Cleaning Your Drums in 6 Easy Steps

There’s nothing quite like seeing your drums gleam under the stage lights. The bright light seems to seek out the chrome to shine off of, and the sparkle of clean cymbals is something to behold.

But keeping it looking showroom great can be a real labour of love. There are all kinds of things that threaten the cleanliness of your kit, especially if you take it on the road.

The most common dangers are, of course, dirt and dust, but for an active gig drummer, there are all sorts of other dangers. From spilled drinks, to sweat, and even blood, there’s no telling what might get on your drums. That nice finish can dull. Chrome can be eaten away by rust and corrosion. All those nice little moving parts can seize.

Regardless of what happens to spill, it’s important to get it off to avoid serious damage.

With that in mind, I’ve got some good news: cleaning your drums is pretty easy, it can just be time consuming, so make sure you set aside an afternoon at least once or twice a year to do a good and thorough job.

It’ll all be worth it once you’re done, and your kit is shining again. After all, drums are an investment you want to protect.

Step 1: Disassembly & Inspection

In order to really give your drums a good cleaning, the very first thing you need to do is actually disassemble them one at a time. This allows you to get into every nook and cranny. Remove the heads, and keep all the hardware in a safe place.

You might be surprised just how much dirt and dust can accumulated between the heads and the rims! Once you’ve got the drums all taken apart, you can actually clean them.

It’s also a good idea to give your drums a good inspection while you’ve got them all apart. Check for missing hardware, make sure the tension lugs’ threads are free of damage, and make sure nothing is bent. Replace anything that’s damaged.

Step 2: Cleaning

Now it’s time to get to the actual cleaning! Clean the entire drum with a mild cleaner, like something for windows, or even just a slightly damp cloth. Never use anything harsh like ammonia, cleaners with grit, like Ajax, or really anything else that you might consider “heavy duty.” Your drums are like fine, antique furniture, and should be treated as such.

Clean the outside of the drum with your chosen cleaning product, but don’t use any cleaner on the inside. The inside of your drums are unfinished, and any liquid you use will be absorbed by the wood. A quick wipe with a clean and dry rag should be all you need to get all the dust out.

Cleaning the drum head can also be done with a simple wipe with a cloth.

This is also a great time to inspect your drum heads to see how they’re holding up. It may be time to replace them if they’re starting to get worn out.

Step 3: Polish

Once you’ve got your drum set all cleaned up, you might want to give it a good polish. A simple, non-abrasive chrome polish is ideal for the hardware. Just use a small amount on a rag, and work it into every crevice. Wipe away any extra, and marvel at how it gleams!

Furniture polish works great for the finish for most drums, and also gives them a little help repelling the dust.

Step 4: Cleaning the Cymbals

Cleaning your cymbals keeps them shining, and sounding great! Most cymbals are bronze, which means they do requires a bit of care. A simple, gentle cleaner, like dish soap, is perfect for removing fingerprints, or anything else that has built up.

If you’ve picked up some old cymbals, or yours could really use some TLC, then a good polish will make a world of difference!

Always make sure you use something that is intended for bronze or brass. A general polish might cause damage to your cymbals if it’s not meant for bronze.

Step 5: Cleaning the Hardware

Keeping your drums’ hardware clean is of particular importance, especially with all those moving parts! In fact, hi-hat stands and bass pedals should be given special attention and care.

A simple cleaner will be enough to clear away normal, general grime. Once that’s done, you can polish the chrome just like you did when cleaning the drums themselves.

Try disassembling your stands to get to all the built up grit and grime where tubes fit together. Keeping your stands clean will make making adjustments much easier in the future.

Once you’ve finished cleaning and polishing, use a little lubrication on any moving parts. It’s best to use a silicone-based lubricant, rather than a petroleum-based one, to avoid damaging the finish.

If it’s been a long time since you’ve cleaned your kit, or you picked up an old, neglected set, you may need to deal with a little corrosion. Steel wool is the prefect tool to remove it, and keep it from spreading.

Step 6: Reassembly & Tuning

Once you’ve finished cleaning and polishing everything, it’s time to put them back together, and tune them back up. If you’ve never tuned your drums, there are dozens of videos to be found on YouTube, and we’ve got a handy guide as well!

Once you’re all tuned up, you’re ready to start playing again!

Maintaining Your Drums Between Cleanings

A complete drum cleaning like this should be done once or twice a year, but in the meantime, there are a few things you can do as upkeep in-between.

First and foremost, after a gig, especially if it was outside, spot clean your drums with a damp cloth. Things like spilled liquid can actually eat away at your drums’ finish if you don’t take care of it right away. If you can’t find the motivation to do it the night of your performance, at least make sure to give your drums a good wipe down the following morning to avoid damage.

Lastly, consider a set of cases. They can get expensive, but they act as the ultimate protection against the world. I’ve heard stories of drums that were stored in a barn for long periods of time, but thanks to the cases they were in, they’re still in excellent condition!