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Keeping Instruments Sanitized in the Classroom

Mike Lawson • Commentary • March 27, 2020

As the coronavirus continues to spread and dominate the news, students, parents, and teachers are seeking information on keeping musical instruments sanitized. Since the sharing of instruments is an easy way to transmit germs, it’s important for students’ health that we keep those instruments clean and sanitized.

With 18 repair technicians on staff and 99 years of history at Amro Music, we have picked up few tips and tricks to clean and sanitize instruments. Below are some of the things we have learned to help you quickly sanitize instruments in the classroom:

Mouthpieces

Mouthpieces should be cleaned regularly, especially if they are shared among students. The type and material that the mouthpiece is made of can determine what chemicals are most appropriate for cleaning it.

Brass mouthpieces, as well as flute head joints and hard rubber mouthpieces, can quickly be sprayed with isopropyl alcohol. We use a 92% concentration in our repair shop and distribute it to each technician in smaller spray bottles. It’s affordable, available in bulk, and simple to use. The alcohol should be misted on the inside and outside of the mouthpiece. Be careful not to wipe the alcohol off, as it takes time for the alcohol to fully sanitize the mouthpiece. Rather, allow the alcohol spray to air dry. For plastic mouthpieces, such as beginner saxophone and clarinet mouthpieces, a great product is Steri-Spray. This product is readily available at most music retailers in various sizes and is affordable. Steri-Spray uses a hospital-grade disinfectant, rather than alcohol, and we have yet to find a surface that has deteriorated or been negatively altered by exposure to Steri-Spray. Please note that we do not recommend using alcohol on plastic mouthpieces, as it can turn the plastic brittle and make it more susceptible to chipping or breaking.

Cases and Handles

For cases and case handles, both Steri-Spray and alcohol work well and can be sprayed on the interior padding and exterior of the case. We use isopropyl alcohol in a laundry spray bottle, as it creates a wide misting pattern and allows us to sanitize large cases very quickly when they arrive at our repair shop. Simply spray inside the case and let it dry completely before placing the instrument inside.

Instruments

Sterilizing instruments can be a more intensive process but is vitally important nonetheless. The exterior of brass and metal instruments can quickly be sanitized with a spritz of alcohol or Sani-Spray. Once dried, the instrument can be polished and wiped down then is ready to be played or stored.

The interior tubing of brass instruments is a little trickier; however, it is something that can be done at home. While it is more extensive than we can cover in this article, there are some excellent online resources with information on how to clean the interior of a brass instrument. Amro has a series of Youtube videos available to educators at www.youtube.com/amromusic and we would encourage you to visit this page for more information and a step-by-step guide on how to properly clean brass instruments at home.

Lacking the bends and bows of brass instruments, woodwind instruments are a little easier to sanitize at home or in the classroom. Lightly mist a pull-through swab with Sani-Spray and pull it through each joint of the instrument. It’s important that you spray enough to sanitize the instrument, but not so much that the moisture will be transferred to the pads of the instrument. Sanitizing a wooden clarinet can dry out the instrument’s bore faster than normal usage, so you will want to monitor the instrument for signs that the wood is drying and oil the bore accordingly. The keys on woodwind instruments can be cleaned using a polish cloth that has been sprayed with Sani-Spray. Be careful not to spray or rub the corks or pads with the polish cloth, as this could cause damage to the pads or dry out the cork.

Orchestra Instruments

Orchestra Instruments should be given special consideration when cleaning. Each manufacturer uses a different varnish, as this is a part of the “secret sauce” that differentiates its sound. As a result, some products may damage or cause discoloration on one manufacturer’s instrument, but not necessarily another.

We do not recommend using alcohol or any other cleaning products on orchestra instruments, as it can discolor or damage the finish. Instead, we have found that Steri-Spray is outstanding. Similar to the other instruments, simply mist it on and allow it to air dry.

A final item of note: we do not recommend using boiling water or dishwashers for cleaning any instrument parts or mouthpieces, as the high heat and longer exposure time can damage the parts or mouthpiece. Additionally, we do not recommend Lysol or other household cleaners for sanitizing musical instruments, as these products can damage instrument finishes, leave behind a residue, and may not be designed to evaporate quickly.

For more information, feel free to follow us on Youtube at Youtube.com/AmroMusic. We are constantly adding more resources and content specifically for educators and beginning musicians.

Additionally, if there is a video you would like to see that would be helpful to your classroom, please feel free to email me directly at Nick@amromusic.com.

Lastly, I would like to say thank you to all our friends in music education. In this time of uncertainty and disruption, we need music in our lives more than ever. You are making a tremendous impact on our students, schools, and communities through your passion for music education. From all of us at Amro Music, thank you!

Nick Averwater presently serves as the Vice President at Amro Music Stores in Memphis, Tennessee. Amro Music specializes in serving the needs of school band and orchestra programs in five states and will soon celebrate its 100th birthday.

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