How to Clean a Spinning Reel – Maintenance Guide & Tips

You should clean your fishing gear. If you do, it will last longer. Often, a simple, superficial clean can radically increase the working life of your fishing gear.

This is particularly true of spinning reels. I have old Mitchell spin reels from the 60’s still in perfect working order. 

They’re well used and a little worn, but they work perfectly. Why? They were cleaned regularly. (My grandfather cleaned them).

For me, there are 3 types of spinning reel cleaning. 

Firstly, there’s the simple hose down.

Secondly, there’s the comprehensive external clean with cleaning products, which includes removing the line and spool.

The third type of clean is a full external and internal deep clean, which requires removing the side plate and many of the moving parts, such as gears and bearings.

Today we’re going to focus on the first two types of cleaning. In my opinion, these cleans are the key to dramatically extending the working life of your spinning reel.

How Do You Clean a Spinning Reel? Basic Maintenance Tips 

Here are some maintenance tips and tricks to clean a spinning reel effectively. Cleaning up your tackle can be tedious at first, but once you become accustomed to it, it becomes simple.

Spinning Reel Clean Tip 1. The Superficial Wash Down

You should perform this type of spinning reel clean after every session on the water, irrespective of whether you’ve fished the saltwater or the fresh stuff.

It should be noted that this is an absolute must for the saltwater angler. 

Even the most expensive spinning reel, with high-tech anti-corrosion treatments, paints, and alloys, will succumb to the effects of corrosion.

Over time, continuous exposure to saltwater will degrade just about everything. And it will slowly, or in many cases rapidly, eat your favorite spin reel.

I believe the superficial washdown to be the most critical type of clean. 

Firstly, it’s fast and easy. It’s also not something we need to set aside time for, so it’s easy to get done.

Secondly, it removes a tremendous amount of salt and reel killing filth, so it mitigates accumulation.

Here are the steps to wash down and clean a spinning reel.

  1. Remove your reel from the rod. While it can be done with the reel connected, you’ll not be able to effectively remove the build-up where the reel feet connect to the reel seat. Remove the reel, and hose down your rod as well, paying particular attention to the reel seat.
  2. Wind on the drag, so it is tight. With a loose drag, you invite water into the drag washers, which is best avoided.
  3. Spray the reel with light pressure with a hose. NEVER use high pressure, and NEVER submerge your reel.  NOTE: Many anglers will say you should never put your reel under a hose and that you should only ever use a damp cloth. There is some truth to this, but if you’re anything like me, a detailed cloth treatment after every session is a bridge too far and unlikely to occur. A quick spray removes the worst of it, and if you’re careful, you won’t force grime into the cracks and joins. If you’re worried about this, focus your Reel Guard spray onto the joins to break down minerals that may have washed into places that are difficult to access. Make sure all surfaces are washed and hold the reel with the spool facing up. As best possible, avoid shooting water underneath the spool. This can be difficult with heavily ported spools, and water ingress is inevitable.
  4. Shake off excess water and allow it to drain and dry before storing. Once the reel looks dry, I give a few cracks on the handle to blast away any remaining water. 

And with that, the job is done. Fast, effective, and very reliable. Do this every session, and you can be sure your reel will enjoy a long working life. 

For added protection, spray on a product such as Reel Guard Cleaning Spray. 

Ardent Reel Guard Cleaning Spray - 16-Ounce Spray Bottle

This and other sprays like it are effective in breaking down the minerals that encourage corrosion.

Here’s a nice video of what a quick clean can look like:

Spin Reel Clean Tip 2. The Comprehensive External Clean

The frequency of this type of clean will be determined by how often you fish, where you fish, and the conditions you fish. 

If you fish the surf twice a week, as I try my hardest to do, this type of clean should be completed a minimum of once a month.

Regardless of where and how often you fish, this process should be completed at least every six months. 

Some anglers will let years pass. Others will do this type of clean following every session.

It’s by no means difficult, but it will take some time, as you will be focusing on more detail, ensuring folds, joins, and hard-to-reach places are addressed. 

You will remove the spool and the fishing line.

Here are the steps for a comprehensive external spinning reel clean:

  1. Complete steps one through to 3 as outlined in the superficial clean above. You will need a cloth, water and some cue tips, and a bottle of your favorite Reel Guard (or similar). NOTE: Some people use soapy water. I prefer not to, as it can assist corrosion if not removed. Some people also use WD40. Yep, it’s great, but it also removes grease. Any grease that has been removed MUST be replaced.
  2. Now, you need to remove your line from the spool. My buddies question the need for this, but I have two reasons. Firstly, whenever I remove the line, I find salt, sand, and whatever has made its way to the arbor. This should be cleaned. Secondly, When I return the line to the spool, the line that was closer to the arbor is now on top, so I will be fishing with a line that is in far better condition.
  3. Remove the spool from the rotor. Using a wet cloth and a wet cue tip, clean the bends, nuts, and creases, both on the underside of the spool and on the shaft of the reel. Give both parts a spray with Reel Guard. Or equivalent.
  4. Remove the handle from the reel. Again, use a cue tip to get into joins and rebates, to remove as much grime as you can. Then wipe the whole reel down with a damp cloth.
  5. Remove the bail arm and knob from the handle. Be sure you don’t lose screws. Go over with a cue tip and reel guard lubricant and re-assemble. Dry the reel with a dry cloth and reconnect the handle and spool. Dry off with a cloth. Give the handle a few cranks to dispense any excess water, then spray the entire reel with Reel Guard. Pat dry places where there is an excess of fluids. Allow to fully dry. This process delivers an excellent clean. With this process as part of your regular gear maintenance routine, you’ll add countless years to the life of a spin reel of any quality.

Check this video below for a step-by-step for removing key parts.

NOTE: Be aware that you should take great care with your selection of cleaners, including soaps. Fish can smell chemicals, and they don’t like them. Make sure whatever you are using does not impact your bait presentation.

Spin Reel Clean Tip 3 – A Full Reel Deep Clean

For the mechanically minded, a full deep clean requires removing all the parts, cleaning, and re-assembling, and re-greasing. 

This is a big job and not one that I do myself.

While I’m reasonably mechanically minded, I’d prefer a pro to take my reels to bits, as I know they’ll go back together as they should.

Nonetheless, this sort of cleaning and maintenance is carried out at home by the average angler, and when done correctly, is very effective.

Think you’re up for it? Here’s a video that will provide a little insight as to what to expect.

How to Clean a Spin Reel Wrap up

Regret. I regret all the times that I did not clean my reels. I have had many reels go to reel heaven simply because I didn’t clean them.

I’m not a great deal better than I was. I should be far more diligent and spend the little time it takes for a superficial washdown following each session. 

I often pray for rain when heading home, as I know the rods and reels sitting on the rack will get a decent washdown.

If I did the superficial washdown religiously, I’d not have such a huge job when it came to my six monthly comprehensive cleans. 

It’s a tough job cleaning the entire arsenal when they’re all full of salt, sand, and gunk. Good reels are an investment. 

If you do the simple cleans after every session, you will extend the working life of your reels. It takes hardly any time and practiced diligently, you’ll be handing your spinning reels onto your kids, instead of throwing them away.

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