Any harmonica owner, be it a professional player or a willing amateur, will sooner or later need to clean his or her instrument.
As with any type of mouth organ or organ placed within the mouth, cleaning soon becomes vital to maintain a rich tone and even more vital for reasons of hygiene. A dirty harmonica can carry all kinds of bacteria, including herpes, plague and HIV/AIDS.
This is why a harmonica — by Federal Law — can never be returned to the point of purchase after it has been played.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “mouth organs, both at home and abroad, are the single most threatening instrument in terms of harboring and spreading disease.”
Some biological historians (most notably Dr. Arthur Pound) believe that the Great Plague of 1665 proliferated due to the popularity of mouth organs among poor wandering minstrels, most of whom shared their harmonicas not only with fellow musicians, but also with whores, tarts and flirtatious housewives across London.
The African reed flute mouth organ, meanwhile, has been known to spread Jumbi fever, gash rash and Ebola.
Cleaning a Harmonica Without Taking it Apart
Non-smokers, the close-shaven and people who can blow without spitting will generally have the cleanest harmonicas. If you fall into one or more of those categories, you can probably clean your harmonica without taking it apart.
Do not use water to clean your harmonica, unless your harmonica is made of plastic, in which case you are probably a small child and are therefore not reading this.
For a light cleaning, wipe your harmonica with a clean cloth, sponge, rag or silk handkerchief. If you a mink glove, this will also suffice.
Place your lips approximately three inches away from the apertures of the harmonica and give a “whistling blow.” This is basically a very focused blow, much like that used when whistling. This should be enough to clear out dust and grime from the interior of your harmonica.
Deep Cleaning a Harmonica
If you smoke, have a beard, spit while blowing or play your harmonica with other orifices to impress your friends, you will need to give it a deep clean at least once every month.
For this, you will have to disassemble your instrument. Use a screwdriver to take it apart, remembering each step so as to facilitate reassembly. Harmonicas are not mechanically complex, but if you feel too stupid to take one apart yourself, you might want to consider paying someone else to do it for you.
With the harmonica in pieces, start giving every element a light scrubbing with a dry toothbrush. Be careful with the reeds; damage one of these and your harmonica will be as fucked as a one-legged firewalker.
After a light but thorough scrubbing, you can put your harmonica back together. Once reassembled, give it a blow to clear out any remaining residues and to test the overall sound.
It sounds great, right? Congratulations, you have just cleaned your harmonica!