As COVID-19 spreads, more emphasis than ever is being put on hygiene. Singers would be surprised how often they come into contact with germs and contaminated surfaces while performing or practising. Cleaning your instruments and promoting good hygiene in music is something every musician should be doing.
Music sets are the perfect breeding ground for germs. You might pick up a microphone or instrument without a second thought, but that surface could be contaminated. If you don’t clean your instruments properly, viruses can easily spread between singers.
In the current pandemic, there’s a global campaign for people to prevent the spread of germs. Whilst many artists are working from home, it’s still the perfect time to learn how to clean and disinfect your music instruments and equipment properly – something you should be doing even when it’s not flu season.
Can you get sick from a microphone?
People don’t usually suspect microphones as a germ carrier. But mics can harbour lots of bacteria and germs and transmit all types of flu and colds between performers – especially if you’re sharing a microphone with lots of other people during a show.
Performers can accidentally spit on microphones and sneeze or cough on them. Germs can then stay on the surface of the mic for as long as 48hours after it was last used and infect the next performer. If the microphone’s foam windscreen is wet or old, it becomes an even better breeding ground for bacteria.
In the same way you’d clean surfaces and wash your hands to prevent spreading germs, you should do the same with your music equipment and instruments.
How do you clean and disinfect your microphone?
There are two main types of microphone: dynamic and condenser. Dynamic microphones are typically sturdier and less sensitive to background noise. There are two categories of dynamic microphone: moving coil mics, and ribbon mics.
To clean a dynamic mic with a removable grill:
- Remove the grill by gently unscrewing it from the mic.
- Clean the grill with plain water, or with a mild detergent. You can make your own solution by mixing washing liquid in water.
- If there’s anything caught in the grill, use a soft bristle toothbrush to gently remove it.
- Make sure you let your grill dry completely before you reattach it to your mic, otherwise it could damage your kit.
Cleaning a dynamic mic without a removable grill
As the grill can’t be removed from some dynamic microphones, you’ll have to follow a slightly different, more careful process.
- Hold the microphone upside down, as this will prevent any liquid dripping onto the microphone cartridge during cleaning.
- Gently scrub the grill with a damp soft bristle toothbrush.
- Once you’ve finished cleaning, make sure you dry the grill with a paper towel.
How to clean a condenser microphone
Condenser microphones are a lot more delicate than dynamic microphones. If you have a condenser microphone with an unremovable grill, you should never use any water or liquid to clean it.
Moisture can damage your condenser element, so if you can’t remove the grill, use a dry soft–bristle toothbrush to clean it instead. Hold the microphone facing downwards while you do this so any particles trapped in the grill can fall out.
If you can remove the grill from your condenser microphone, it should be okay to clean it with water and a toothbrush like you would with a dynamic mic. It’s really important to make sure it’s dry before you reattach it as microphones don’t tolerate moisture well.
How to clean microphone foam cover
The foam cover on some microphones is called a windscreen, or a pop cover. You usually find them on ribbon mics or dynamic mics, and they can easily be removed and cleaned.
To clean your microphone foam windscreen, remove it from your microphone. Wash it in warm, soapy water and then rinse it with plain water afterwards. Shake as much of the water off as you can and leave it to air–dry for the night.
ShareFaith magazine suggests using mouthwash to soak your foam filters in. Mouthwash is antibacterial and sanitary so would provide an extra deep clean. If you try this technique, don’t rinse your filters with water after they’ve soaked. Just ring them out as much as you can and press them with paper towels to remove as much mouthwash as possible. Leave them to dry in a warm place for a couple of hours.
Microphone sanitiser spray
If you’re looking to give your mic a thorough disinfecting, a microphone sanitiser spray could come in handy. Microphone sanitisers are available as foams and sprays and disinfect the outer areas of your microphone without damaging the electronics inside.
One of the best–reviewed microphone sprays is the Vocal Care Microphome Sanitizing and Deodorizing Microphone Spray. The foam is fast-drying and alcohol and residue-free and kills 99.9% of germs.
Cleaning mic between acts
Disinfecting a microphone between each act might seem like a time-consuming, unnecessary precaution. But if it’s flu season or you know there’s a virus spreading around, the extra safety measures are worthwhile.
You can quickly clean a microphone while the acts switch over. Make sure the sound system is turned off before you start and hold the microphone upside down while you clean. Use a toothbrush dipped in mouthwash diluted in water to gently scrub the grill.
Disinfecting musical instruments
Music equipment can be passed around between people a lot – especially in schools or at a venue with multiple acts performing. To stop the spread of germs, singers should:
- Try to use your own equipment if possible
- Before and after a show, clean your instruments with antibacterial wipes or alcohol wipes
- Disinfect instruments with Sterisol germicide solution before another person uses them
- Clean any instrument mouthpieces using cotton swabs soaked in cleaning alcohol after every use
How to disinfect your guitar
Fender has a great step-by-step guide to cleaning and preserving the playablity of your guitar, and the below video outlines how to disinfect your guitar:
What is the best way to clean piano keys?
Even if you wash your hands before playing, your piano keys can start to get grimy after time. Oils from your skin, dirt and dust can all leave your piano looking a little worse-for-wear. Piano keys require special attention when cleaning, so make sure you know what type of keys you have first.
- Wipe your keys with a dry microfibre cloth. Make sure you wipe vertically down and not in a horizontal motion, as this can misalign your keys.
- Now wipe your keys again with a slightly damp white cloth. The cloth can’t be too wet, or it could damage pianos with ivory keys. It also has to be an uncoloured cloth or ivory keys will be stained.
If you know your keys as plastic, you can be more lenient with your cleaning process. It’s safe to use polish, white vinegar and lemon juice on pianos that don’t have ivory keys.
How do you know if your piano keys are ivory or plastic?
Most piano keys will be made from plastic these days. Using ivory keys was banned in 1989, so any pianos with ivory keys are typically much older.
If you have ivory keys, they will look more of an off-white colour that turns yellow over time.
Ivory keys are also made up of three parts, while plastic piano keys only have two. An ivory piano will have a faint line across the top of its keys, dividing the top of the key into the two sections. A plastic key won’t have this line.
How to clean drums
If you’ve performed at a gig using drums, you’ll know how easy it is for them to become grimy. Dirt, dust and sweat can all dull your kit’s shine.
You can clean the outside of your drums quickly and easily using a damp cloth. Avoid using any heavy-duty cleaners on your drum kit, as these can damage the instrument.
Don’t use a damp cloth to clean the inside of your drums, as this can seep into the wood. Just use a dry cloth for the inside areas.
Cymbals can lose their shine and become covered in fingerprints. To clean them, use a clean cloth soaked in a gentle cleaning solution, like diluted washing up liquid.
How do you maintain music instruments?
If you take care of your instruments, you’ll reduce the likelihood of germs building up. Maintaining isn’t just good for hygiene, it will also keep your instruments working for longer. Always try to:
- Keep your instrument in a case whenever you’re not using it
- Store your instrument in a cool, mild place
- Clean off any fingerprints or dust every day
- Don’t store additional things in your instrument case, or on top of it
- Use a hard-shell case rather than a gig bag or a fabric padded carrier
- If you transfer your instrument from a cold to a warm environment, leave it in its case for a while so it can adapt to the heat change (otherwise some instruments might warp.)
Cleaning your instruments and equipment is pointless if you don’t take care of your vocal hygiene, too.
Vocal hygiene is the term for ensuring good vocal health by behaving in a certain way. These are some ways to improve your vocal hygiene:
- Keep your voice hydrated
- Follow a healthy singer’s diet
- Exercise your voice every day
- Breathe through your nose, especially in cold environments
- Stop clearing your throat, as it damages your vocal cords
Improving your vocal hygiene is the first step to becoming a more hygienic singer.
Why is vocal hygiene important?
Musicians spend lots of time and effort caring for their instruments, but sometimes they forget their most important instrument is their voice.
Without your vocal cords, you wouldn’t be able to sing – so vocal hygiene is really important. Taking care of your vocal cords will keep your body in good health and also makes you less likely to contract viruses and injuries.
If you don’t have good vocal hygiene, your larynx can become dry, irritated, or inflamed. Weakening your vocal cords can impair your singing ability and result in serious damage to your voice box. Your vocal range and endurance can become permanently reduced, and you could develop conditions like laryngitis.
How to practice good personal hygiene
As a singer, following the basic hygiene rules will help keep your music equipment and set clean too. These are things you can do offstage to keep yourself fit and well:
- Take regular showers
- Wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap
- Sleep at least 8 hours every night
- Keep your nails short
- Wash your clothes after wearing them
- Sneeze into a tissue or the crook of your arm
- Cover your mouth when you cough
- Clean surfaces regularly
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you remove rust from a microphone?
If the metal grill on your microphone has gone rusty, you can use coke to remove the residue. Unscrew the grill from your mic and soak it in a glass of coke for a few minutes.
You could also try soaking the grill in oxalic acid. But if your microphone’s starting to wear, you might want to consider buying a replacement grill instead as rust is a sign your mic’s losing its durability.
How do you clean stereo equipment?
As stereo equipment is electrical apparatus, you shouldn’t use any liquids or water when cleaning it. You can use a handheld vacuum to remove any dust or dirt on the panels of your equipment, or a lint-free dry cloth or soft brush.
Can you spread germs by talking?
If you have flu or a virus, you can infect the people around you when you disperse flu droplets into the air. This can be done by sneezing, coughing, and even talking.
Germs can be spread by airborne transmission and when you’re ill, every time you open your mouth to speak or sing, you release infectious particles into the air that can then be inhaled by other people.
Are you taking extra precautions and keeping your instruments sterile? Let us know what you’re doing to keep yourself safe as a performer in the comments below.