Just imagine... your drum kit is assembled, every drum is in tune, your kit sounds amazing through the house PA, the curtain drops, you raise your arms to strike the first beat of your opening song and… the lights come on and shine directly upon your dingy, dreary, dirty cymbals.
Granted, this scenario may be a bit extreme, however learning how to clean your cymbals and keep your cymbals clean not only ensures those house lights bounce brilliantly off of your cymbals back into your awaiting audience, but also ensures the long-term performance and upkeep of your cymbals themselves.
Should I polish my cymbals? How do I polish my cymbals? What’s the “best” cymbal cleaner available? Can I use alternative cleaners to clean my cymbals? What follows are a few best practices, products, and techniques to keep your cymbals looking brand new and ready to rock!
Should I Polish My Cymbals?
Do you ever touch your cymbals? Does your drumkit stay “out” when not in use? If you’ve answered “yes” to either of these questions then yes, you should, at the very least, clean your cymbals. However, whether or not you should “polish” your cymbals comes down to a simple distinction: Whether you have brilliant cymbals vs. non-brilliant cymbals.
Manufacturer recommendations, across the board, suggest to use polish on brilliant cymbals only. In fact, using polish on non-brilliant cymbals may have the completely opposite effect, dulling and tarnishing your cymbal’s finish, as opposed to brightening it. You’ve already put in the time effort to select your perfect set of cymbals; don’t throw it all away and ruin your precious metals!
How then should you polish your cymbals? Let’s break it down…
How To Clean/Polish Brilliant Finish Cymbals
If you have brilliant finish cymbals, you’re in luck as there are a multitude of polish products out there for you! Regardless of which brand you choose, the process of cleaning your brilliant cymbal is basically the same.
Step #1: Use a soft dry cloth to wipe the cymbal along the grooves. This will ensure that your cloth reaches into the grooves, as opposed to glancing or rubbing over them.
Step #2: Shake your cymbal polish well and apply to the cymbal, spreading the polish well. Remove excess polish with the same cloth you used to apply.
Step #3: Wait 15-30 seconds, then use a clean towel to remove the polish, making sure to fold your towel to avoid smudging. Again, follow the grooves.
Step #4: Be careful around your cymbal’s logos! In fact, it’s probably best not to apply polish to these areas at all as polish has a tendency to remove the logo from the cymbal face.
Step #5: Repeat the same process for the underside of your cymbal.
Best Polish for Cymbals
Now that you have the process down, let’s take a look at two of the best cymbal polishes on the market today:
Zildjian Brilliant Finish Cymbal Polish – One of the leading brands of cymbals presents this brilliant cymbal polish specifically for brilliant cymbals. The product is not for use on traditional finish, Kerope, or ZXT titanium cymbals. Please also be sure not to apply directly to your cymbal’s logos as this polish will wipe them off. Relatively inexpensive, this brilliant finish cymbal polish is sure to restore any cymbal, in any condition, back to shiny and new! You can trust the professionals at Zildjian have taken the time to develop a high-quality cleaning solution to match their award-winning line of cymbals.
Paiste Cymbal Cleaner – Praised by Paiste players, this cymbal cleaner removes dirt and restores shine while preserving the factory-applied protective coating on your cymbals. Many swear this is the best cleaner available! Pair this with Paiste’s Cymbal Protector for an unbeatable combination of shine and protection! Though it is slightly more expensive than other brands (you do get a full 12oz bottle however), and takes a little bit more time and effort to clean properly, Paiste’s cymbal cleaner and protector are worth the extra money and time, considering the excellent results many drummers realize once they’ve used it. No-fills, no flash, just good old cleaning solution, Paiste has put out a product that is quite possibly the most effective on the market.
How to Clean/Polish Non-Brilliant Finish Cymbals
What if you have non-brilliant finish cymbals on your drum set? Are there any products out there that you can use? The short answer is, no. Cymbal manufacturers do not recommend you clean these types of, non-brilliant, Kerope, buffed bronze, or other natural or specialty finished cymbals with cymbal polish cleaners as they tend to discolor the finish or leave marks on the cymbals.
But fret not (guitar joke), you can keep these types of cymbals clean by regularly cleaning them with a soft, dry cloth (microfiber works great) along the cymbal’s grooves. Mild soap and warm water works wonders as well!
How to Clean Cymbals with Household Items
Generally, cymbal manufacturers disagree with using common household items to clean your cymbals. But what do they know, right?! They’ve only spent countless hours and significant financial investment in research and development into producing these cymbals and their recommended cleaning products. Let’s take a look then at what the cymbal companies don’t want you to clean your cymbals with, but what your drummer friend down the street swears by…
- Cleaning Cymbals with Vinegar – Pour upwards of one tablespoon of vinegar onto the cymbal surface and rub it in. Rinse with warm water and dry.
- Cleaning Cymbals with Citrus – Cut a lemon in half and squeeze the juice onto the cymbal. Rub it in with the cut half of the lemon. Let sit for 15-30 seconds then rinse the cymbal with warm water and dry.
- How to Clean Cymbals with Brasso – Supposedly, you can use this product much like brilliant finish cymbal cleaners by applying it, then wiping it off with a clean rag. However, Brasso, as an agent, tends to actually strip your cymbal of its protective coating, logos, and, occasionally, the finish itself. Throw in an abrasive pad and you can do some real damage!
- Cleaning Cymbals with Ketchup – Yep, you read right, some believe the key to a cymbal’s ever-lasting shine is some good old Heinz 57. Apply and remove the ketchup much like typical cymbal polish. You can’t make this stuff up!
- Cleaning Cymbals with Windex, WD40, etc – As you can see, if you can spray it, spread it, rub it, or dump it onto cymbals, there’s no shortage of “miracle” cleaners that can get the job done. Just remember, these items are not manufacturer recommended cleaning products so, proceed at your own risk. If you do decide to try one of the aforementioned cleaning (or eating) solutions, make sure to try it out on a very small area of your cymbal first. That way you’ll have a better idea of how well (or not well) the product will work before you lather it all over your precious cymbal!
Long-Term Cymbal Care
Perhaps the best way to keep your cymbals clean is by regular maintenance cleaning to prevent your cymbals from becoming overly dull and dirty in the first place. After all you’ve picked out the drum set of your dreams, know you should learn how to take good care of it. Here are some general tips, from playing to setting up your cymbals, that will help them last longer, and sound better!
- Playing Style – The way a cymbal is struck will have a tremendous impact on its lifespan. Don’t hit your cymbals directly on their edge, hold your drumstick loose in your hand, and also make sure you have the right type of cymbal (and stick!) for the type of music you’re playing.
- Mounting – Once you’ve found the best way to set up your cymbals, you need to make sure that your cymbals are then properly mounted. Place the cymbal sleeve on the mounting rod to prevent metal-on-metal contact. You’ll also want to use some felt between the cymbal and the wingnut, being careful to make sure you don’t tighten the wingnut too tight. What’s too tight? You want your cymbal to move relatively freely once stuck. This will not only improve sustain, but also help your cymbal last longer. Lastly, make sure to angle your cymbals according to their use and your desired sound. A little angle goes a long way!
- Setup and Transport – Make sure you always carry your cymbals in a padded cymbal bag or protective case. Always store your cymbals when not in use and try to keep your cymbals away from extreme cold or heat. Handle your cymbals between both hands at the edge and make sure not to stack them vertically on their edges. If possible, try installing one cymbal at a time, so you can leave your other cymbals in their comfy, protective bag!
- Cleaning Tips – A little bit of effort with preventative cleaning and handling of your cymbals goes a long way. Make sure to wash your hands when handling or playing your cymbals. Every time you choke one of your cymbals while playing, or while simply carrying your cymbals, you get finger prints on them. Over time, the oils imparted from these prints will build up and tarnish your cymbals. So, make sure to wipe down your cymbals before and after each use! Any kind of dirt or particulate, and most definitely spills, should be cleaned immediately with warm water and soap. (This means don’t wait till the day after to clean your cymbals after your number one fan sprays you with beer during your epic encore!)
As outlined above, there are lots of different things you can do, and lots of different products you can use to help keep your cymbals clean. Preventative cleaning, and proper handling and setup of your cymbals, will keep them lasting through band rehearsals and shows for years to come. Be wary of so called “home remedies” when it comes to cleaning solutions to use on your cymbals, as you’re more likely to do more harm than good. Tried and true cymbal cleaners are effective for a reason. Save the ketchup for your burgers, keep it off your cymbals!