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How to Clean a Fishing Reel — A Guide for 3 Reel Types

How to Clean a Fishing Reel — A Guide for 3 Reel Types
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Every angler needs a fishing reel to catch fish in any type of water. When you finally get your reel, maintaining it properly is very important. Without proper cleaning and maintenance, you won’t be using your reel for a long time. So, to keep your fishing reel rust-free and in good condition for subsequent fishing trips, it is important to know how to clean a fishing reel.

You might be thinking that because you only fish in freshwater, you don’t have to clean the reel. That’s not true. Both fresh water and saltwater fishing reels need adequate cleaning. Although, you may not need to clean your freshwater reel as frequently as you clean the saltwater fishing reel. Nevertheless, you need to know how to carry out the cleaning process.

Want to learn how to clean a fishing reel? Keep reading to get all the facts and details.

Why You Need to Clean Your Fishing Reel

As mentioned above, if you’re interested in using your reel for a long time, you have to clean it. Alongside the fishing rod, the reel is one of the most important items in your fishing gear. Although you may be able to fish without the reel, you may not have enough strength to pull a strong fish without it.

If you fish more in saltwater, then you may even need to clean your reel more times than usual. This is because salt water contains a lot of impurities and minerals that may damage your reel if it is left unclean.

Washing your reel with good cleaning liquid and then wiping the parts with a clean cloth is essential to keep the reel in a good state and correct working condition for a long time. Let’s see how it is done.

How to clean a fishing reel
Photo by Thirdman from Pexels

Tools Required to Clean a Fishing Reel

Before you start cleaning your fishing reel, you have to get the right tools to get the job done.

  1. Tweezers
  2. Toothbrush
  3. Two small screwdrivers (Standard& Phillips)
  4. Reel User’s manual
  5. Wrench
  6. List of reel parts
  7. A notepad to take notes. (You may not need this if you have a great memory).

The tools listed above are necessary for disassembling all the parts of your reel. They are also necessary for the cleaning process. You certainly can’t clean the reel with your hands. You need some of these tools for that. Meanwhile, to make the cleaning process hassle-free, ensure that the tools you get fit the size of the reel and all its parts.

Apart from these tools, there are also products you should purchase to keep the reel in a good state.

  1. A synthetic reel oil
  2. Soft fabric
  3. Synthetic reel grease
  4. Rod and reel cleaner.
Buy this Rod and Reel Cleaner on Amazon

How to Clean a Fishing Reel — Steps Involved

Now that you know the tips to follow when cleaning your fishing reels, you should be able to carry out the cleaning steps safely. The process of cleaning the reel varies depending on the type of reel you want to clean.

In the next sections, we will show you how to clean a spinning reel, how to clean a bait-casting reel and how to clean a spin-cast reel.

How to Clean a Spinning Reel

The spinning reel is the most popular reel being used these days because it is quite easy to disassemble and clean. Also, it is easier to use than other reel types.

 To clean a spinning reel:

1. Soak the spinning reel in water and remove the line.

Irrespective of what type of water you used your fishing reel in, you have to soak it in freshwater. It is even more important to soak it in fresh water after using it in saltwater. The water will help you remove all minerals and salt present.

Next, remove the fishing line. Alternatively, you can secure it to the rod with tape to prevent it from moving.

Photo by Thirdman from Pexels

2. Disassemble the parts.

Use a wrench or screwdriver to remove the parts of your fishing reel. The first thing you do is remove the spool. When you’ve successfully removed it, then you can continue with the other parts.

Use tweezers to remove the parts. Start with the spool washers and brushings, go on to the handle knobs, pickup arm, pickup pin, crankshaft and gears, center shaft, clutch screw, and pool release. Then, remove the roller wheel and ball bearings last.

3. Clean each part.

Add cleaning liquid or lighter fluid to each part, and then use an old toothbrush to clean them. When you’re sure that they are free of dirt and all residues, clean them with a soft and dry cloth to remove the excess liquid.

4. Lubricate the reel.

This should be done carefully. Some parts of the reel require oil while some need grease. So, make sure you don’t mix it up.

Apply reel oil on the pickup pin, handle knobs, and kick and arm levers. Some other parts that need a little oil include the ball bearings, spool release mechanism, and clutch screw.

The crank system and center shaft require grease. You can also add some to the pickup arm, spoon washers and bushes, and the roller wheeler.

Buy this Reel Oil and Grease Combo on Amazon

5. Assemble the fishing reel.

As long as you remember the order you followed when disassembling the spinning reel, assembling it shouldn’t be a problem. Also, spinning reels are less complicated than the others, so you should easily rebuild the piece.

Check out this video for a tutorial on how to clean a spinning reel:

How to Clean a Spin-Cast Reel

The spin-cast reel is a bit more difficult to disassemble and it is technical. Unlike the spinning reel, this reel has all its parts inside. So, before you can get to the parts, you have to deal with the body first. Very protective!

One reason that the disassembling process might give you a headache is that some of the screws used are often quite small. Also, because it is protected, it may become overwhelming and frustrating trying to get the screws and other parts out. Although it may seem difficult, if you’re careful while disassembling, there should be no problem with your reel.

To clean a spin-cast reel:

1. Soak the reel in some water.

Because of the protective covering, you would be soaking the spin-cast reel for a longer time. Leave it in fresh water for a few hours so that water can get into the reel and soften the dirt present.

2. Feed the line to the reel.

Press the thumb button used to cast. When you do this, the line will feed to the reel. Secure the line in place when it comes out of the front hole of the reel.

3. Remove the covers.

Start by removing the spinner head and spool using a wrench. Then, remove other parts such as the center shaft, crank bearing, crank handles, washers, and clutch ring. After removing the covers, use tweezers to take out the parts. Ensure that you’re careful enough because these are very delicate parts that shouldn’t go missing or get damaged.

Image by LUM3N from Pixabay

4. Clean the parts.

Now that you’ve disassembled your reel, use a toothbrush to clean the parts. Soak your toothbrush in reel-cleaning liquid to help you remove the dirt and debris easily. Start your cleaning from the outer parts to the inner parts of the reel. Then clean the small components.

5. Dry the parts.

After cleaning, you have to remove the excess cleaning liquid on the parts. Use a clean soft fabric to clean each part carefully. Ensure that you’ve wiped off all the dirt before you stop.

6. Lubricate the parts.

To lubricate more effectively, you may have to read the user manual for the particular reel model you use. This is because the methods of lubricating the reel differ.

If you don’t have a user manual, add grease in the crank gear and shaft, pick-up arm, center shaft, bushings, pinion gear, and washers.

Oil should be added to the ball bearings, spool, pick-up pin, kick lever, spool release, clutch ring, and handle knobs.

7. Assemble the parts.

To assemble the parts of your spin-cast reel, follow the same order you did to disassemble it. There should be no problem if you took notes and labeled the parts.

How to Clean a Bait-Casting Reel

The bait-casting reel is different from the others and can sometimes damage your fishing line if it is not used correctly. But it is a very good piece if you know how to use it properly. The complexity of the bait-casting reel also means that cleaning and assembling it is not so easy.

To clean a bait-casting reel:

1. Clean the body of the reel.

The outer part of the reel should be wiped clean with a cloth and washing liquid. This is done to remove salts and other impurities on the body of the reel. You have to clean the outside before you work on the insides.

2. Get rid of residues from the spool.

To remove the spool, loosen the drag tension knob with a screwdriver. Soak the reel in freshwater for some minutes to loosen any dirt that may be inside it. Then, pick up a toothbrush, dip it in cleaning liquid, and use it to removes residues from the spool.

3. Disassemble the reel.

Now that your spool is clean, you can take the reel apart. Start by removing the drag tension knob completely. Then, use the tweezers to remove the drag-system parts like the spool shaft, handlebar knobs, stabilizer bar, pinion gear, and yoke. Then release the slider and then the bushings. Clean the parts properly with a brush and washing liquid.

4. Dry the parts.

Use a clean cloth to remove the remaining debris on the parts.

5. Lubricate the parts.

Following the user manual of your reel will help you lubricate your reel better. But if you don’t have it, follow the steps below;

Add oil to the ends of the spool shaft, handle knobs, and spool release. The stabilizer bar and ball bearings could also use some oil.

Add grease to the main gear and pinion yoke, bushings, warm gear plus release slider, and worm-shaft guard.

6. Assemble.

To assemble the bait-casting reel, follow the same order of disassembling carefully.

Tips on How to Maintain and Clean a Fishing Reel

Here are a few tips on how to maintain and successfully clean your fishing reel:

  1. Keep your cleaning tools and materials, clean and organized until the next time you need to clean your reel.
  2. Note the order in which you disassembled the reel so that it is easy to recall when you want to reassemble it. Consider putting this information down on a notepad.
  3. Handle small parts of the reel with the tweezers. Wire clips, springs, and possibly screws should not be handled with your fingers or you may lose them if your hands are sweaty.
  4. Secure your fishing line before removing the spool by using a tape or clip to hold the line in place. This will prevent knots and tangles.
  5. Apply adequate amount of lubricant to your reel parts.
  6. Use light cleaning products for your reel and ensure you wipe off excesses after cleaning.
  7. Avoid petroleum-based cleaning products. When it comes to the right products to clean your reel with, you are better off with biodegradable formulas.

Check out these other articles and guide:


Cleaning your fishing reel could seem like a complex procedure, but if you are willing to put in some effort and follow the steps above, you can keep your reel in a good working condition for a long time.

Meanwhile, don’t hesitate to call for help if you are finding it difficult to clean some parts.

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