How You Can Clean Your Sticky Pads

Sticky pads are a common problem among flutists. Sticky pads are caused by dirt and oils which settle onto the pad and the tonehole surfaces. A number of steps can be taken to prevent and alleviate this problem.

The best way to avoid sticky pads is by prevention. This is done by minimizing the introduction of dirt and oils to your flute. Some flutists have a natural body chemistry which results in very high concentrations of acid in the saliva and skin oils. As a precaution, wash your hands thoroughly before playing to reduce the natural oils on the hands and fingers. In addition, brushing your teeth before playing will prolong and protect the life of your pads.

Cleaning of your flute after each playing session is another way to extend the life of your pads and to help prevent sticky pads. Swab the interior of the flute after playing, using a wooden cleaning rod (to prevent scratching the inside of the flute tube) and a 100% cotton cloth. Be sure to avoid “pad saver” types of swabs; while they can clean the tubing well, they are designed to be stored inside the flute tube. This holds moisture against the pads and does not allow them to dry properly. For the exterior of your flute, use a clean, dry cloth to gently wipe fingerprints and oils from the surface of the flute. A microfiber cloth is ideal, while cloths treated with chemicals can actually cause problems with time. Store cleaning cloths outside your flute case and launder your cloths regularly.

Despite such precautions, flutists may still encounter sticky pads. Cleaning your own pads can provide good results, but it must be done carefully to avoid harming your pads.

To effectively clean sticky pads, cigarette paper may be used. Avoid using gummed paper. If only gummed paper is available, cut off the gummed section before use.

  • Place a clean sheet of paper between the pad and tonehole.
  • Gently press the key cup down against the tonehole.
  • Carefully pull on the paper once or twice in extremely small increments to transfer the dirt or oil to the paper from the pad and tonehole.
  • Do not pull the paper completely out—this will cause wear and tear on the pad skin.

If the stickiness persists, repeat the procedure with a fresh piece of paper while pulling in a different direction. Care must be taken to avoid overuse of this technique. With frequent use, the friction of the paper being pulled repeatedly over the pad can wear and eventually tear the pad skin. This technique should be used once a week at most, preferably once a month.

Annual routine maintenance by a professional technician is an important step in pad care. During routine maintenance, your technician will disassemble the flute and clean the pads and toneholes. The condition of the pads will also be checked. Worn or dirty pads will be replaced.

Routine professional maintenance paired with diligent care and cleaning will help to extend pad life while alleviating sticky pads. For more information on caring for your flute pads contact us to schedule maintenance with our professional repair staff.

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