How to Polish and Clean Cymbals




About: After a number of years in Austin, I relocated to New England and have spiraled into a black hole of obsession with woodworking. I love woodworking - I hate sanding. IG: @resourced_woodworking

If you are a drummer, you know just how important your cymbals are. Cymbal care is underestimated in its importance to the sound and life-span of your cymbals. Not cleaning a cymbal is just asking for trouble. Color changing, rust, cracking are all results of poor cymbal care. Its like not brushing your teeth.

When there weren't any specialized products for cleaning cymbals, drummers had to settle for using brass polish. Even though we've come along way since then, people are still using brass polish for cymbal care. There are a lot of products out there for polishing and cleaning cymbals, so lets discuss.

Also check out some of my other drum instructables:
Drum Tuning
Cymbal Repair
Effects Snare Drum

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Step 1: Buff-on Cymbal and Brash Polishing

Many Cymbal companies such as Zildjian, Sabian and Paiste make and sell their own brand of cymbal polish. Although they recommend that you use this polish on their cymbals, you can use just about any kind of brass polish on your cymbals. There are some important things to consider here:

  • Abrasive Polishes
-- Depending on the specific ratio of metals that were used to create your cymbal (which is hard info to get your hands on), various brash polishes can have an abrasive reaction with your cymbal. If you're not careful it is possible to remove the black brand labels from your cymbal with just about any polish. However, choosing the wrong polish for your specific cymbal could injure the actual face of the cymbal and damage the tonal grooves (the little ridges of a lathed cymbal) which would disrupt their intended acoustic properties. Most likely, you will be fine when using brash polishes, but keep this in mind.

  • Everyone is an Expert
-- If you just google "cymbal polish" you can find that just about everyone has their own magic polish. Some people swear by Ziff's cymbal cleaner, or Brasso, or Wenol, but the basic problem is the same: you spend forever trying to buff out the polish. Just about every time I have used standard brass polish or products like the ones above I end up getting really streaky looking cymbals, like the one below. I have also heard of people using household cleaners like Windex or dishwashing detergent and water. I haven't ever tried this but I wouldn't recommending experimenting on a $200+ cymbal.

My main problem with most brass and cymbal polishes is that they only account for the brass component of the cymbal. While this is the main metal used to make cymbals, many cymbals (especially the nicer ones) have at least 15% tin and/or bronze, and in some cases it can be higher. In addition the buffing process is no joke, and if you really want your cymbals to shine, you have no choice but to wear your arm off trying to get results. In the end, it usually ends up looking like the cymbal here, which leaves much to be desired. Don't fret though, keep reading.

Step 2: Best Kept Secret

I gotta say, the first handful of times that I attempted to polish my cymbals I became really disconcerted. It is no walk in the park and more than half the time they ended up looking just as bad (in a different way) as before. About two years ago I was working in the drum shop of a Guitar Center when I discovered a new product we had. After a couple of test runs, we started using it to clean all of the cymbals in the drum shop. Made by Pro Mark, Groove Juice will end up saving you time, money and a whole lot of effort.

Basically, rather than having to go through the whole buffing process, the steps couldnt be easier. Groove Juice only requires you to spray it on the cymbal, let it sit for between 30 seconds to a minute, then wipe it off. At this point, it would be smart to go back over the cymbal with a wet cloth since the GJ is acidic. Nevertheless, you end up spending a fraction of the time dealing with this process, and your results will be awesome.

One thing to realize is that Groove Juice is a cleaner, not a polish. One of the reasons that many people have trouble polishing their cymbals is that if you have a dirty cymbal to begin with, rubbing polish all over the cymbal isnt going to remove the dirt and oil. You can still polish your cymbals after they've been cleaned, but you wont really need to. Using this cleaner will make your cymbals shine like mirrors.

One other thing to mention... you can also clean your drum hardware with Groove Juice. Same method, just spray, wait and wipe. Its as easy as it sounds, and a bottle only costs like 7 bucks. Do yourself a favor and avoid the pain of brass polish.

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    26 Discussions


    1 year ago

    Tomato sauce/ketchup takes all the gunk off. Just smear it on, leave for a few minutes and rinse off, repeat if necessary. works wonders.


    2 years ago

    Just as an FYI... the active ingredient in Groove Juice is oxalic acid. The active ingredient inBarkeeper's Friend is oxalic acid. A 12 oz. canofBarkeeper's Friend is available almost anywhere for under $2.00

    Some logo's are not affected by the Groove Juice because they add a glue to the ink. When the cymbal company fail to do that water along will take them off.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 2

    Nearly all cymbal polishes and cleaners that work at all will take the badge (logo) right off unfortunately. As far as I know, there's barely any line between 'utterly useless cleaning product' and 'powerful enough to take off EVERYTHING'. The badge is ultimately just basic ink stamped on like any rubber stamp shape. Also, the ink of the badge isn't very strong anyhow. I have a set of Zildjian hats that are unidentifiable besides the name brand because they're just so old.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 2

    Then how did your Paiste keep its logo after you cleaned it? I'm afraid to clean my 20" Avedis medium ride because I want the stamps to stay on, but I'd also like my cymbal to shine again.


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 2

    Well you just have to be careful about where and how hard you scrub your cymbal. If you're worried about preserving the badges on your cymbals, just make extra effort to clean around them.


    2 years ago

    JoelB79: You are right that normally only the entry-level cymbals are brass. However, you should inform everyone, including the author of this article. that both brass and bronze are alloys, and both consist mostly of copper. The difference is that bronze is a mixture of copper and tin, and brass is a mixture of copper and zinc. Apparently the tin in combination with the copper allows for a sound that most people prefer, as opposed to the zinc.


    3 years ago

    I have Zildjian symbols on our church drum set and this new guy for some reason.. felt the need to clean them and they went from a titanium finish to a brass/orange color.. why..

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Just get rid of the discolored symbols... And get some cymbals!


    3 years ago

    "My main problem with most brass and cymbal polishes is that they only account for the brass component of the cymbal. While this is the main metal used to make cymbals, many cymbals (especially the nicer ones) have at least 15% tin and/or bronze, and in some cases it can be higher."

    Cymbals to not contain brass, aside from absolute entry-level toys. Furthermore the statement of atleast 15% tin/bronze is false aswell. Cymbals generally vary from 8% to 25% tin. The other 92%-75% is copper with traces of other metals such as silver, phosphorus and whatever present in the copper and tin ores. Therefor it is close to a 100% bronze; not 15%.

    Not including aluminiumbronze used in Meinl Generation-X cymbals.


    3 years ago

    Clean with a half lemon, rinse and dry. Then I use non-abraisive auto polish. Perfect and lemons are cheap and you probably already have auto polish in your garage :)


    4 years ago

    I have used the cymbal cleaners that all cymbal companies sell, and have found they turn my Zildjians orange. Saw a story on Bar Keepers Friend( a multi cleaner) and used it on a splash cymbal a friend gave me. The results blew my mind. New, crisp sound, and was easy to use. Logos do come off quick when using this product, so be careful around them. Have cleaned them ten times over the past two years, and no cracks, not even in the cheap splash. It comes in a powder, and gel type, but you can control it better when using the powder form. Get cymbal wet with hot water, put some on, scrub following tone grooves. Then with new clean rag, and hot water( a temp you can stand) scrub them clean to remove cleaner. Dry, and you are done. Hope this helps.It is abrasive, so use at own risk. I have all A custom, and Paiste 2002 power ride. They look and sound great. Good luck.One more thing,I buy the cleaner at the grocery store, and it is under two bucks for one container.

    using brass polish on cymbals is an awful idea. brass polish takes off the top layer of brass to remove corrosion and make the item look new again. this is fine for solid brass objects, but cymbals have brass finish. brass polish will take it right off.

    he also over sells the importance of cleaning cymbals. a lot of darker sounding cymbals (like zildjian k's actually develop a darker and more complex sound with time and no polishing. it does not cause problems from the cymbal itself. the main thing is to keep it in an environment where it will not corrode. the tooth brushing analogy is patently false.


    5 years ago on Step 2

    Hi. I'm writing a drum book and I'm doing some research on this field of cleaning cymbals. So, as far as you know, there is no other cleaner better than Groove Juice made by Pro Mark to clean them cymbals? I read here that cymbal cleaners made specifically for them are abrassive. In that page the guy recommends Eze Shine Cymbal Cleaner D'Andrea. Any idea?
    Also, cleaning heads? What about it?
    Thank you


    6 years ago on Introduction

    How to clean Cymbals with acidic fingerprints that wont come off with water.

    I acquired a nice set of drums from my nephew. Dixon 5 drums and 5 cymbals. 2 cymbals are Sabian B8 with fingerprints all over. Some cleaned up with water but most are "etched?" in. What is the best cleaner to use without damage.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I like my cymbals dirty from the use of it.
    if you would come to my and tell you have been drumming since you were a little boy (or girl) and your cymbals look untouched I will have a hard time believing it :D

    go dirty, go metal \nn/


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Use Brasso, it works really really well, u wipe it on, polish then wipe it off but GO around the logo, just in case


    8 years ago on Introduction

    cleaning cymbals with normal polishes and lime juice works a lot