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How to Clean a Drum Set — A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Clean a Drum Set — A Step-by-Step Guide

Drums are fantastic instruments played by millions of people every day. And as such a popular instrument, essential to many forms of music, it is often in need of maintenance. 

Every time you play your drums, you put them under intense stress. The grease from your hands touching the heads, the dirt on your shoes scuffing up the pedals, and the dust from the studio all can make your kit get pretty dirty.

Cleaning your kit is a fundamental part of drum maintenance. But the wrong materials or techniques could also put your set at risk. 

This step-by-step guide covers how to clean your drum set the right way. By the end of this post, you’ll have the knowledge you need to clean and maintain your drum set so that you can keep playing it for years to come.

Products You'll Need to Clean a Drum Set

You should regularly wipe your set to get rid of dust and build-up. But even the most attentive drummer will need to perform a deep clean every once in a while. 

To clean a drum set, you will need the following items:

  • Water
  • Soft cloth x 4 (microfiber or terrycloth work best)
  • Mild dish soap
  • Aluminum Foil
  • A soft brush
  • Chrome polish
  • Lemon oil
  • Masking tape
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Drop cloth

If you need to remove stains and the items above don’t do the trick, Windex might. Just know that if you use Windex, you should use it sparingly as it can be too harsh and damage your drum set. 

Step-by-Step Guide on How to Clean a Drum Set

Keeping your equipment clean will extend the longevity of your drum set and possibly save you thousands of dollars on replacing or repairing costly parts. 

Step 1: Prepare Your Cleaning Equipment

First, check your equipment and prepare your workspace. It’s best to clean the drum set in an open space and have a drop cloth because the oils and other cleaning materials can leave stains on the carpet. 

Step 2: Disassemble Your Drum Set

Next, carefully disassemble your drum set. You can break down the whole set, but it’s best to lay everything out in a diagram or neat rows according to each piece of your kit to keep everything organized and avoid mixing up or losing parts. 

Step 3: Separate Your Kit into Metal and Wood Components 

Group the metal components (rims, hardware, cymbals, stands, pedal, etc.) and separate them from the wooden parts and skin. These two groupings tend to use the same tools anyway, so this will save you time in the long run!

Once you’ve separated the different components of your drum set, use the masking tape to cover the wooden parts and skin. It will protect them from abrasive metal or chrome polishes. 

Step 4: Clean Off Rust

Rust threatens virtually all drums and is something any drum owner needs to know how to clean. Rust hurts your drums in several ways, such as making them harder to tune, altering how they sound, and increasing their vulnerability to wear and tear. 

Most often, rust will build up on the hardware. Whether you left the kit in a damp garage or a humid environment makes rust unavoidable, it’s a risk that can be costly. Considering how much hardware affects the drum sound, protecting the metal parts against rust is vital. Rust can damage the set in ways that will be costly to repair or replace. 

To remove rust, put a few drops of dish liquid into a bucket of water. Dip a microfiber cloth into the soapy water and gently clean off the rusted parts. The soapy solution will help the rusty parts stand out. 

Then, dip aluminum foil in regular water and rub it on the rusted parts. It should remove the rust, and you can use paper towels or a dry cloth to wipe the areas you’ve cleaned to see your progress. Repeat until you’ve removed all the rust.

Step 5: Polish Your Metals

Next, it’s time to treat the metal. Use your cloth and dab a small amount of non-abrasive metal or chrome polish to wipe off the various parts of your drums made of metal. Take your time, as this is likely the task that will take the longest to do. 

There isn’t a specific order here that you need to follow. You can start with the rims and then move on to the cymbals and hardware or vice versa. You’ll use the same method for polishing all these parts. 

You want to be careful here to inspect your kit thoroughly as you polish. The polishing solution might get into small crevices and leave a residue that can lead to gunk build-up. 

Step 6: Polish Your Woods

Once you’ve finished cleaning all the metal components, you can move on to the wooden parts, like your toms, snare, and bass.

Remove the masking tape and prepare a fresh microfiber cloth and lemon oil. You don’t have to use lemon oil—any wood treatment oil will do—but the lemon oil gives a nice refreshing clean.

Using the same technique you used to polish the metals, apply a small amount of lemon oil to the clean cloth and wipe it on the wood surfaces. You can wipe off any excess with another clean cloth to bring out the wood’s luster. 

Step 7: Dry Off and Reassemble Your Kit

Once you've finished wiping down your drums, you want to dry off your kit. Remove any moisture or oils remaining on the drums. 

Before reassembling your kit, dab a little petroleum jelly on the lugs. It will prevent cross-threading and help to lubricate the lugs.

When putting everything back together, it’s best to tighten the screws by hand before using a tool. Be sure to tighten the lugs using a criss-cross technique and tightening opposing screws. That way, you can avoid an uneven assembly. 

Step 8: Tune the Drums

Most likely, you’ll need to tune the drums again after the full clean. Once you complete the tuning, your fresh, clean drum set is ready for action. 


How Often Should You Clean Your Drum Set?

While ideally, you should do some basic maintenance after every performance, that is not a realistic expectation. If you cannot tend to your drums every time you use them, aim instead to clean them once a month. A quick clean with a damp washcloth is all you need to do for general maintenance. The full clean that we’ve discussed here is something you should aim to do once a year.

Always store your drums in a cool, dry environment. If you don’t play regularly, it’s best to cover the set to prevent dust, moisture, and other types of build-up. Covering your drum set or storing the parts in a case will also lessen how frequently you need to do a deep clean.  

What's the Right Way to Clean a Drum Set?

There are several ways to clean a drum set, and it is difficult to state a definitive “right way.” Using a damp cloth with mild dish soap and water will suffice for a quick, general clean. It’s best to dry the drum set thoroughly, even after a short clean-up. It will help to prevent moisture exposure and rust. 

The only other tip is to polish the parts so that you can have your kit looking fresh. 

How Do You Clean an Old Drum Set?

Cleaning an old drum set is much like cleaning a new one, but you will need to take extra precautions. A vintage drum set may have weakened or corroded parts that you need to be aware of before subjecting it to vigorous rubbing.

To clean an old drum set, begin by carefully examining the instrument. If it has been in storage for a long time, you may need to replace some parts. 

Once you’ve inspected the kit and determined which parts you can keep and restore, you can begin the cleaning process. You will need to delicately disassemble the set since some parts that you can’t necessarily see during the inspection might have become damaged.

Give each part a thorough, gentle cleaning and carefully watch out to remove rust. Once you’ve finished the cleaning, carefully dry your equipment, polish the metal and wood components, and lubricate the lugs. You can then test the drums to check that they work.


Cleaning a drum set is a vital part of maintenance that can keep your set in beautiful shape for many years. If your snare has been off-key or your cymbals don’t have a crisp, clear tone, it may be that grime, dust, or rust has built up, and it’s time for a thorough cleaning.

At Drum Center of Portsmouth, we have everything you need for drum cleaning. From cymbal polish to hardware wipes and a complete drum care cleaning kit, you can find all the supplies you need to give your kit the tender loving care it deserves.

18 days ago