How to Clean a Fishing Reel? [Ultimate Guide]

How to Clean a Fishing Reel
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Reels are among the most important parts of a fishing gear, and they are definitely the most complicated ones.

There are a lot of moving parts of a fishing reel, and when misused or neglected they can easily break down and ruin your fishing experience.

To prolong its lifespan, you should learn how to clean a fishing reel, and that includes taking it apart, cleaning both inside and outside parts, removing all residues, oiling it if necessary , and putting it back together. Of course, if the reel is being used in saltwater, you must always remove salt to avoid corrosion.

Besides, fishing reel prices are quite high, and you should take care of it, in order to save your investment on the long run.

This process may seem simple, however, there are a lot of details that will make it easier and produce better results.

So, if you would like to know more about how to clean a fishing reel, check out the following chapters, and practice on your reel while reading.



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What Tools and Products Do You Need to Clean a Fishing Reel?

Wiping off some small dust particles and excess moisture may be done with a piece of soft cloth, and you can do that while you are fishing.

However, a proper cleaning process requires more time, effort, and some tools too.

So, the tools required are:

• Small screwdriver x2
• Small brush like a toothbrush
• Cotton swabs
• Toothpicks
• Piece of a soft and well absorbing cloth
• Sponge

Almost everyone has these items and home. And except for that, you are going to need an oil/grease suitable for the reel, and a liquid cleaner if possible, suitable for reels.

There are actually reel cleaning sets (#ad) that contain all the necessary items, and you can carry them with you everywhere.

These are great for beginners too, because they contain everything you need. They are mostly suitable for all reel types.

Before I go into more details, I have to mention that you should never use harsh chemicals or dissolvents to clean your reel, because those can damage the materials your reel is made from. Additionally, “bathing” you reel in a lot of water may remove impurities very well, but in the long run, that cleaning method is not advisable, especially for cheaper, entry-level reels. Inner parts of those are a bit sensitive to moisture and you can actually do more harm than good.

How to Clean a Fishing Reel? [Step by Step]

Reels have to be cleaned from the outside after every use ...

Additionally, thorough cleaning that includes removing some parts of the reel should be done after a few uses, depending on how much you used it and how contaminated it was.

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to clean a fishing reel.

Step #1: Disassemble the reel

Before you take it all apart, I have to warn you that it is much harder than it looks. You shouldn’t disassemble it to the last piece. Leave that for professionals, as that service is available in some tackle shops. It would be smart to do it once a year. Those who are confident that they can do it, can find instructions in the last chapter.

When I say disassemble here, I mean remove the spool, at least for regular cleaning.

Step #2: Clean the parts

Take a damp sponge and clean every visible part. Use toothpicks/cotton swabs/soft toothbrush for parts that can’t be cleaned with a sponge. Never submerge your reel in the water, or put it under high water pressure from the tap.

If you have some reel cleaning products, you can use those on the damp sponge, but make sure you remove them afterwards.

When cleaning the spool, you can even remove the fishing line to clean under it, and to clean the line too. Spool, when removed, can be washed under a tap with running water, with a normal water pressure.

Take a soft and absorbing cloth to remove all the excess water. Then let it air dry, and make sure it is completely dry before you take the next step.

Step #3: Oil and Assemble

When all the parts are dry, you should take some lubricating protectant (avoid popular WD-40 for lubricating) and apply it onto the cloth. Then use this cloth to wipe the reel, without touching the line with it.

Then take the oil and apply a small amount on the main shaft. Apply a bit of to a line roller, knobs, bail arm springs and a handle. If you accidentally put too much, wipe it off.

Assemble the reel again, and you are ready to use it again.

Short Tips for Cleaning Specific Fishing Reel Types

Not all reels are the same, and different rules apply for them.

Here are some tips for specific reel types:

Spinning Reels

When cleaning the spinning reel from the outside, but without removing the spool, you should tighten the drag, to prevent water from entering and damaging sensitive internal components.

Before you remove the spool, don’t forget to untighten the drag. That is actually one of the main reasons why you should clean the disassembled reel with a sponge and not under a running water.

When you finish cleaning, if you previously tightened the drag, you should untighten it, and keep it like that when the reel is not in use, to remove pressure from drag washers.

Before you remove the spool, secure the line with a tape to prevent it from getting caught between the frame and the spool. If you are planning to replace the line, remove it before you take the spool out.

How to Clean a Fishing Reel - Tips for Specific Types

Spincast Reels

Spincast reels are frequently used by absolute beginners (also for saltwater fishing), and they are almost completely closed.

Daily cleaning should be done from outside, and it includes gentle sponge cleaning or s short running water rinsing and letting it air dry.

For more detailed cleaning, after a few uses, you should remove the covers and the spool and clean it, with a damp sponge.

Same as the spinning one, you should disassemble it completely once a year and clean all the parts thoroughly.

Don’t forget to oil it regularly.

Baitcaster Reels

Best baitcaster are usually used by more experienced anglers, who already have experience with detailed cleaning of spinning or spincasting reels.

To clean it from the outside, use the methods described for other reel types. When you open it to clean the inside, use the usual cleaning and greasing/oiling methods, but keep in mind that you should never oil the anti-reverse bearing with anything but a very light oil, lighter than the one used for other components. And use just a tiny amount. Some will say that oiling anti-reverse is not necessary, but it is a moving part. The only difference is that thicker oils can impair its function, but again, so can a complete dryness.

Do not disassemble the pawl gear, as this part is extremely hard to assemble. If you suspect there is a problem, take the reel to the shop. Just clean it, remove excess moisture and let it air dry. Apply oil when it is done.

How to Clean a Fishing Reel After Saltwater Use?

Knowing how to clean a fishing reel after saltwater use is very important. Salt can cause corrosion and destroy your reel in a very short time.

After every use, gently rinse it with fresh water, and let it air dry. When it comes to more detailed cleaning, you should do it as often as you can, preferably after every fishing trip.

When it comes to salt water, keep in mind that the salt can stay on the fishing line too, and you should clean it thoroughly. Remove the spool and rinse it under water. Apply all the steps mentioned in the previous chapter.

If you are on a multi-day fishing trip, on a boat or camping, make sure you have a spray bottle of fresh water to use on your reel. That is how to clean salt off fishing reel when you are not in a vicinity of running water, or have no tools. You can wipe it with a paper towel.

How to Clean Corrosion OFF Fishing Reel?

Unfortunately, even if you are taking good care of your reel, corrosion may appear after some time.

It is important to inspect you reel frequently, and as soon as you notice it, try to remove it before the problem becomes unsolvable.

So, how to clean corrosion off fishing reel?

Some fishing gear manufacturers, including well known ones like Penn, make reel cleaning products:

Penn Rod and Reel Cleaner (#ad),
Penn Reel Grease and Oils for Fishing Reels (#ad).

These are great for reel maintenance, corrosion prevention, and removal of small traces of corrosion.

Another simple method is vinegar. Some anglers remove corroded parts of the reel and leave them soaking in vinegar for a few hours (or overnight), then brush it off with a toothbrush. This method is cheaper, but I can’t say it won’t ruin some sensitive reel parts, especially on cheaper reels. Be careful!

That is how to clean corrosion off fishing reel. If you can`t do it this way, maybe its time to invest in a new reel, or replace a corroded part if possible.

Here you can find some good ideas for best fishing reels for fishing with crankbaits, reels for catfishing, reels from Shimano or even the best rod and reel combos for beginners

How to Clean Specific Fishing Reel Parts? [Bearings, Gears, etc.]

I already mentioned that reels have to be deep-cleaned about once a year, if used regularly. For that, you can either take it to a professional, or completely disassemble it at home.

Before you do so, make sure that you have a large table in front of you, to spread out all the parts. Either label them to know where they belong, so that you can assemble it later, or remove them in an order, so that you can put them back in that specific order.

Use tweezers to remove springs and clips to avoid accidentally launching them across the room and loosing them.

Also, never do it on a metal surface, to avoid rubbing metal reel parts against other metal objects.

If you managed to take it apart, it is time to clean the internal parts.

So, how to clean fishing reel bearings?

Bearings ensure smooth reel operation. To clean and oil them, use a cotton swab and a toothpick. You can either use a specialized cleaning liquid, or you can put some alcohol (medical one) onto the cotton swabs and wipe the bearings to remove dirt and old oil. If they are very dirty, you can briefly soak them in the cleaner. Never soak them together with gears and other parts. Then remove the cleaning agent with water and let it air dry.

Test to see if they are spinning properly and remove any skipped impurities. Use one small drop of oil for each bearing to oil them.

The most important thing here is not to use too much oil and to put the oiled part (not just a bearing but any part) back into the reel when oiled. Avoid putting it back to the table or any other surface because oil will take all kinds of microscopic impurities from surfaces.

And how to clean fishing reel gears?

Gears also need to be cleaned. When the reel is disassembled, you can brush the gears with the toothbrush. Pay attention to the inside part of a pinion gear. You can grease them afterwards and install them back.

One important thing to mention here is that grease goes on gears while oil goes on bearings (bearing oil can sometimes be different that oil used on other parts) and on all other moving parts.

Grease goes on gears because grease stays in place better and it is more suitable for parts that rotate a lot and are constantly under working pressure.

Clean all the other parts in a similar way. Drag washers can be just wiped with a cloth, and so can other small parts that are not too dirty.

When you disassemble your reel after a year of use if you have never done it before, you will be surprised by how dirty it actually is.

How to Clean a Fishing Reel - Corrosion After Saltwater Use


Learning how to clean a fishing reel is something that every angler should do.

Dirt, salt and water can significantly reduce its lifespan, and cause the reel to break down, usually in the most inconvenient moment.

Clean the fishing reel from the outside after every use. It takes just a few moments and it makes a huge difference.

A bit more detailed cleaning should be done after a few uses, and that includes the spool removal.

And finally, completely disassemble your reel and deep-clean it once a year, or when you notice that the reel is not performing well.

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I am Siniša Pintar (friends call me Sina), the guy behind and eBook writer. This site is base camp for fishing enthusiasts from all over the world. I love fishing and want to share all my stories, knowledge and my experience with any and all potential anglers. Read more ...

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