How to Clean Drum Heads – Snare, Bass & Toms

Author: Brett Clur | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Drums have the tendency to get dusty and dirty. With so many parts to deal with, it can often get overwhelming to maintain every little thing that makes up your drum kit – from cymbals to hardware to drum skins.

When sitting at the drum kit, the drum heads are what you look at the most. So, you might feel like they need a good clean at some point. It’s not common for people to clean drum heads. However, there are a few proven ways that do the job. Let’s look through them.

Why Drum Heads Get Dirty

There are a few reasons why drum heads get dirty. Most people have drum kits that sit in practice rooms for years without ever moving. Dust starts to build up the same way it does with every other piece of furniture in your house. The more dust that builds up, the grimier the drum heads get.

Drum sticks also tend to leave marks on the head when you’re playing. It’s not immediately noticeable, but the marks start to show up after months of use. This is especially true if you use sticks with certain tips. Standard white nylon and wooden tips aren’t so bad. However, black nylon tips will leave marks as soon as they hit the skins.

So, as the drum head starts to wear down, it will begin to show its age with marks and scratches. You can do some things to make it look a little fresher, though. The first would be doing a bit of dusting.

Duster

The easiest dirt to clean off initially would be layers of dust. A simple duster and some frantic dusting will get the job done. You just need to be careful not to do it too hard to prevent yourself from accidentally scratching anything.

Wood chips are highly common on drum heads. They come from the drum sticks after hours of playing. They typically get stuck near the bearing edges of the drums. So, try to dust them off the drums to keep them clean. If you can’t get to the wood chips with a duster, a vacuum cleaner will do the trick.

Water

The next step in the cleaning process will just be to use some water with a cloth. If you’re not too sure of what works or not, water will always be the safest option as it doesn’t have any unknown chemicals that could damage the drum heads. Drum heads often have a light layer of dirt that can easily be cleaned off.

You just need to use a damp cloth. Make sure the cloth is very light. Too much water won’t work well. Take the lightly damped cloth and rub the drum head in circular motions. If that works, you’re golden. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to move onto some stronger methods.

Dish Soap

If water alone doesn’t work, water mixed with dish soap will add a bit of oomph to the mix. Dish soap is a great alternative to ammonia-based cleaners such as window cleaners because those things tend to weaken the mylar that the drum heads are made of.

Moisten a lint-free cloth with the diluted dish soap and do the same circular rubbing motion on the drum head. If you feel that you need to scrub hard, it means that the dish soap isn’t strong enough for the job and you’ll have to go to an even stronger method.

Diluted Vinegar

Diluted vinegar will be a stronger cleaning solution. Do the same dampening process with a cloth and then get rubbing. This should work for any marks that were made by the hitting of drum sticks.

Just make sure to wipe the drum head afterward with some normal water as you don’t want to leave any vinegar on the head for an extended amount of time. It will damage it and make it lose its structural integrity.

Alcohol

One common thing that makes drum heads dirty is the use of muffling techniques. Things like tape and moon gel have the potential to leave sticky residue on the drum head.

Drummers use these things all the time as muffling the drums is an important part of playing gigs and doing recordings. The downside is the aftermath on the drum head.

Using rubbing alcohol is a great way of getting rid of that residue. You can lightly moisten a cloth and leave it on the drum head for a few minutes. After a while, the residue should be easy to just scrape off.

Preventative Measures

The best way to not clean your drums is to stop them from getting dirty in the first place. If you leave them for long periods of time then they will start to build up dust and grime. So, wiping them daily or at least once a weak will help in keeping the drum heads clean and pristine.

Another way to prevent a fair bit of dirt is to focus on your hitting technique. If you hit the drum head straight in the center, you’ll get a round tone as well as help in keeping it clean. Playing the head all over the surface is what leaves the marks everywhere.

If you’re someone who needs clean drum heads, you can forget about using sticks with different color tips. Stick with the standard wooden tip and nylon sometimes leaves marks all over.

Coated vs Clear Drum Heads

Coated and clear are the two main types of drum heads. Coated heads produce warmer attacking tones while clear heads produce warmer round tones. Since coated heads are white, they tend to get a lot dirtier. So, using clear heads may be a helpful way to have clean drum heads most of the time.

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that drums are designed to be hit, meaning they’re going to have marks on them. Having squeaky clean drum heads isn’t a common thing because most drummers don’t mind too much since they’re hitting the heads all the time.

It’s obviously important to keep the dust away. However, it’s going to be a real challenge keeping the head clear with no marks. So, just keep that in mind when trying to clean. Also, remember the heads often get changed.

About Brett Clur

Brett has been drumming for almost two decades. He also helps his students get better at drumming. He can be found on Instagram (@brettclurdrums), where you can regularly catch glimpses of his drumming.

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