Cleaning cymbals used to be the last thing on my mind when I started playing the drums. It seemed like an expensive task that would take up too much of my time.
While some gearheads may spend a little too long on cymbal maintenance, I currently have many old cymbals that would look much better today if I gave them a cleanup every now and then since I had them.
I realized that cymbal maintenance is important. In fact, it doesn’t have to be expensive. There are a few noteworthy life hacks in the drumming world that allow you to clean the cymbals with everyday items from your household. I’ve tried all of them and these are the ones that I found to work the best.
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Using Household Items to Clean Cymbals
While constantly buying cymbal cleaners from different drum brands may not appeal to you, having these items in your house means you have no excuse not to give your cymbals a clean. You should try these out and thank me later.
Before I get into them, just note that they don’t work as well as established cymbal cleaners do. However, they work well enough to make a clear difference in the appearance and sound of your cymbals.
They’re also really inexpensive, which is the most attractive part to me! So, dig through your cupboards at home and get out some toothpaste, ketchup, lemon juice, and vinegar.
The first household item you should try is toothpaste. You’ll essentially be rubbing some minty gel onto the cymbal, hoping it will pull off some of the grime that’s built up over time. You’re going to use a fair bit of toothpaste to cover the whole surface area of the cymbal.
Rub it around everywhere so that no metal surface can be seen. You can even rub it over the logo as the toothpaste isn’t strong like normal cymbal cleaners are, so it won’t pull the print off.
Once the toothpaste is spread around the cymbal, leave it to sit for a few hours. I’d suggest leaving it for about three, giving it enough time to soak up all the grime. Clean it off with a cloth after that and you’ll notice the cymbal will have a new shine to it.
I’ve found that the biggest downside to using toothpaste is that you need to use a lot of it. Toothpaste is always thick, so you’ll go through tubes very quickly, especially when cleaning larger cymbals like rides. And that can get a bit expensive pretty quickly.
Using ketchup has been a longtime cymbal cleaning trick in the drumming world. It has never appealed to me as having the smell on my cymbals makes me feel a bit sick. However, I tried it on a couple of occasions and I was genuinely surprised by how well it worked.
Ketchup isn’t as dense as toothpaste, meaning you don’t need to use as much when smearing it around the cymbal. You just need to rub it around the entire surface of the cymbal and leave it for a few hours to soak.
Once you clean it off, the difference will shock you. Ketchup is arguably the best household item to use for cleaning cymbals.
As I said earlier, the smell is the worst part of this method. You’ll need to wipe the cymbals down with a damp cloth to make sure the smell doesn’t stay on them for a long time after you’re done cleaning.
Lemon Juice & Vinegar
The final household item that is known to work is vinegar. This isn’t surprising as vinegar is a powerhouse weapon in cleaning just about anything. However, I found that it works best when you mix it with a bit of lemon juice on cymbals.
Squeeze a bit of lemon juice around the cymbal and then pour some vinegar. Rub it around the surface but avoid the logos. Vinegar is a bit stronger than toothpaste or ketchup, so the logos may be in danger with using too much of it.
Rub it down with a damp cloth after a few hours and you’ll be all set. This method is the most cost-effective, as you don’t need to use a lot of vinegar or lemon juice because they’re both liquids.
Using Pro Cymbal Cleaners (Store-Bought)
While the household items will make a small difference to how clean and shiny your cymbals look, they’ll never work as well as store-bought cymbal cleaners. Cymbal cleaners are strong formulas that have been specifically designed to pull the grime off of old cymbals.
Most cymbal companies have cleaners on offer, so there’s plenty to choose from. Some are more expensive than others, so you’ll need to browse around to see which one you think has the best value for you.
Brilliant Cymbal Polish
The most common type of cleaner is a brilliant cymbal polish. Brilliant cymbals are the shiniest ones, so drummers want to keep them as shiny as they were when they first got them. These formulas are incredibly strong, so they easily clear all the dust and grime off the cymbals.
A good example of a brilliant polish is the Zildjian Brilliant Polish. It’s a common cleaner amongst drummers as it does its job very well.
The downside of brilliant polishes is that they only work on brilliant cymbals. Using them on any other type of cymbal has the potential to do some damage. That’s where all-purpose cleaners come in.
As the name says, these cleaners are suited for most types of cymbals. Two of the most popular ones are the Paiste Cymbal Cleaner and the Sabian Safe and Sound. If you have cymbals that don’t have brilliant finishes, using either of them will clean them very easily.
I personally recommend using the first one as it’s not the strongest formula around, but still cleaned my cymbals very well.
Cleaning Cymbals without Removing Logos
The biggest inconvenience when cleaning cymbals is how the logos can be scraped off with certain cleaners.
The best way to avoid this is to cover the logos up when you’re doing the cleaning. You could tape some material over them so that the cymbal cleaners don’t make contact.
As I said previously, you don’t need to worry too much when using toothpaste or ketchup, they’re not strong enough to rip the logos off. Be careful with vinegar, though.
Should You Clean All Cymbals?
Not all cymbals need to be cleaned. Some cymbals start sounding better as they get older. Having a layer of grime on it actually adds maturity to the tone. This is mainly the case with dark and dry cymbals.
However, you should regularly give them a good dust-up as having dust on the cymbals has no benefit to them. Also, it goes without saying that it’s better for your health to keep all the dust as far away as possible.
If you want to give your cymbals a bit of care to improve their shine, I’d suggest trying the household items first. You’ll be surprised by how well they can work. If you feel that you need a bit more shine, you’ll need to get a proper cymbal cleaner.
Just make sure to protect the logos as the cymbal cleaners are known to rip them off very easily!