It is often advised to use warm soapy water to clean whistles, but we’d suggest there are some very good reasons why it might be better to look at other options. Cleaning a whistle with water may introduce certain risks, such as promoting biological growth and potential corrosion of the metal components. Unlike many other musical instruments, which can last for many tens or even hundreds of years, it has become standard to replace whistles much more frequently. Part of this is because the use of unfinished/bare aluminium is extremely popular with whistle-makers. Exposed aluminium will corrode, and this corrosion is accelerated by any moisture or salts found in our breath.
What to use instead?
For these reasons, we suggest using solutions that inhibit rather than promote biological growth. Sterilizing solutions are designed to eliminate or inhibit the growth of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They also have other beneficial characteristics that make them a really useful addition to your instrument case:
- They eliminate the growth of bacteria and microorganisms
- Will serve to sterilise the mouthpiece and other touch points
- They evaporate or ‘flash-off’ from surfaces
In addition to specialized solutions like our spray-on solution called ‘Wistol‘ provided with our cleaning kits, alcohol-based cleaning and sterilizing solutions are also viable options. Wistol is formulated to effectively remove dirt and germs while being safe for use on various materials. The spray application makes it possible to cover a reasonable area, and the solution should be left for 30 seconds before wiping off. The actual method of wiping off depends on the area—some areas are more difficult to reach than others. Here are some typical items used and where they are most applicable:
- Lint-free Cleaning Wipes or Cotton Swabs: These are ideal for cleaning off excess solution from all external areas. It’s easy to spray the solution and wipe it off.
- Cleaning mop: The inside or bore of the instrument is more difficult to reach with a cleaning solution and clean off, and it is also more likely to get grimy. Our specialist modular cleaning mop allows the solution to be sprayed onto the mop itself and then run into the bore of the instrument. This process can be repeated several times, or the mop can be left in the bore of the instrument to seep into and soften any grime. Doing this regularly makes it an easier task.
- Cotton Buds: Even with the modular cleaning mop, it’s impossible to get into every corner of the inside of the mouthpiece. For this, cotton buds are extremely helpful. They can be soaked in a cleaning solution and twisted into all the internal corners of the headpiece through the fipple window. It’s even possible to get ultra-small “pointed tip” cotton buds to reach further into the corners if necessary. These are items we use in the workshop all the time, making sure to avoid plastic handles.
- Newspaper or Felt Pull-throughs: The airway is particularly difficult to clean because it is long, thin, and inaccessible. We have suggested folding up strips of newspaper to the width of the airway in the past, passing it through and out the other side, and running it backwards and forwards. However, newspaper tends to run along the top of the airway instead of the bottom, where grime is more likely to settle. Consequently, we came up with a felt pull-through that is thin at one end and thicker at the other. This allows it to be easily passed through any whistle airway, and as it is run backwards and forwards, the felt bunches up and touches both the ceiling and floor of the airway.
Over time, you can gather all these items for yourself and experiment with different approaches. It is generally recommended to avoid abrasive cloths. For non-tuneable low whistles, it may be difficult to find a cleaning mop long enough, but for other tuneable whistles, cleaning mops for clarinets and oboes typically work well and are often available from local music shops. Of course, our cleaning kits include everything we have mentioned here: Wistol cleaning solution, an extendable cleaning mop, and, of course, slide grease for when you are finished cleaning and to keep the tuning slide working nicely. 😁