rd year of my undergraduate degree several years ago.

I currently play on a Haynes, Weissman model flute. It is a handmade, custom flute that I bought pre-owned from the Flute Center of New York during my 1st year of undergrad in 2015. I’ve kept the original head joint which has a large squoval-cut hole, is made of silver, and has a 14K gold riser. The body is also silver, with Straubinger pads, a C# trill key, D# roller and B foot.

Getting a new flute (and making the jump from student to professional) meant that I had gone from a latch-style case to a french-style case. The different being that I now needed a case cover to properly carry my flute around. During my undergrad, the university would hold a Woodwind Day where vendors would come with limited stock for the students (usually at a discounted price). It was at one of these events that I bought my Jean Cavallaro case cover.

In 2017, I made the decision to add a LeFreque to my flute set-up. I made this choice after trialing several colleagues’ LeFreques of different materials and seeing (1) which metal I preferred and (2) if I really thought it would improve my sound quality. I eventually decided on the rose-gold plated, solid silver sound bridge. My recommendation is to try any flute product before buying it (especially if the price tag is expensive), and despite the varying opinions on LeFreques: I have used mine since 2017 to present day. Originally, I was struggling to adapt from a student Yamaha flute with a small oval lip hole to the Haynes Weissman flute with the large squoval lip hole. Getting low notes, overall control, and stability had been a challenge for about a year and a half since purchasing the flute. I do believe, in my case, the LeFreque was a tool in helping me bridge the physical gap between the two flutes – it is not a necessary tool for everyone, but is certainly is cheaper than buying an entirely new head joint.

The original Haynes case my flute came in was not sturdy enough to support my flute. I found this out one long day during my undergrad when my flute (in the case) was knocked off a chair, no more than 2 feet of the ground, and resulted in a bent key. Over the following summer, I saved up my money to invest in a sturdy case recommended by my repair tech to decrease the amount of movement of the flute while in the case (it can’t be seen well in the attached photo, but my repair tech glued additional black felt inside the case to make the fit custom to my flute). The case I ended up getting was the Valentino B-foot Wood Case.

Over time, I began to accumulate all of the gadgets inside of my case… I made the transition from a flute rod and cloth to a Valentino flute flag the same time I bought the case. Quickly, the flute flag has become my favorite method for cleaning my flute – it is washable, and doesn’t fray like the interior cloths tend to do.

The pad paper has been part of my set up from day 1 – especially in New Jersey with our ridiculously high humidity, pad paper is essential!!!

The mini screw diver was studio gift from my undergraduate flute professor, although I never use it on the body, I do use it for the screw holding the D# roller on the foot joint does which I occasionally need to adjust; I always keep it with me for that emergency.

The coffee straw may seem like an odd thing to keep in my case, but I always keep one on me for when I am teaching. The validity of teaching students the approximate apperture size with a coffee straw is vital… also sometimes if I’m having a subpar playing day I use it to retrain myself.

Finally, I have an abundance of Beaumount cloths. I use one to rest my flute when I’m taking a short break from playing or taking a quick note to prevent dirt or dust from getting on the flute body or pads. And the other one I use for exterior cleaning.

What is your flute (or other instrument) set up? Let me know what you’re using.