Cleaning cymbals takes care and caution. Use the wrong cleaner and you could ruin not only the look of your cymbals, but also the sound. One of our team members has a full Zildjian setup that needed some serious cleaning, so we wanted to find the best cymbal cleaner possible. After gathering details on a dozen highly-rated cleaners and looking at their formulas, ease of use, and how well they got the job done, we found that Paiste Cymbal Cleaner is the best option for proper care and maintenance. Article Summary
Keeping your instruments clean comes down to personal discipline in most cases. Whether or not you do it often doesn’t really have too much of an impact on the performance of that instrument – that is, unless you are a drummer. Cymbals are a very special piece of gear. They rely on their shape, weight, materials and a variety of other details in order to produce a specific sound. Over time, sweat, dirt, and dust will start to stick to your cymbals. Even humidity in a poorly ventilated studio will take its toll on any set of cymbals.
So, how does this affect their performance? It’s simple. After enough gunk accumulates on your cymbals, their dynamic starts to change. The surface of a cymbal starts losing some of its properties due to the added weight as well as a concentration of dirt. You will often notice that a dirty cymbal doesn’t have that snap, or it just becomes dull over time. The best solution for this problem is to get a good cymbal cleaner.
One of our team members has a Gretsch set with a full Zildjian cymbal setup that was in need of some serious cleaning, so we set out to find the best cymbal cleaner out there to help return these bad boys to a fresh state. You’d think that a cymbal cleaning chemical is pretty much straight forward, but it’s not. These products are often custom tailored for specific applications, so you definitely have to know what to look for.
During our research, our top criteria was based around finding a solution that is aggressive enough to dissolve any dirt and grime, but not too aggressive where it would damage the cymbal itself. After taking a look at 12 popular cleaners and polishes, below are the three products that stood out due to their performance and reputation. We’ve also included information on how to clean cymbals using each product to help you with your own set.
The best cymbal cleaner overall
Paiste is without a doubt one of the best cymbal manufacturers in the world. Their products are used by professionals and enthusiasts alike, which has allowed them to build quite a considerable reputation. As such, Paiste also offers a variety of products designed specifically for care and maintenance of their cymbals, and their Premium Cymbal Cleaner is an all-around rockstar when it comes to cymbal safekeeping.
Their cymbal cleaner comes in a very undramatic looking packaging. It’s an orange bottle with a black printed label on one side, and that is pretty much it. You’d wonder why we even mention the bottle of a cymbal cleaner, seeing how insignificant it is in the grand scheme of things. However, you’d be surprised how many cleaning products out there use their packaging to attract customers. Paiste’s take on this is worth mentioning because right off the bat, they are confident that the quality of the cleaner itself is the only marketing they could ever need. And for what it’s worth, they are right.
Before we go any further, we have to say that Paiste Cymbal Cleaner is one of the more aggressive ones on the market. This big ole bottle they offer is more than enough to last you for years. If you are the type of person who doesn’t read instructions on the label, this is one case where you really, really should. Otherwise, you are risking damage to your cymbals and that is something we definitely don’t want to happen.
Alright, let’s go over the application and effectiveness of Paiste’s Cymbal Cleaner. Unlike a lot of cleaning products on the market, this one is not an already diluted cleaner. Paiste states that you have to use a certain amount of water in order to break down the concentration of the chemical and get it going. As a matter of fact, they recommend that you use only a few drops per cymbal. Considering this is a 12-ounce bottle, this cleaner is sure to last for a seriously long time.
Here’s how you should use this cleaner per Paiste instructions. The first thing to do is take the cymbal off and place it on a soft surface. A towel or an old blanket will do just fine. Get the cymbal wet by either wiping it down with a wet cloth or rinsing it under lukewarm water. Next, take a piece of cotton cloth and get it wet. Drip only a few drops of the cleaner onto the cloth. Here’s where the first words of warning come. Never apply the cleaner directly onto the cymbal. Doing so risks damage to the finish. Once you have applied the cleaner onto the cloth, make sure that it gets mixed with the water you’ve applied earlier. Next, start wiping, not rubbing, the surface of the cymbal. As soon as you see the dirt coming off, stop the cleaning process and rinse the cymbal under warm water. Wipe it down with a clean, dry cloth and you’re good to go.
Overall, Paiste Cymbal Cleaner is a very potent and effective cleaning solution. Sure, it’s a bit on the pricey end of the scale, but you get 12 ounces of concentrated cleaner which will last you for years. The only word of advice left to give is that you should be careful when using this thing around logos. Unless you’re cautious, it will take them right off. When it comes to pure effectiveness and bang for the buck value, Paiste has the best cymbal cleaner on the market.
A quick and effective runner up
While cymbal manufacturers have a very extensive line of cleaning products, it’s only normal to have other companies producing the aftermarket alternative. These products are sometimes a gamble, but there are several which have proven their worth numerous times by now. One such cleaner is the Groove Juice Cymbal Cleaner. The idea behind this product is to take away much of the manual labor that goes into cleaning cymbals. We’ve mentioned that you shouldn’t rub in the Paiste cleaner just now, but that doesn’t mean it takes no elbow grease to get the job done. Groove Juice went on to eliminate that portion of the process entirely. How successful were they? Let’s take a look.
This cleaner comes in an 8 ounce, plain looking spray bottle. Compared to the Paiste product we have just reviewed, this cleaner comes in form of a liquid. Now, this is partially why we’ve put it in second place. The amount of cleaner you get is less than what Paiste offers to begin with, not to mention the fact that Paiste’s cleaner is a concentrate. This means the spray will be used up faster, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means you’ll have to buy more over time.
One great thing about this cleaner is just how easy it is to use. It’s perfect for those performing drummers who like to touch up on their gear during a pause in their gig. All you really have to do is apply the cleaner onto the cymbal and leave it there for a while. There’s no prep work necessary, you don’t have to get the cymbals wet. After a few minutes have passed, just rinse the cymbals or wipe them down with a wet piece of cloth.
Groove Juice states that this cleaner doesn’t affect most logos, however some users have reported instances where manufacturer markings were blurred or removed after a cleaning session. With that said, if you really care about the logos, just make sure that you avoid applying this product directly on those areas. Another thing you need to know about is that Groove Juice doesn’t work well with coated cymbals. In fact, it might do more damage than good. If you are not sure whether or not your cymbals are coated, apply the cleaner on a small, hidden spot and see what happens. If the surface starts changing color, abort the whole process.
In terms of effectiveness of Groove Juice, it’s definitely a capable solution. When you apply it to grooved cymbals, you can actually see the gunk dissolving as the solution starts working its magic. If you have a particularly dirty set of cymbals, you might have to apply the cleaner several times to get the wanted results. In some cases the cymbals will be too far gone, so keep that in mind as well.
Groove Juice doesn’t recommend cleaning your other hardware with this stuff, although it can be done if you dilute the cleaner with water. The ratio for this should be 3:1 in favor of water, while it’s definitely not recommended that you go any more concentrated than that.
At the end of the day, Groove Juice Cymbal Cleaner is definitely a great alternative for an aftermarket product. There will be those who will truly appreciate the fact that this stuff makes cleaning cymbals very easy and fast. However, those who want a good supply of a cymbal cleaner might be a bit disappointed.
An all-in-one cleaner and polish
Last but not least, we have an all-in-one cleaning solution that is great for those who don’t want to spend too much time maintaining their cymbals. Music Nomad is one of those brands that offers a whole variety of cleaning and care products for all kinds of instruments. Even though it’s definitely not the best cleaning product out there, they’ve had a lot of success with their MN111 Formula.
Alright, so what makes this thing so special? First off, it’s a cream-type solution that cleans and polishes your cymbals all in one go. Many people like it since it is not acid based, which makes it pretty safe for coated cymbals. One of the essential factors to making this thing work is elbow grease. There will be a whole lot of rubbing, buffing and wiping before you get the results you want. Naturally, this depends on how dirty your gear is.
In terms of amount, a single bottle of Music Nomad MN111 contains some 8 ounces of cleaning solution. That would be pretty good if you weren’t to use a considerable amount of this stuff for every cymbal. We’re talking squeezing a nice line of the cream, thus forming a ring that goes all around the bell of the cymbal. If you have more than say, five cymbals, chances are you will run out of this cleaner pretty quick.
One thing that every drummer can appreciate is a cleaner that doesn’t remove the logo off the cymbal. Since it is nonacidic by nature, you can apply MN111 as many times as you want and your logos will stay intact. It is a pretty safe cleaner to use overall. So how does it do all of these things? Music Nomad has added a fine polishing powder to a cleaning chemical so that the process of rubbing the cleaner in also buffs out any imperfections. Once you start rubbing your cymbals, you will notice how they first gain a slight hue, only to become well polished as you continue buffing this stuff in.
Once you are completely done, your cymbals should look pretty nice. Aside from cleaning and polishing, Music Nomad MN111 also leaves a protective layer that will keep corrosion away from your gear for a certain amount of time. It is generally recommended that you repeat this process periodically, as to maintain the protective layer and keep the cymbals corrosion free.
Compared to the other two cleaners we’ve mentioned, Music Nomad’s MN111 comes across as a jack of all trades. If you’re the type of person who likes to do a thorough job, you might want to stick to a standalone cleaner product and then apply a standalone polish afterward. Even though MN111 does a great job, chances are that using application specific products will give you better results. Finally, the bang for the buck ratio doesn’t really go in MN111’s favor.
Other cymbal cleaners worth mentioning
Although we looked at a dozen different cleaners, the three products above were the ones we considered to be the best cymbal cleaners. With that said, the other formulas we looked at weren’t completely terrible, they just didn’t make the cut for one reason or another. In case you’re shopping around, here are a couple things to keep in mind about the other cymbal cleaner on the market.
Lizard Spit’s Cymbal Polish has been one of the most popular alternatives to the products we’ve listed above. The main reason why it didn’t make the cut is due to its price to quantity ratio. It’s a great cleaner, there’s no doubt about that, but you don’t get a lot of it and it takes a lot to properly clean a single cymbal.
What we have with Zim’s Drum Cleaner is a general purpose cleaner solution that works great with both cymbals and hardware. It’s one of the few products out there that get the job done no matter what. The only real flaw it has is the fact that you have to use a considerable amount to clean a single cymbal. If it’s really dirty and grimy, you might easily go through the whole bottle before you get the wanted results.
Zildjian’s Brilliant Finish Cymbal Cleaner/Polisher is an awesome product which is designed for brilliant finish cymbals only. Using it on anything else will get you sub par results. With that said, we wanted to show this product to you as a considerable number of drummers have these type of cymbals (like our team member, for example – except Paiste’s cleaner ended up doing a slightly better job, ironically).
Things to consider before buying
Cleaning cymbals can be a tricky, time-consuming process. If you’re not careful, you could seriously damage the material and ruin your cymbals altogether. To ensure you get the best cymbal cleaner for your specific setup, and to ensure you clean them properly, here are a couple of things to think about before you buy.
What type of cymbals do you have?
Figuring out what type of cymbals you have will pretty much determine the type cymbal cleaner that will work for you. For example, if you own a set of coated cymbals, using some of the cleaners we have listed above will lead to irreparable damage. It wouldn’t be that bad if this damage was limited to the aesthetics of the cymbal, but it may very well change the way your cymbals sound (which isn’t just bad for day-to-day play, but this can be especially bad if you’re doing any sort of professional recording using microphones). This one thing you need be careful with the most.
For brand-specific cleaning advice, check out this helpful guide from Memphis Drum Shop. They have careful instructions for Zildjian, Paiste, Sabian, Instanbul Agop, and Bosphorus.
Make sure you know which type of product you’re buying
You’d be surprised how many drummers expect a cleaner to turn their cymbals into a mirror. Keep in mind that some cleaners are polishers too, but not all of them. Chances are that you will have to get these two products separately if you want your cymbals to look really nice.
Many drummers also think that a cymbal cleaner will work on their hardware too. After all, that’s what it’s designed for, right? Drums! This is a mistake you definitely don’t want to make. Cymbal cleaners are very aggressive and acidic for the most part. Applying them to your hardware is a great way to ruin said hardware if you don’t know what you are doing. Some cleaners will tell you straight away not use them at all for this purpose. However, some will still be usable for hardware cleaning given that you dilute them significantly. Either way, there are much better ways to clean your hardware.
Always follow the instructions
Since some cymbal cleaners are more aggressive and acidic than others, it is absolutely imperative that you read the instructions and stick to them. Sure, some cleaners leave a bit of room for experimentation, but you definitely want to know just how far you can go outside of the set boundaries. Applying a very acidic cleaner and rubbing it in can damage the surface of the cymbals. On the other hand, if you leave a certain type of cleaner to sit on a cymbal over a longer period time, you could also cause damage. To avoid all of those risks, all you have to do is follow the instructions.
Other things you’ll need for proper cymbal cleaning
While a cleaner and a piece of cloth will be enough most of the time, there are some additional products which can really help you get the job done right and do it quickly. Using these regularly can also help keep your cymbals in constant fresh condition so that you don’t suffer any serious grime buildup over time.
In the how-to video above by Casey Cooper, he recommends using any old towel to clean your cymbals. While this is acceptable, using a set of purpose made microfiber towels will make cymbal cleaning and polishing a much faster process. These towels don’t leave lint behind and are designed in such a way that allows you to buff out that shine pretty efficiently. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on microfiber towels, you can get one or two and use them strictly for the polishing phase of the whole process. That way they won’t get worn out as much. Do you absolutely need them? Not really, but they are a great thing to have.
We have already said that some cleaners act as polishers as well. However, most don’t. Now that you have them clean, applying a polish would go a long way toward protecting your cymbals and giving them a much longer lifespan. Just like it is the case with cymbal cleaners, make sure that your polisher is designed for your type of cymbals.
Wrapping it up
Learning how to clean cymbals might take more time than you would have thought, but it is so much worth it. One of the biggest cause of cymbal decay is the lack of proper care. Keeping your cymbals clean, polished and protected will not only lengthen their lifespan, but it will also maintain their tonal quality. Speaking of which, if you feel like your cymbals sound dull, chances are all they need is a good cleaning. The products listed above are what we consider to be the best cymbal cleaners on the market. If you are still not sure whether or not some of these work for your brass, check with the manufacturer for more info.