Helping our students take proper care of their instruments is an important part of the instruction we provide, especially when the kids first start playing. It is important to give the kids accurate information so flutes play their best.

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Headjoint and flute body

  • Use a soft cotton, silk or microfiber cloth as a swab. The flute should be thoroughly swabbed after every use. Thread a corner of the cloth through the slot on the cleaning rod and run it through the body and footjoint. Fold the cloth over the end of the cleaning rod and gently push it all the way into the headjoint and then rotate the cleaning rod to thoroughly dry the headjoint out.
  • Use a clean microfiber cloth (different than the swab cloth) to gently wipe off fingerprints on the flute. Avoid coming in contact with the pads. They can tear and fray with friction.
  • The lip plate can be wiped with isopropyl alcohol or “green juice” to disinfect as needed. Once every month or two, dip a cotton swab in isopropyl alcohol and wipe gently inside the blow hole. The tops of the keys can also be wiped with an alcohol prep pad and open holes cleaned with alcohol and a cotton swab. Be careful to keep the alcohol away from the pads, since it will dry out the pad skins.


  • Do keep the tenons squeaky clean. It is a friction fit that shouldn’t need any lubrication. I use alcohol prep pads to clean oil and dirt off the tenons. You can also use paraffin wax (apply liberally, put the pieces together, twist gently back and forth, take apart and thoroughly wipe off the tenon of both pieces with a soft cloth)
  • For piccolos with a cork tenon, do use a little cork grease once in a while when there is resistance when assembling the instrument. This is similar to clarinets and oboes
  • Don’t ever use petroleum jelly or slide oil on the tenons of flutes or piccolos. It just makes a gummy mess. The petroleum jelly attracts dirt and gets thick and gummy. I saw a wooden school piccolo recently that someone had put petroleum jelly on the cork. Yuck! It was a mess to clean up.
  • Using pencil graphite on tight tenons. This one can be controversial with some people saying yes and others no. Trevor Wye, the internationally know flute pedagogue showed me this trick. Clean the tenons thoroughly as above. Take a pencil with a soft lead and gently trace circles on both surfaces of the tenon. Put the pieces together and twist gently back and forth a few times. Take the pieces apart and wipe with a soft cloth. My experience is this is a temporary fix only and only on beginner or intermediate flutes
  • For loose footjoint tenons, a small swipe of clear nail polish on the body tenon (let it dry thoroughly before assembling) will hold a loose tenon temporarily until it can be properly adjusted by a repair technician.
  • Best solution for ill fitting tenons is keep them clean and have it adjusted by a repair technician.


  • In a pinch, check out Quick Fixes for Common Mechanical Problems. These are a few things I’ve picked up over the years that teachers can try until the flute can go to the shop for proper repair.
  • Leave oiling the mechanism up to the pros. This is absolutely not something students should be attempting on their own.
  • Bent keys – again, best to leave this for a qualified repair person.


  • Do swab the flute out thoroughly after playing. Also do blot the pads with tissue paper or use a product like the BG Pad Dryer, especially if you blow wet, like I do.
  • Don’t ever pull tissue paper or a BG Pad Dryer out from a closed key. You will rip and/or fray the pad skin necessitating pad replacement.
  • Don’t ever use a dollar bill to blot sticky pads and don’t pull them against a closed key like above. The ink just makes the pads dirty, or worse, rips or frays the pad skin.
  • Yamaha Powder Paper can be useful for sticky pads if used sparingly. Pads tend to get sticky with the change of seasons or humidity. A few judicious gentle blots can go a long way. Some techs don’t like them because they say the powder clogs the pores in the pad skin
  • So called Pad Savers. If they are used to swab the instrument, they should not be stored inside the instrument. Pads deteriorate faster because they hold the moisture in the instrument. The Pad Save gets moldy. If the flute is swabbed with a cloth first, then the Pad Saver can be stored in the flute.

One more big don’t…..Don’t store your cleaning rag in the case, pushing down on the keys. It will put the instrument out of adjustment more quickly. Ask your local repair technicians. Tie the rag to the handle of your case, or better yet, get a case cover. Store the cloth in the case cover.

As always, if you find these entries useful, please subscribe, share with your colleagues and come back regularly. Feel free to comment. If you have a topic you would like to see explored more fully, you can contact me via IM/Messenger on Facebook or email me at dr_cate@sbcglobal.net. For information about clinics, workshops and performances, click here.