Alto Sax Body Cleaning Tips

Written by casandra maier
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Alto Sax Body Cleaning Tips
It is important to empty built-up saliva and thoroughly swab your instrument each time you play. (Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Originally invented by Adolphe Sax, the saxophone was designed for military bands, but the instrument soon found use in concert bands, jazz and popular music. Although typically made of brass, a saxophone uses a mouthpiece that holds a reed, making it part of the woodwind family. Most saxophone players begin playing on an alto saxophone, which holds a medium pitch compared to the higher soprano sax and lower baritone sax. Proper care and cleaning techniques will lengthen the life of your instrument.

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Cleaning Tools

Proper care of your alto saxophone requires the proper cleaning tools. New saxophone players should invest in a mouthpiece brush, a soft flannel cloth and a swab to clean their instruments. Some music stores sell fuzzy swab sticks for alto sax cleaning, but these swabs are bad for your instrument. As they age, fibres from the swab become stuck in the key pads. "These fibres then create micro leaks which can hurt your sound," according to To avoid this problem, opt for a traditional swab on a string. You can get a separate swab for the body and neck if you choose.

Things to Do

Each time you play your alto saxophone, saliva builds up. To avoid germs and bacteria, you should clean your saxophone each time you play with a swab. Removing the reed from the mouthpiece will extend the life of your reed. The finish on the body of an alto saxophone is plated or lacquered, and oil from human skin will eat away at the finish over time. It's therefore essential that you wipe your instrument down with a soft flannel cloth before returning it to the case.

Things Not to Do

Never use abrasive cleaners, as these can harm the finish of a saxophone. You cannot soak or submerge a saxophone in water due to the pads on the keys. Pads that become water logged will swell, leading to cracks and splits. Cracked pads will need to be repaired for the instrument to play correctly. Do not leave the swab inside the saxophone after swabbing, as this can trap moisture. Eating and drinking during and prior to playing are also not recommended. Food particles can plug the tone holes, promoting the growth of bacteria. If you need to drink something, water is the safest choice.


To clean the mouthpiece, remove the reed and use a mouthpiece brush or swab to remove the initial saliva. You can soak the mouthpiece in warm soapy water for added cleanliness. Make sure the water is not too hot, as this can crack the mouthpiece.

Body and Keys

Drain the initial moisture from the alto saxophone by tipping the instrument upside down. Once it is drained, hold the keys closed and swab out the inner parts of the horn, including the neck. Holding the keys closed will help remove moisture from the keypads during swabbing. When the key pads of an alto sax become dirty, they begin to stick. To clean your keypads, place a clean cloth beneath each pad, close the keys and gently pull the cloth through.

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