How to Clean a Fishing Reel: Cleaning Tips for All Reel Types

By Richard | Fishing Advice

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When we are learning how to fish, most people only focus on the act of fishing and catching a good number of fishes such as walleye and crappie. Learning where to cast, how to cast, what to bait, when to bait, and more is what we hear talked about time and time again.

However, there’s a more important thing that many fishing folks don’t learn about until it's too late. And that is how to clean a fishing reel.

Everyone has lost gear to rust, damage, or other issues which were caused by unclean conditions. Properly taking care of your gear will help it last for longer, and you can save yourself a lot of trouble by simply taking a small amount of time to clean your gear.

Not sure where to get started? Don’t worry. Today, we’ll cover all the cleaning basics for your fishing reel.

How to Clean a Fishing Reel

Before you start trying to clean your fishing reel, think about what type of reel or reels you have which need to be cleaned. While most reels will have a vaguely similar cleaning process, each reel type has some special features that you should pay more attention to while cleaning. We’ll briefly go into each reel type today so that you can learn how to clean them properly.

Basic Cleaning for All Reel Types

No matter what type of reel you have, there is some basic cleaning which you can do. You should clean your reel every time it has debris on it, including sand, grit, or dirt. This likely means you should take a few minutes to clean your gear after you get home from fishing every single time.

Here are a few different cleaning techniques that you can try out:

  • Rinse and Dry

First up, let’s talk about the most basic cleaning method: the rinse.

All that needs to be done for this technique is to rinse the reel (inside and out) using clean fresh water. Then, give it as much time as needed to air dry.

This should be done every single time you go fishing. If you skip this step regularly, you will be causing serious, long-term damage to your reel.

  • Lubrication

Another great cleaning technique to employ daily is to lubricate the accessible moving parts of your reel. Lubrication helps your reel to keep moving smoothly, and this is especially important when you’ve been fishing in saltwater conditions where the oil will have been stripped away. When lubricating, we recommend using a light oil. 

  • Detergent It Up

While giving your reel a good freshwater rinse at the end of a long day of fishing is a great start to maintaining your gear, there is more than you can do if you are willing to commit a few more minutes of time. Your reel will have dirt, sand, and other debris on it, and sometimes, a water rinse isn’t enough to remove it all.

Using a small amount of mild detergent and a toothbrush to detail the reel will do a better job of getting the grit out. After taking the reel apart, you can even use something like a paintbrush to get as much of the debris out as possible.

After detailing with these tools, rinse everything. Use a clean cloth to remove most of the water, and then let the reel finish air drying.

  • Combine the Techniques

Ideally, you would combine the three previously mentioned techniques as your basic reel cleaning plan. This plan does not need to be done every single time that you fish, but doing this a few times throughout the year will keep your gear in tip-top shape.

  1. Take apart the reel
  2. Rinse it off with fresh water
  3. Use a toothbrush and mild detergent to detail the reel
  4. Rinse it off
  5. Dry with a cloth
  6. Air dry parts
  7. Lubricate parts
  8. Reassemble

That’s it! Once you get the hang of how to take your reel apart and put it back together, cleaning this way will be a piece of cake.

Tips for Cleaning Specific Reel Types

Now that you’ve got a basic idea of how to clean your fishing reel, let’s talk about some specific tips which you can use when cleaning a specific reel type.

Spincast Reels

  1. Remove the clutch ring, spinner head, and all other moving parts inside the reel
  2. Clean using a mild detergent
  3. Rinse and let air dry
  4. Re-oil parts
  5. Reassemble

This is one of the hardest types of reels to clean because it can be a bit intimidating to learn how to take the reel cover and internal pieces apart. If you aren’t sure how your specific reel comes apart, try searching for an example video online.

This video gives a nice picture of what cleaning a spincast is like:

Baitcasting Reels

Another type of reel you might want to learn how to clean is a baitcast reel. While you don’t need to clean as thoroughly as the video below demonstrates every time you use the reel, this is a good technique to follow when cleaning your reel a few times a year:

Spinning Reels

Spinning reels have an open-style design, and they can be a bit more complex to clean because of the design. Still, it is very easy to clean once you learn how to do so. This video will teach you almost everything you need to know:

Clean Your Reels Regularly

Remember that while you need to know how to clean a fishing reel as thoroughly as possible, you don’t need to do the entire deep cleaning process if you just cast a few lines in freshwater. If you are fishing in saltwater, though, you should be doing a deep clean every single time to prevent corrosion.

Take the time to rinse your reel and rod every single time you use them, and then work in deep cleanings six to eight times throughout the year to help ensure your gear stays in great condition. If you do this, you’ll find that you can keep using your gear with no problems for many years to come!

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