How To Clean A Fishing Reel


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​How To Clean A Fishing Reel


How many times have you heard that “Prevention is better than cure”? Maybe enough times by now so as to make the start of this article seem cliched. So, how to clean a fishing reel?

The best way to clean a fishing reel is not to focus on the cleaning itself but develop a disciplined cleaning/maintenance schedule so that when you actually sit down to clean a reel, it doesn’t escalate into a headache.​

Also, this would make the reel deliver its best performance because the internal mechanism would resemble that of a new reel and result in lesser maintenance efforts.

​Before We Begin

​Let us ask you how many times have you regretted of not taking care of an object, a person or a situation in your life and regretted later on. Do these words “Maybe I should’ve put in some effort in maintaining that thing rather than doing damage control now” sound familiar? How many times have you heard “A stitch in time, saves nine”?


​​So do you want to be someone who cares enough about their fishing gear to service it from time to time or are you someone who will regret later on that how their money went down the drain? ​Since you seem to be reading this, it is safe to assume that you are from the former lot of anglers and we want you to pat yourself on the back. Go on, do it!

Sensible anglers (irrespective of whether they are novice or pro) always make sure that their fishing equipment is in its top working condition.​ ​In this article, we would not only look at the basic steps of cleaning fishing reels but also how to clean three popular types of fishing reels.

We have kept the cleaning process very simple that even beginners will be able to follow. In case you require an annual deep cleaning of your reel, we recommend you use a professional service.​

​Common Outer Cleaning Steps For All Reels


​These are the steps we expect you to take at least once a month to ensure that your reels stay clean, corrosion-less and in a good working condition for a long time.

Before you make a face at the absurdity of the suggestion of having to clean your reel every month, try to understand that these steps will only be about cleaning your reel from the outside and will hardly take 5 minutes.

​A lot of people might tell you to go for degreasing solvents or spraying it down and out with a water hose before wiping and air drying your reel. As far as we are concerned, we have a strict belief that not much needs to be done when it comes to outside cleaning. Especially when it comes to spraying water on a reel.

​Why Using Water & Solvents without knowledge is a bad idea?

Now, we are not saying that de-greasing solvents are bad or you should not be spraying water on your reel at all but you need to be really careful with it, especially while spraying water. You don’t want it to come in contact with the grease of the shaft.

Because water will eventually get down to the main components of your reel and it will start to dilute the grease. Further, all the shavings from the reel body and the gears would get mixed with the grease and there would be noticeable friction. So let’s dive into what actually needs to be done.

These steps are ​written for spinning reels but are applicable to other reel types also with minor variations due to difference in design and parts.

​Things You Would Need

  • WD-40 Spray ( Water Displacement Formula 40 Spray that is available at any hardware or Walmart store)

The WD-40 would clean the reel by getting rid of the salt deposits and the grease on the outside of the reel, basically removing whatever doesn’t need to be there. And it leaves a kind of oily coating on the reel body. Thus when we spray water on the reel, it hits the oily coating, slides right off and doesn’t get into the crevices.

  • ​A hand towel (Towels are better than soft cloths or wipes due to their rugged texture)

The towel would help to spread the WD-40 coating evenly while removing any residue on the reel body at the same time.

​Step 1

Take off the spool so as to not get any WD-40 coating on your fishing line. Since it is a chemical solvent, it will leave a scent trail in the water through your line. Also, it adds to water pollution.

​Step 2

Rotate the handle so that the shaft goes down as far as it can. The point here is not to spray WD-40 anywhere except the outside.

​Step 3

Hold the reel at an angle so that the internal parts are away from you. Now spray WD-40 evenly all around the reel. Be careful that you are using short and quick sprays and not trying to force the spray down every nook and crevice that you see.

​Step 4

Wipe the reel body with the hand towel using soft strokes. This will evenly spread the WD-40 coating all over the reel body. But do make sure to not spray and spread WD-40 on the reel shaft. You can go around or near the shaft body to clean the dirt and salt but refrain from letting the towel come in contact with the shaft itself.

​Step 5

Try using the reel as you normally would, just to make sure you do not encounter any anomalies in its functioning.

After the above steps you can spray water on your reel but we don’t recommend doing so after every day of fishing. ​This little extra effort that we have mentioned in the form of five steps above would hardly take any time of yours but will help you catch problems faster​.

Also, it goes a long way to ensure that your reel would outlast any of your friends’ reel who do not incorporate this healthy habit in their fishing routine.

​How To Clean A Spinning Reel


​Things You Would Need

  • Lubricant or reel oil
  • ​De-greaser
  • ​Grease
  • ​Screwdriver
  • ​Brush or toothbrush
  • ​Toothpick
  • ​Q-tips or cotton swabs
  • ​Soft cloth
  • Tape

Step 1

Tape down the line to the reel so that there are no loose strings hanging around. They are a headache to deal with if left without tape to bind them.

Step 2

​Take a damp cloth and wipe all the visible parts on the outer body of the reel.

Step 3

​Keep aside the drag adjustment knob after removing it safely. Also, remove the spool from the main shaft.

Step 4

​Follow the basic steps already given in the section above regarding the outer cleaning of the reel. You can wipe the insides of the spool, underside of the drag adjustment knob and top portion of the gear housing to clean off any foreign particles. Again, the important point to remember is not to degrease the shaft.

For areas that you find harder to reach, you can always use a toothbrush, q-tip or a cotton swab to access the same.

Step 5

​Add one or two drops of reel oil to ​

  • ​The underside of the line spool
  • ​Where the shaft sits on the spool
  • ​The edge where the drag knob is seated on the top of the line spool
  • ​The underside of the drag adjustment
  • ​The main shaft nut
  • ​The moving component of the reel handle
  • ​The bail connection joints
  • ​The line roller

Using the cotton swabs/q-tips or your fingers, spread out the oil evenly around the components we just oiled.

Step 6

​Take the reel grease and apply a small blob to the main shaft gear. Use a toothpick to spread the grease evenly across the teeth of the gear. Don’t be lazy here as this part of the reel is more exposed to the outer debris than gears in the housing.

But doing a good job doesn’t mean applying huge chunks of grease or oil. Here less is more. Actually, grease and oil attract dust and other foreign particles. So the more greasy this area is, the more dust it will attract. Don’t forget to use a cotton swab to clean off the excess grease.

Step 7

​​And last but not least, reassemble your reel. Give the reel a good spin to work the components. And work the oil into the bail by opening and closing it a few times. Check that all the screws are tight using a screwdriver.

​How To Clean A Baitcasting Reel


​Things You Would Need

  • ​A soft cloth
  • ​Some ​q-tips or cotton swabs
  • ​A reel cleaner
  • A reel lubricant
  • ​A toothbrush
  • ​A screwdriver
  • ​Grease
  • Reel oil

Step 1

​Remove the side cover of your reel. Some reel covers might have screws keeping them in place, some may have a rod with loaded springs or some may just pop off by pushing them. Inside the side cover, you want to clean the ring where the brake pads rub. Also, clean the washer inside the bearing.

​Dip the cotton swab or q-tip in the reel cleaner and get to cleaning the outer ring. Thoroughly remove the dirt. Next, dip the other end of the cotton swab in reel cleaner and clean the washer inside the bearing. This is where the spool shaft rubs on when we put tension from the tension knob. It puts pressure on this washer.

We are done with cleaning the side cover.

Step 2

​​Get your spool out and start cleaning the brake pads along its edge. In some reels, you might need to push in and out to be able to see the brake pads. Go on, wipe off the brake pads with q-tip dipped in reel cleaner. Remember to discard the dirty q-tips and not reuse them. There is no sense in cleaning your reel with dirty swabs.

Move on to the other side and you will notice dirt and grease along the shaft of the spool. Wipe it dry with a soft cloth. Next, clean the spool area properly once you are done with the shaft. Don’t forget to use q-tips dipped in reel cleaners to access harder to reach areas like small crevices, the spool pin, etc.

And you can set that aside as we are done with cleaning the spool too.

Step 3

​​Now move on to the tension knob and unscrew it. Inside the tension knob, there will be a washer and you need to clean that up as well. Pick up the main body of the reel and the area from which you removed the tension knob will either have a bearing or a bushing underneath. You would be needing another swab for cleaning this area.

Go in and wipe in and around the bearing or the bushing. ​We should also clean any area inside the reel frame that the spool rubs on. Also, clean out the line guide and the rod that it rides on. Most of the times there is a lot of nasty dirt, grass, slime, etc. in there that we pick up from the water.

Clean all this up in the best possible way that you can by using both the q-tips and the soft cloth.​

Step 4

​Look at your gear and see if it needs grease. In case it does, first, completely remove the grease already present using a degreaser or reel cleaner and then put on a fresh blob of grease in there. The reason we remove the old grease completely is that sometimes grease from different companies do not bond well together.

And we plead you never to add oil to gears. Remember the golden rule: oil on bearings and grease on gears. And that’s it, we are done with the cleaning part and on to oiling and greasing. Yay!

Step 5

​​Pick up the side cover again. Dip the q-tip in the reel oil this time and run it around the ring where the brake pads rub. We need a light coating of oil around that ring so make sure that oil is not dripping out of your swab. Next, pick up the reel oil and put a drop of it inside the bearing to get the oil to the washer inside and lube it up.

Again, not on the bearing but inside the bearing. ​Next, you pick up the reel lubricant. It is supposed to flush out the bearing and also lube it up. We can always spray the reel cleaner on that bearing and let it soak. It would evaporate in five minutes and then we can oil it up. Or we can try out the lubricant. One drop is all we need on the bearing.

Step 6

​​Moving on to the spool, use a drop of the lubricant on the spool bearing. Set it aside. Next, put a drop of lubricant on the bearing that was underneath the tension knob. Pick your spool and put that back in where it belongs. Put a little dab of grease on the shaft of the spool at both the ends. Finally, put the side cover back on.

Now we need to oil the washer underneath the tension knob and put the tension knob back on. One extra thing you can do here is to put a drop of oil on the handle knobs. And lastly, we put a drop of oil on the rod that the line guide runs on.

Spin your reel for a few seconds and we are sure you would be able to feel a lot of difference in its performance before and after cleaning.

​How To Clean A Fly Reel


​​Things You Would Need

  • ​A little bucket with warm water
  • ​Liquid soap
  • Reel oil
  • A toothbrush
  • ​A screwdriver
  • A soft cloth or a hand towel

Step 1

​​Remove all the line from the spool. We suggest you wrap it around in a spare reel or even a medium-sized stick would do. Take the small bucket of warm water and pour in 18-20 drops of liquid soap. Make a thin lather in water using the toothbrush.

Now take your reel and remove the main reel body from the shaft body. Most fly reels have a lever using which you can separate the two. Soak the shaft body, the main reel body in warm soapy water and let them remain there for a minute. Now take it out and start brushing out the dust and dirt from the shaft and every nook and corner that you can find.

Give it a good cleaning.​

Step 2

​​​Pick up the main reel body and give the central part i.e. the area around the clutch bearing a good brushing. Usually a lot of grime deposits in and around this central bearing due to the dust and dirt that the reel picks up over time. Now, take the screwdriver and pull out the spring clip that holds the clutch bearing in its place.

Remember which side of the clutch bearing is facing you. ​Pull out the clutch bearing and once again dip the reel in water so that soapy water can pass through the hole that was beneath the clutch bearing. It will remove any dust and impurities from there. Once again give the central part a good cleaning using the toothbrush.

Step 3

​​​Dry off the reel completely using the soft cloth or the hand towel. Make sure there is no water in the hole beneath the clutch bearing. You can push the corner of your cloth or towel in that hole to soak in any water droplets present. Dip in the clutch bearing in the warm water and give it a good brushing too.

Remove it from the water and now clean its insides. There is a lot of dirt deposit in that area too. Pick up the reel shaft body and dry it off too. Again make sure the shaft is completely dry before we move on to oiling the reel.

Step 4

​​Put back the clutch bearing and the spring clip where they belong. Be careful as to which side of the clutch bearing is facing towards you. Put in one to two drops of reel oil on the insides of the clutch bearing and again one to two drops on the reel shaft.

Reassemble the reel. While reassembling do remember that the line always comes in at the bottom of the fly reel. Now all that remains is for you to pull in the line. That’s it! We are done with cleaning our fly reel and once again you would feel a noticeable difference in the way the reel works.


​​Remember that a disciplined cleaning routine not only keeps the reels in a good working condition but it also helps us in catching any problem quickly that might become a big headache in the future.

We strongly recommend you to give an outside cleaning to your reel every month and an inside cleaning using the methods we taught you once in every three months.​ ​Further, do make it a point to take your fishing reel to a professional reel cleaning service once in a year for that annual deep clean.

These people remove all the parts of your reel and then clean, oil and grease them thoroughly. You can do a deep cleaning at home but we’ve found that it requires a deep knowledge about the reel parts. ​Moreover, you can face issues while reassembling due to putting the wrong part in the wrong place and find that your reel no longer works!

Hence it is much advisable to leave the job to the professionals. We really hope that we were able to provide you with ample knowledge about cleaning three most commonly used reel types and also instill in you the confidence of cleaning them on your own.

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