oboe cleaning, a step-by-step guide


Cleaning the oboe is loving the oboe. Oboes need love too.

Cleaning the inside of oboe after every playing session is a “must do” task whether you are a beginner  or a professional oboist. Oboe cleaning is not difficult, but it is very important therefore it should always be done.  We oboists  blow air into the oboe that  contains a lot of moisture. Our hot air can collect inside of the oboe as condensation. Insert your favorite ” oboists are full of hot air” joke here =>”………..”

We must remove the moisture  in some way or it can lead to problems. Moisture that is not removed has the potential to:

  • collect in the tone holes, which can make gargling noises
  • corrode cork pads
  • seep into the grain of the wood which increases the oboe’s chances of cracking

You may also notice these qualities in oboes that are not  cleaned regularly:

  • They may have a filmy interior
  • They may smell bad… yum
  • the playing quality will decrease… The oboe is hard enough already
  • sometimes even intonation can change due to sentiment being left inside…. yep pretty gross

I have seen my fair share of school instruments that look as though they are acting as a petri dish substitute. Unless you are performing some sort of science experiment on the oboe, please clean it out after each use. I care about your health and your oboe’s wellbeing, so  clean your oboe…love your oboe

What tools can I use to clean the oboe?

Warning, Glass cleaner should never be used to clean any part of any oboe. The picture I used for this post is a joke.

There are generally three accepted tools used for removing moisture from the bore of an oboe, they are ;

  1.   swabs.

    A swab is a piece of fabric, usually silk, cotton or microfabric  attached to a string. The swab is pulled through the oboe by the string and collects the condensation as it goes. Swabs will come in different sizes dependant on brand, though the size is not usually advertised.

    The swab will either have a metal or plastic pin on one end that is dropped into the larger side of whatever joint is being cleaned. It may also have a pull cord, sometimes called a rip-cord. This will allow the oboist to pull the oboe swab back out if it becomes too tight or stuck.

    I suggest  a  silk swab with a metal endpin and rip-cord. I find cotton swabs can become stuck easier than silk swabs. The metal end allows the swab to be dropped into the oboe with less fuss.

    I have not tried a microfiber swab so I cannot speak of how well they work.

  2.  feathers.

    A sterilized turkey or  quail  feather can be used to clean the oboe.The feather is inserted into the oboe and then swished around to collect moisture.

  3.  oboe cleaning mops.

    an oboe cleaning mop is a rod surrounded by fabric which is inserting into the larger end of the oboe. They usually come in two different sizes or are double sided. One size is for the top joint, one size is for the bottom joint and bell. I feel the  mop is the least common method for cleaning the oboe, at least in my neck of the woods.

Pros and Cons of the swab, feather, and oboe cleaning mop.

I don’t want to confuse any new oboe students, so if you are not familiar with the information I have provided to this point you may like to skip to the next section.

Each of these tools has its advantages and disadvantages. There are oboists that swear by one tool and condemn the others. I suggest Students talk with their teachers about what tool they would like them to be using for oboe cleaning. Below are some of the “positives” and “negatives” that a teacher or another oboist may express.


Positive qualities of oboe swabs
Swabs can be used in the middle of concerts without much time being needed. Simply pull the swab through the oboe to where the rip cord can still be grasped, then pull it back. They are easily found at local music shops. I personally feel they are more absorbent than feathers.
Negative qualities of oboe swabs
Swabs can become stuck in the oboe. The cords can also become tangled on keys, not usually a huge issue, but it can happen.


Positive qualities of feathers
 I have heard that  Paul Laubin suggests only using  feathers to clean oboes. The reason he gives is that the swab or oboe cleaning mop can wear away at the bore of the instrument over time. This will change the playing characteristics of the instrument. I have also been told that if you do use a swab he suggests only pulling it in one direction, to again preserve the bore of the instrument. He is a legendary oboe maker so his perspective is valuable for professional oboists playing on wooden instruments. While visiting his shop perhaps leave your swab at home.  
negative qualities of cleaning the oboe with feathers
Feathers can take a little longer to clean with, and the oboe must be disassembled to use them. I have heard the argument that feathers can push water into the tone holes as well and that the feather only moves the  moisture around within the oboe. I would make the case that the feather comes out wet and therefore is removing at least some moisture.

Oboe cleaning mops

Positive qualities of oboe cleaning mops
The mops quickly and easily remove moisture. I would say they are the most absorbent of the three options. 
Negative qualities of oboe cleaning mops
I personally feel that if any device has the potential to change the bore of the instrument it would be the oboe cleaning mop. They become pretty tight within the oboe and  never seem to get all the way to the end of the bore. I would avoid the oboe cleaning mops with any exposed metal because metal is harder than wood or plastic so it can scratch the inside of the oboe.

Any  professionals reading this will likely have their own ideas, so  feel free to leave your thoughts and arguments in the comments.  I am always interested to discover what other oboists  think.

What should I use for oboe cleaning?

For students, I suggest using a silk swab with a rip cord. Like this: silk oboe swab They are easy to obtain and will store the easiest within the oboe case. Student instruments are usually made of plastic, therefore they are slightly more durable than wooden oboes.  I do not feel the same precautions need to be taken to protect the bore, in fact,  I feel a little friction along the inside of the  bore can be a good thing because  it can help to remove built up gunk.

How do I clean the oboe with a swab? a step-by-step guide for beginners

Top Joint

  1. Take the oboe apart and put it into the open case
  2. take your oboe swab out and unravel it.
  3. Examine the swab for knots. Remove knots if there are any. 
  4. Take the top joint of the oboe in your weak hand.
  5. Insert the metal end of the swab into the larger opening of the top joint
  6. gently shake the swab until the metal part of the swab comes out of the end of the oboe
  7. Gently pull the swab until it starts to become tight in the oboe
  8.  use the ripcord to pull the oboe swab back out.
  9. repeat steps 7 and 8 a few times, then remove the swab by pulling it through the large end.
  10. look into the oboe. Has the moisture been removed? If “yes” continue to the next step, if “no” return to step 6
  11. Return the top joint to the case

Middle Joint

  1. Take the middle joint from the case with your weak hand
  2. Insert the swab into the larger end of the middle joint and pull it all the way through
  3. repeat step 2-3 times.
  4. look into the oboe. Is there any  moisture? if “no” move to step 5. if “yes repeat step 2 and 3
  5. return the middle joint to the oboe case.


  1.  Take the oboe bell from the case with your weak hand
  2. Take the cloth part of the swab and gently wipe any moisture from both ends of the bell
  3. return the oboe bell to its case


The most important  precautions to be considered while using a swab for cleaning the oboe

  1.  Make sure there are not knots anywhere in the swab. The know can easily get stuck  int the bore, the tighter it is pulled the tighter the knot will get, and the more it will resist being removed.
  2. do not pull the swab all the way through the top joint, it may get stuck. This is even more important if the swab does not have a ripcord.
  3. When a swab becomes old or  has any holes throw it away and get a new one because you do now want a piece of swab getting stuck inside your oboe
  4. avoid getting the string caught on keys.  The keys may bend, but also the swab may pull the oboe off a table or chair if it is tugged on while caught.
Spoiler title
When I was in 6th grade I tried to pull a cotton swab all the way through my oboe. The swab got stuck… I could not get it out. I brought the oboe to my father and watched him try to pound this thing out with a coat hanger for a half hour. This was traumatizing when it happened, and it is traumatizing now to think of my father jamming a coat hanger down my oboe. I learned three lessons from this experience: 1) Make sure your oboe swab never has any knots. 2) never keep trying to pull the swab through the oboe if it is very tight. 3) finally, never allow your father to solve your oboe related problems if he is not himself an oboist or repair person…..let me be specific…INSTRUMENT REPAIR PERSON

I hope this information is helpful to all the aspiring oboe students out there. Please feel free to leave your questions related to this topic  in the comment section.  Happy oboe-ing



oboe cleaning, a step-by-step guide
Article Name
oboe cleaning, a step-by-step guide
Moisture must be removed from the bore of the oboe after every playing session. Students will learn what tools may be used to clean an oboe, the pros and cons of each tool, and how to clean an oboe with a silk swab.
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6 Comments Add yours

  1. ANN HODGE says:

    Very thorough article, Aaron. I’d like to add that most (if not all) silk swabs are made to pull through a fully assembled instrument. That’s one of the things that makes them faster to use in a concert situation. While it is super important that you make sure there is no knot in the cord or swab, as you made clear, that being the case, it is perfectly safe to pull it all the way through. One thing you failed to mention about silk is that besides being very absorbent, it is also lint free (no lint to get into tone holes or keys), and it is compressible which is why you can pull it all the way through the top joint. Hodge Products makes two lengths of silk oboe swabs. The short version works as described in this article and goes all the way through. The long version has the added benefit of being the full length of the instrument so it can be pulled back and forth or swirled around to get more moisture that may be in the lower joint or bell. Some people prefer this method.

    1. A.Lakota says:

      Thanks for your input Ann. Yes lint free! Another benefit.
      I actually do pull some silk swabs all the way through my oboes. They are great in concerts for that reason.
      I went back and forth a few times while writing this article as to whether I was going to advise for,or against,pulling the silk swab all the way through the oboe.
      I decided not to advise new oboe students to pull even silk swabs all the way through for just a few reasons:
      1)not all silk swabs are the same size. I noticed a recent trend in oversized silk swabs that get very very tight in the oboe. To avoid confusion and another book’s worth of information I decided to just stay away from it. I have no problems with the larger sized swabs, so long as they are not pulled all the way through.
      2) I wanted to stress that oboe swabs can get stuck fairly easily. I kept having a visual within my mind of a student quickly running a swab all the way through their oboe and in their haste putting a knot in the fabric and lodging said knot in the top joint. I could hear said student say to their parent “the person on the internet told me to pull it all the way through.”
      I think as a student becomes more familiar with the oboe swab and the tensions at work while cleaning they will become more capable of making their own educated decision whether they should or should not be pulling the swab all the way through the oboe.
      3) personally, I do not advise pulling any swabs without a rip cord all the way through the oboe.
      I thought there was the potential to be confusion as to what a safety cord/ ripcord is, especially if the new student’s swab does not have one.
      I suppose I air on the side of caution for this topic because I have seen swabs get stuck in the oboes of advanced players with a lot of experience.


  2. isaiah m says:

    how do you clean your actual swab. I got strep throat and i cleaned my oboe with the swab, not knowing i was sick. I don’t want to get strep throat again if I clean my oboe with the same swab so is there any way to disinfect the swab? thank you.

    1. A.Lakota says:

      You can clean a silk swab by hand with a small amount of detergent mixed with water. As far as disinfecting it I came across a couple different articles saying vinegar will work to disinfect it. I came across this article about cleaning silk which may help if you want a step by step guide. http://m.wikihow.com/Clean-Silk. If I was in your situation I would probably try to bath it in Hydrogen peroxide, then rinse it in cold water, if it ruined the silk so be it.
      You may just want to invest in a new swab . The old swab would still be fine to use in a couple months once you are sure the streptococcus is all good and gone. I just read an article that says it can stay alive for up to a month outside of a host body ugh…

    2. Ann Hodge says:

      From the makers of Hodge Silk Swabs, there is no problem washing a silk swab in hot water in the washing machine. The silk will not have the sheen it had when it was new but it will still be as absorbent as ever, which is all that matters with a swab. It is best to put it in a mesh bag so the cord doesn’t get wrapped around everything. The hot water and soap should take care of any germs.

  3. Roman says:

    Can you advise how I would remove caked on perished foam from the oboe case that has transferred onto the instrument. Purchased an oboe second hand that is covered with this perished foam. Oboe is not made of wood. Thank you

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