How to Polish and Clean Cymbals

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How to Polish and Clean Cymbals

When a set of cymbals begins to look a bit dull, a dedicated cymbal cleaner can quickly restore them to their former glory. However, it is important to exercise caution when cleaning cymbals as using the wrong product can cause permanent damage. Even carefully following the instructions when using a recommended cymbal cleaning product can have an adverse effect, such as removing or fading logos. As cymbals can be so easily damaged, and are almost impossible to repair, it is important to take the utmost care when attempting to clean them. Doing a little research into the cleaners and polishes that are available should be the first task of anyone looking to put the shine back into their cymbals.
The Decision to Clean

When cymbals lose their lustre, it is usually for two reasons. The first is that a layer of dust and dirt builds up on the surface. The second reason is that the metals within the cymbal react with the surrounding air, in a process known as oxidation. Neither of these processes can be completely avoided. It is almost impossible to handle and play cymbals without leaving finger marks on them or to completely seal off the surface of the cymbals from the air around them. The gradual loss of the sheen the cymbals possess when new is an inevitable process.

Some drummers never clean their cymbals. This is not due to a lackadaisical approach to looking after their kit; it is a deliberate choice. Cleaning the cymbals inevitably carries a small risk of damaging them. Some also feel that an aged cymbal is more beautiful, taking on a patina that creates subtle overtones which improve the sound.
There are times when cleaning a cymbal may be unavoidable, even for those who do not advocate routinely doing so. For example, a cymbal may react badly after having been splashed with a substance. Even so, the decision to clean a cymbal should not be taken lightly.
The best results will be gained by using two different products, one to bring back the shine and one to protect the cymbal. The two products will each address a different process that is causing the cymbals to dull. A cymbal cleaner will initially remove the grease and dirt, while a cymbal polish will help protect the cymbal from further oxidation.
Proprietary products from the cymbal manufacturer should always be the first choice when choosing new cleaning substances.

Before Cleaning Begins

Collect the cleaning products together, along with some soft cloths, electrical tape, and scissors. A suitable place to work on the cymbals should be found, with access to a large sink and a table.
Set up the cymbal stands in a location where the cymbals can be allowed to dry. This should not be over the drums themselves to ensure that any residual cleaning products do not cause damage to their finish. Place newspaper over the table to protect it and under the stands if necessary.
Do not be tempted to remove stubborn marks using anything abrasive, such as a kitchen sponge. Do not use any other cleaning product on the cymbals. Any marks which survive the following cleaning and polishing process are more than likely to be permanent.
Cymbal cleaning products tend to be acidic, while polishing products are often mildly abrasive. For this reason, it is a good idea to protect any logos on the cymbals to avoid damaging them. Covering them with electrical tape will help to protect during the cleaning process. The more accurately this is done, the better the end result will be.

Notes of Caution

Always follow the manufacturer's instructions. Not all cymbal cleaning products are suitable for all cymbals. Cymbal polish should not be used with some cymbal finishes, for example titanium. Always double check that the product and cymbal finish are compatible. If in any doubt, test the product on a small area of the cymbal that cannot normally be seen, such as inside the hi-hat cymbals.

Cleaning the Cymbals

As dedicated cymbal cleaners are normally acid based, eye and hand protection should be used. Begin by double checking the electrical tape is covering all the logos. The cleaner should be applied to both surfaces of the cymbal and worked into the tonal grooves with a soft cloth or brush. It is important to only allow it to remain in contact with the cymbal for the time specified in the instructions. The cymbal should then be carefully rinsed under running water until all traces of the cleaner are removed. Pat the cymbal dry with a clean towel and replace it on a cymbal stand to dry fully.

Polishing Cymbals

Polishing the cymbals takes more time and effort than cleaning them. The process of cleaning removes any remaining oxidation from the surface. For this reason, care should be taken to avoid the resulting black residue from coming into contact with clothing. The ideal surface on which to polish a cymbal is an old piece of carpet a few inches bigger than the largest cymbal to be cleaned. The carpet helps to hold the cymbal still and also protects the surface of the table. In much the same way, an old pillow or cushion is useful for holding and protecting the cymbal while the underside is cleaned.
Compared to cymbal cleaner, it is less critical how long cymbal polish is left in contact with the cymbal. However, if neat polish is allowed to remain in contact with the cymbal, it can leave a spot that is lighter. For this reason, it is a good idea to put the polish on the cloth, rather than applying it directly to the cymbal.
The polish should be applied sparingly and worked into the tonal grooves. Use different cloths to apply and remove the polish, repeating until doing so makes no discernible difference. Give the cymbal a last buff with a clean cloth and then return to its stand or case. Handling the cymbal at this point will leave noticeable finger marks, so it is a good idea to wear gloves if this is a problem.

Further Cymbal Care

When cleaning cymbals, it can be a good time to check other aspects of cymbal care. A cymbal can be ruined by a missing component on a stand that costs only a few pence, so it is worth making sure that each cymbal is properly supported and protected.
First, check the hi-hat stand. The lower cymbal should sit on a plastic component which shields it from the metal rod passing through it and from the metal of the stand below. The upper cymbal should have felts above and below it. An often neglected point is contact between the metal thread of the clutch and the cymbal. To prevent this, install a suitable diameter piece of plastic pipe at this point, or temporarily wrap the relevant threads with duct tape.
Next, check each cymbal stand in turn. The cymbal should rest on a plastic component shaped like a top hat. No part of the cymbal should be in contact with the metal stand. If there is metal to metal contact at any point, damage to the cymbal will be the almost inevitable result. There should be felts above and below the cymbal. The nut that retains the cymbal on the stand should be tightened to allow the cymbal the correct range of movement. It should not be so tight that it prevents the natural swing of the cymbal, nor so loose that it allows the cymbal to contact the stand.
When the drum kit is not being played it can be a good idea to cover it with a dust sheet, as this will help to slow the rate at which the cymbals become tarnished. If the kit is not to be played for a longer period of time, it is worth removing the cymbals from their stands and storing them in a cymbal case. Each cymbal should be separated from the next by a piece of plastic.

Find Cymbal Cleaners and Polishes on eBay

To buy drum accessories, such as cymbal cleaning products, go to the eBay homepage. From here, navigate to the All Categories tab. This should make it easy to click on the Musical Instruments tab, followed by Percussion. Next, in the Type criteria, click on the Accessories option. Scroll down through the listings to locate cymbal cleaning and polishing products.


Cleaning and polishing a set of cymbals can dramatically improve their appearance. It is not a job to be undertaken lightly, as cymbals can be damaged if they are not treated with care. It is important to only use products which have been designed specifically for the task and to carefully follow the instructions on the packaging. The best results can be obtained by cleaning the cymbal prior to polishing it. Cleaning the cymbals is a good time to check drum hardware for missing or failed components which could damage to a cymbal.

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