How To Clean A Spinning Reel?

If you enjoy fishing, you know how important a spinning reel is for a smooth and successful experience. However, just like any tool, it needs a bit of care to stay in top condition.

Over time, it can get dirty or not work as well due to exposure to water and dirt. But don’t worry! Cleaning a spinning reel might sound like a big task, but with a few simple steps, you can keep it in great shape.

In this guide, we’ll take you through each step of the cleaning process using basic tools you likely already have. Regular cleaning will not only help your reel last longer but also make your fishing trips more enjoyable.

So, let’s dive into the easy and effective ways to clean your spinning reel.

How To Clean a Spinning Reel In 3 Different Ways?

Cleaning a spinning reel is something you can do easily with a few maintenance tips. It might seem hard at first, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes a simple task.

Firstly, start by giving the area a good hose down. Next, take off the line and spool. After that, complete the detailed external cleaning using cleaning products.

For a more thorough cleaning, remove the side plate along with several moving parts, like the bearings and gears. This ensures a complete clean both on the outside and inside.

Today, we’re going to talk about three types of cleaning that can really make a difference for your spinning reel. Doing these cleanings can significantly extend the life of your reel.

1. Superficial Wash Down

Whether you’ve been fishing in saltwater or freshwater, it’s crucial to clean this type of spinning reel after every fishing session. For saltwater anglers, especially, taking care of this essential equipment is not something to be overlooked.

Over time, the corrosive effects can harm and eventually ruin certain spinning reels, even those with advanced corrosion-resistant treatments, paints, and alloys.

When constantly exposed to saltwater, it’s expected that nearly everything will degrade over time. Your favorite spinning reel might experience a gradual or even rapid deterioration due to the effects of saltwater.

One of the most important types of cleaning is the surface washdown. The primary advantage is that it’s quick and straightforward. Moreover, it doesn’t demand much time, making it easily achievable.

Moreover, it gets rid of a significant amount of salt and dirt, preventing them from building up. Cleaning a spinning reel can be done in the following steps.

  • Remove the rod from the reel using your reel. While it’s possible to do this while the reel is attached, you won’t be able to fully get rid of the buildup between the feet and seat of the reel. When taking off the reel and the rod, pay close attention to the reel seat.
  • If the drag feels tight because of the wind, it’s best to be cautious. Loose drag can allow water to enter the drag washers, so it’s better to avoid it.
Loose the drag
  • Spray the reel with a hose using light pressure. Never submerge the reel in water or expose it to high pressure. While some anglers advise against rinsing the reel and suggest using only a damp cloth for cleaning, it’s important to find a balance that works for you and maintains the reel’s integrity.
Spray the reel

You’re correct; the idea makes sense. However, for many of us, giving the reel a thorough cloth treatment after each session might be too much. A quick spray to get rid of the grime can do the job, as long as you’re careful not to force it into any cracks or joints. If that’s a concern, you can use Reel Guard spray to reach mineral deposits that might be hard to get to after the initial wash.

Make sure to wash all surfaces of the reel and hold it in a way that the spool faces upward. Try to avoid spraying water underneath the spool as much as possible. Keep in mind that preventing water from entering heavily ported spools can be challenging.

wash all surfaces of the reel
  • Make sure the reel is dry before storing it by shaking off excess water and letting it drain. To remove any remaining water, give the reel handle a few turns once it seems dry.
  • That wraps up the process—reliable, quick, and effective. Remember to do this after every use of your reel, and you’ll be able to guarantee its longevity.

Consider using a product like Reel Guard Cleaning Spray to add an extra layer of protection. Sprays like these are effective in breaking down corrosive minerals, providing additional safeguarding for your reel.

2. External Cleaning

How much you need to clean your fishing gear depends on how often and where you fish. To keep things in good shape, try cleaning your gear once a month if you fish twice a week, like I do.

Make sure to go through this process every six months, no matter how often or where you fish. Some anglers wait for years before taking action, while others prefer to do this cleaning after each fishing session.

Caring for folds, joints, and tricky spots is easy; just go slow and pay close attention to details. You’ll need to remove the fishing line and spool during this process.

To give an external spinning reel a thorough cleaning, follow these steps:

  • Following the basic cleaning steps mentioned earlier, begin with Step 1. You’ll need your preferred Reel Guard (or a similar product), a cloth, and some cotton swabs. Alternatively, you can use soapy water as another option.

I avoid using WD40 as it can contribute to the corrosion process if not removed. Some people do use WD40, and it’s effective, but it’s also good at removing grease. If you use it, make sure to replace the grease after removing any existing grease.

  • It’s time to take off your fishing line from the spool. There are two reasons why I find this crucial. Firstly, when removing the line, I often discover salt, sand, and other debris that has made its way into the arbor. It’s essential to clean this. Secondly, when I return the line to the spool, it’s in much better condition, as it was closer to the arbor knot before.
  • Turn the rotor to spool and then take it off from the spool.
Turn the rotor to spool

Use a damp cloth and wet cotton swab to clean the undersurface of the spool and the reel’s shaft, paying attention to bends, nuts, and creases.

clean the undersurface

Spray Reel Guard on both parts in a similar fashion.

  • Ensure the reel handle is taken off. Use a cotton swab to remove as much grime as possible from joins and rebates. Then, use a damp cloth to wipe down the entire reel.
  • Detach the bail arm from the handle, along with the knob. Be cautious not to lose any screws. Apply lubricant to the Reel Guard and cotton swabs. Reconnect the handle and spool of the reel using a dry cloth.
Detach the bail arm

Dry your reel using a cloth. After removing excess water, turn the handle a few times and spray the reel with Reel Guard.

Dry your reel using a cloth

Pat dry any areas where there’s excess fluid. Make sure everything is completely dry. This process results in an excellent clean, and by incorporating it into your regular gear maintenance, you can extend the life of your spin reel for many years.

Be cautious when selecting your cleaners, including soaps, as fish can be sensitive to chemicals and their smells. Ensure that whatever you use does not negatively impact your bait presentation.

3. Reel Deep Cleaning

Following are the steps involved in reel deep cleaning:

1. Using plain water and rinse your reel

If you’re into saltwater fishing, make it a rule to clean your reel thoroughly every time. It’s crucial because saltwater is highly corrosive, and proper cleaning helps prevent corrosion.

After saltwater fishing, rinse the reel thoroughly with water to remove saltwater. This simple step effectively eliminates the saltwater. For the reel cleaning process, regular water is sufficient.

remove saltwater

Clean the reel with a gentle water spray, avoiding extremely high pressure like jet sprays. High water pressure can force salt and dirt deep into crevices. To remove dirt or grime from the outer surface, soak a towel and wipe it thoroughly.

While many freshwater anglers may not rinse their reels after normal water fishing, it’s still a good practice to use a damp towel to wipe it clean even after freshwater fishing.

2. Always dry the reel before cleaning it

To maintain a clean fishing reel, it’s essential to clean it after every use. This process involves dealing with a significant amount of moisture.

After each reel rinse, make sure to thoroughly wipe it dry with a clean towel. If it’s wet or damp, avoid disassembling the reel. Allow it to dry for at least 1-2 days before attempting to clean all its parts.

We’ve covered using a towel or cloth to dry the reel thoroughly. Even with careful drying, the fishing reel can stay damp due to its many crevices and corners. Air drying is more effective, so make sure to do that. Having two or three fishing reels makes it easier to switch between them as needed.

3. Corrosion can be removed by brushing

Use a clean toothbrush to scrub off corrosion on the reel, then wipe it with a dry towel once you’ve removed it. In two cases, corrosion will occur. If the reel hasn’t been cleaned for too long or if the material isn’t high-quality. 

Corrosion can be removed by brushing

If you buy a good reel, the material will not corrode, and you should clean the reel regularly to prevent corrosion. The parts of the reel don’t need to be removed, so we don’t really prefer doing so. 

It’s never the same after you take the parts apart and reassemble them, no matter what anyone says. It is no longer intact. Do not remove the reel’s parts unless you are experiencing too much discomfort. Performing these steps once in a while or with the help of a professional is what you should do.

4. Clean the handle by unscrewing it

Taking off the handle requires rotating it counterclockwise, allowing it to separate from the main body. To remove dust and dirt from the handle, use a cotton bud to clean the collar and other crevices.

unscrewing it

5. Carefully remove and clean the spool

Remove the spool by removing the adjustment knob and unscrewing the screws if necessary. There is no difficulty in removing the spool portion. 

Carefully remove the spool

Remove dirt from the spool by using a cotton bud carefully. Several hollows inside the spool need to be cleaned. Tissue paper should be used to clean the coiled-up fishing line. Almost all of the spool has been cleaned.

Remove dirt from the spool

6. Remove the grip adjustment knob and clean and grease it

In most cases, you will see greased portions once you have removed the drag knob cap. You know it’s fine if it’s well-greased. It should be inspected well, and dirt should be removed if necessary. Apply the grease well to the inner portion and the inside of the cap if it needs greasing after dipping a cotton bud in it.

grip adjustment knob

7. Clean the rotor thoroughly

You exposed one side of the rotor when you removed the spool. Since it’s well-assembled, with gears, washers, center pins, and other stuff, it’s simple to clean, so just use a cotton bud to clean it. 

Clean the rotor

You will need to unscrew all those small gears and washers very carefully if you want to clean the inside of the rotor. Unscrew the gears with the appropriate tools. You’ll need to disassemble the main body of the rotor in order to clean it from the inside. A little later, we’ll get to that.

8. Bail arm inspection

Check the bail arm by opening and closing it before cleaning the main body and rotor. The more smoothly it clicks, the greased it is. 

In case it is not clean from the inside, remove the screws nearby. Other than a few screws, there is nothing alien there. Grease the parts that require grease after removing those screws.

Bail arm inspection

9. Clean the body by unscrewing it

Several screws will be present on the main body; remove them to reveal an inner portion with several gears that is greased or not so greased. If we are cleaning them, let alone unscrewing them, we wouldn’t want to touch them carelessly. 

Then remove them one by one with the proper tools, and this will automatically separate the different parts of the rotor as you remove them one by one. Be sure to clean these gears, bearings, washers, and pins properly with tissue paper, then grease every single one with cotton buds after thoroughly cleaning them with tissue paper.

Clean the body

10. Oil the handle well

The handle is usually not greased as the final step. The handle collar screw should be dipped in grease before being installed in the slot. The outer surface of the reel should be cleaned up with tissue paper, then pressed against the reel with a towel dipped in any lubricating protectant. Allow the reel to sit there for several hours, without using it. Take a couple of days off from using it.

Oil the handle


Feeling regretful. My reels are dirty because I have not cleaned them for a long time. The simple fact that I didn’t clean many reels caused many of them to go to reel heaven.

My performance hasn’t improved much from what it was. The next time I go to the gym, I should spend a few minutes after each session washing down my reel superficially. 

My years of comprehensive cleaning would be much easier if I did the superficial washdown religiously. When everything is covered in salt, sand, and gunk, it’s a tough job clearing it all out. Investing in good reels is a good idea. 

You can extend the life of your reels by simply cleaning them after every session. Once you’ve mastered this skill, instead of throwing away your spinning reels, you’ll be handing them on to your children.

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