The best way to extend the lifespan of your drum kit is to care for it properly. One element of having a drum kit that requires the most attention is knowing how to clean your cymbals. This is because cymbals are prone to oxidation.
Not only does oxidation leave them looking a little green, but it also takes the ringing edge off their tone and gives them a darker sound. Sound players love this, and that’s great, but this should be an active choice rather than the result of insufficient cleaning.
When you get your cymbals they will have a coating on them to protect them from oxidation while they are sitting in the warehouse, but this coating wears out pretty quickly once you actually start playing them. If you don’t care for your cymbals properly, they can start to wear out within months. If you have good-quality cymbals that you take care of, they could last you five to ten years.
If you want to take proper care of your cymbals, read on as we take you through exactly how to care for your cymbals in our ultimate guide to cleaning your cymbals.
Taking care of your cymbals starts with how you treat them on a day-to-day basis.
You want to touch your cymbals as little as possible, as the oil in your skin is a major cause of oxidation. When you do handle your cymbals, you should touch them only at the edges as much as possible, in much the same way you would handle a beloved record.
It is also advisable to wipe down your cymbals with a clean microfiber cloth after every use to remove fingerprints and oils. If your cymbal gets dirt or oil on it during an accident, clean the cymbal right away (see the section below for instructions).
When you remove your cymbals from the drum kit for storage, make sure you are storing them in a bag designed for the job. Cloth bags are often best, as long as your cymbals aren’t at risk of being damaged. Hard cases are often better for travel. Whatever you use, make sure that the bag is clean so that the metal is not being eaten away while sitting in storage.
When your cymbals are in storage, ensure that they are in a dry and cool place with low humidity. Moisture is not metal’s friend!
General Cymbal Cleaning
You will want to clean your cymbals whenever they are obviously dirty, or if an overzealous fan manages to spill something on them (we assume you are more careful). You will probably also want to clean your cymbals as part of your regular maintenance routine. How often you do this will depend on how often you play, but perhaps once a month.
The best product for cleaning cymbals is just soap and warm water. Lather up and use the soft side of a sponge to give them a good clean. Rinse thoroughly, as residual soap can cause damage to your cymbals.
Also, make sure you dry your cymbals immediately and thoroughly. Even small droplets of water can start to cause oxidation fairly quickly.
Not sure how to set up your drum kit? Read our full guide here.
Separate from cleaning your cymbals is polishing them to give them that stage-worthy shine. You don’t want to do this too often but rather “as needed,” as the harsh chemicals can do damage to your cymbals. Always wear gloves to protect your hands when polishing.
There are several home solutions for cymbal polishing that many drummers swear by. The most popular are toothpaste, tomato ketchup, and white vinegar with lemon. All of these actually work quite well.
Toothpaste is a good option because it is a mild cleaner, but also promotes shine. Plus, it will leave your cymbals smelling minty fresh. You can apply toothpaste to the cymbal with a soft toothbrush, covering the entire cymbal. You will want to leave it on for about three hours before rinsing it off thoroughly with warm water, drying it, and then buffing it with a microfiber cloth.
The main problem with this method is that you need quite a bit of toothpaste to cover the whole cymbal, so it can be expensive.
Ketchup may seem like a strange cleaning product, but the acid in the ketchup does a great job of cleaning and it is not difficult to smear it all over your cymbal. Once covered, you should leave it to soak for two to three hours before rinsing thoroughly in warm water, drying completely, and buffing with a microfiber cloth.
The main problem with this method is that it can leave behind the distinct smell of ketchup even after rinsing, which may or may not appeal to you personally.
White Vinegar And Lemon
The process is similar when using white vinegar and lemon. You will apply the lemon juice first around the grooves of the cymbal, then pour some vinegar on top to cover the cymbal, avoiding the logo if you would like to keep it. Again, leave for two to three hours, rinse with warm water, dry, and buff with a microfiber cloth.
It is important to be careful when using vinegar as it is a strong cleaning agent. It is much more likely to start to remove your cymbal logo than toothpaste or ketchup.
Of course, you don’t have to use any of these home DIY polishes when there are plenty of good-quality cymbal polishes available on the market for fairly cheap. We recommend these from MusicNomad and Zildjian.
Since these polishes are specially formulated for cymbals, you only need a tiny amount to get the job done. After cleaning and drying, apply a pea size amount of the liquid to a microfiber cloth and rub it into the dips and crevices of the cymbal. Avoid getting the polish on the logo (assuming you want to keep it), so that you don’t inadvertently polish it off!
When you are done, you can either carefully wipe off excess product with a clean, dry microfiber cloth, or wash the cymbal again with warm water, dry it, and then buff it to a polished shine with another microfiber cloth.
How do I keep my cymbals from cracking?
The most common cause of a cymbal crack is a direct hit with force at a 90-degree angle. Keeping your cymbals at a tilt to avoid these strikes and learning to hit them at a tilted angle are the main things that you can do to prevent cracking.
Why do drummers put tape on their cymbals?
While you sometimes want your cymbals to ring out, at other times drummers want to reduce their volume or ring to create a different sound. Tape helps reduce the volume and tinniness of the cymbals.
How long do cymbals last?
How long cymbals last depends a lot on how well you care for them. If you don’t remove fingerprints and oils regularly, they can start to oxidize within a few months. When cared for properly, they can sometimes last even 20 or 30 years. In general, you can probably expect a set of good quality cymbals, cared for properly, to last five to ten years.
Can you use steel wool on cymbals?
Never use steel wool or other abrasive cleaners on cymbals, as this will scratch the surface. Rather than abrasion, you need to rely on a soft microfiber cloth and plenty of elbow grease to get them clean and shiny.
Caring For Your Cymbals
Investing in good-quality cymbals is one of the things that makes the biggest difference to the overall sound of your drum kit. For a good player, they can make the difference between sounding professional and amateur. While good quality cymbals can be expensive, if you care for them properly they should last five to ten years, making them worth every penny.
Looking after cymbals means treating them with respect every day. Touch them as little as possible, wipe off fingerprints after every use, and store them in a cool dry place with minimal humidity.
In addition to this, clean your cymbals when they get dirty and as part of your regular drum kit maintenance, and give them a polish when they need to shine, but not too often. Follow these simple steps and your cymbals will continue making beats with you for years to come.
If you don’t have a big budget for cymbals, check out our guide to the best budget cymbal packs.