How To Clean A Fishing Reel? Here’s What You Need To Know!

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One of the most important things about being a fisherman is taking care of your equipment properly. Afterall, you wouldn’t want to head out for a day of fishing only to have your reel break down on you! One crucial aspect of maintaining your gear is regular cleaning, which can help it perform better and last longer.

But when it comes to cleaning a fishing reel, where do you start? It may seem like a daunting task at first, but with a bit of knowledge and effort, anyone can do it themselves right at home!

Don’t worry if you’ve never cleaned a reel before either – our guide will cover everything from the basic supplies you’ll need to tips that will make it easier and more effective. Keep reading to learn what you need to know for optimal maintenance of one of your most important pieces of fishing gear!

Gather Your Supplies

Cleaning a fishing reel is an important task that should not be overlooked. It ensures the longevity of your equipment and improves its performance while on the water. Before you can begin cleaning your fishing reel, make sure to gather all the necessary supplies.

Tools Needed

  • Screwdriver set
  • Soft-bristled brush or toothbrush
  • Microfiber cloth or towel
  • Nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol

A screwdriver set will help you take apart the reel for easy access during cleaning. A soft-bristled brush or toothbrush will remove any dirt or debris from small crevices. A microfiber cloth or towel will provide gentle cleaning of the exterior parts of the reel. Nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol are effective solvents for removing grime and stubborn stains from various surfaces.

Replacement Parts

  • Fishing line
  • Bearing lubricant oil or grease
  • New spool washers or drag washers (if needed)

It’s always best to have replacement parts handy in case anything breaks or wears out while cleaning your reel. Fishing line is especially crucial if you need to replace the old one that has been on the reel for too long. Bearing lubricant oil or grease will keep the moving parts of the reel running smoothly after it has been cleaned. If you find that the spool washers or drag washers are damaged or worn out, they must be replaced before using the reel again.

Cleaning Supplies

  • Mild soap or dishwashing liquid
  • Vinegar or lemon juice solution
  • Water
  • Baking soda (optional)

Mild soap or dishwashing liquid will be your go-to cleaning solution for most of the reel’s exterior parts. A vinegar or lemon juice solution can help remove any hard water stains or rust on metal components, while still being gentle on the material. Water is necessary for diluting the solutions and washing off dirt and grime buildup. Baking soda may also be used as a gentle abrasive to scrub away tough dirt and stains.


  • Reel oil
  • Silicone grease

Lubrication is key to maintaining a healthy fishing reel. Reel oil should be applied to all moving parts of the reel – including gears, spindles, and shafts – while silicone grease should be reserved for drag systems and other heavily-used areas that require more protection from wear and tear.

“Consistent maintenance is critical when it comes to preserving the performance and longevity of your equipment.” – Shimano Fishing

Dismantle The Reel

Before you can start cleaning your fishing reel, it’s important to dismantle it. This will give you access to all the parts that need cleaning and maintenance.

Remove The Spool

The first step is to remove the spool from your reel. To do this, locate the release button or lever on your reel and press or pull it, depending on your specific model. Hold onto the spool as you do this, so it doesn’t fall off and get lost.

If you’re unsure of how to remove the spool, consult your user manual or look for online tutorials specific to your brand and model of reel.

Take Apart The Drag System

The drag system is an essential part of your fishing reel, but over time, dirt and debris can build up inside it, making it less effective. Taking apart the drag system requires some care and attention, but it’s essential if you want to keep your reel functioning properly.

To gain access to the drag system, you’ll need to unscrew the housing cover using a small screwdriver. Once removed, you should be able to remove the drag washers and clean them thoroughly with warm water and mild soap. Allow these parts to dry completely before reassembling them in reverse order.

Note: If you’re not comfortable taking apart the drag system yourself, take your reel to a professional tackle shop, where they can service and maintain it for you.

  • TIP: Always keep screws organized when dismantling anything, especially something as complex as a fishing reel. Take photos at every stage of disassembly so you know exactly where each piece belongs.Photo helps when trying to put everything back together.
  • TIP: Don’t use harsh detergents or chemicals when cleaning your fishing reel as they can damage the delicate parts. Warm water and mild soap are usually all that’s needed to get the job done.
“A well-maintained fishing reel will last longer, perform better and give you more enjoyable hours on the water.” -Larry Larsen

Cleaning your fishing reel is an important part of routine maintenance that ensures its longevity and performance. With these simple steps and a little attention to detail, you can keep your reel in tip-top shape for years to come.

Clean The Reel Components

Cleaning your fishing reel is an important aspect of keeping it in top working condition. Over time, dirt and saltwater can accumulate on the components of your reel, causing damage to the internal mechanism. It’s often recommended that you clean your reel after every use or at least regularly before storing it for long periods.

Soak The Components

The first step in cleaning your fishing reel is to disassemble it. Start by removing the spool, the drag knob, and the handle assembly. Fill a small container with warm water and add a quarter cup of mild dish soap or reel cleaner to it. Soak the components for about 10-15 minutes to loosen any grime and debris from the surface.

“Cleaning the reel after use helps retain its effectiveness and prolongs its lifespan.” -Mark Foster

Scrub The Components

After soaking, take a soft-bristled toothbrush or a reel cleaning brush and gently scrub each component. Pay attention to the areas around screws and bearing surfaces as these are typically where most debris accumulates. Be careful not to scrub too hard, especially if you have a graphite reel body, as this could cause scratches and permanent damage.

If there is particularly stubborn dirt on some parts of the components, try using Q-tips soaked in isopropyl alcohol to remove it. This should help break down the grit, making it easier to get rid of.

“When you don’t clean your reels after saltwater exposure, corrosion occurs, reducing the performance of the mechanism and promoting equipment failure.” -Nick Vlahos

Dry The Components

Once all the components have been thoroughly scrubbed, rinse them under running water and then dry them with a clean, lint-free cloth. Make sure to dry every surface completely as moisture could lead to rust or decay over time.

It’s also essential to lubricate the components after cleaning to ensure smooth operation and extend their lifespan. Use reel oil or grease on moving parts such as bearings, gears, and drag washers but be careful not to use an excessive amount as it may attract dirt and grime if left unattended for an extended period of time.

“If you keep your fishing equipment properly maintained, they can last many years.” -Timothy Banas

Final Thoughts

Cleaning your fishing reel is an easy and necessary procedure that should be done regularly to maintain its performance and prevent breakdowns. Remember always to use proper cleaning products and gentle scrubbing methods when carrying out this task, especially if your gear is made from graphite or fiberglass.

By following these simple steps, you will enhance the lifespan of your reel and increase your chances of successful fishing trips in the future!

Inspect For Damage

The first step to clean a fishing reel is inspecting it thoroughly for damages. After any fishing trip, there may be some dirt or debris accumulated in the reel that requires cleaning. While reviewing the reel parts, examine if there are scratches or dents on the body and the spool. Check for signs of corrosion or rust in the inner parts of the fishing reel.

If there are any greasy residues formed on the reel outer surface like handles or knobs, use a mild detergent with warm water to rub those parts gently. Others’ remain in contact with saltwater frequently; they might notice some signs of Salt accumulation. Use white vinegar, baking soda or mild soap solution diluted in lukewarm quantities of water.

“When trying to get rid of build-up on your stainless steel surfaces, avoid steel wool, scouring pads, chlorine, bleach-based cleaners, acids, ammonia, and abrasive powdered cleansers as these can damage your equipment and ruin its finish.” -The Fishing Advice

Check The Bearings

Reels consist of bearings responsible for facilitating smooth rotation when casting lines. It’s essential to deeply investigate them while cleaning. Wind down the handle besides placing your finger onto the spindle which holds one end of the rotor shaft. Then, move anti-reverse on/off switch facing opposite to rotate adjustments marked on spool primary axis until it stops moving clockwise and anticlockwise alternatively few times.

In case you hear odd noises or experience grinding sensations weakens, tighten up the screws around the bearing housing unit nearby with proper tools. If this tightening doesn’t work, consider replacing them with new ones, extending the life span of the device. Check for wear caused by liquid/grease build-up inside the raceway borehole along ball bearing sleeves. In such situations, consider soaking and cleaning the bearings gently and return them to original positions following a proper wiping session. Bearings hold greasy substances for long periods if not removed after each use.

“It’s easy to clean your fishing reels with simple tools, such as an old toothbrush or Q-tip.” -Reel Advice

Examine The Gears

Gears are one of the most crucial components of the reel that you need to inspect while cleaning the machine. Detach the spool yourself while rotation it forwardly (using bearings located in step 2) and removing instances of debris sticking there while rotating. Scrutinize every part, including gears, pinions, etc., visible during this process carefully for any damage.

Any noticeable wear-tear flaws caused due to user negligence, shock absorption conditions, dirt accumulation on cheap materials are avoidable only via much-needed maintenance checks. Lubricate these areas more effectively every month using oil/spray according to users’ manuals provided with every purchased device; these come with precise measurements suitable for specific devices, ensuring optimal health levels.

“If you’re looking to maintain your reel, start by taking everything apart fully and then beginning to degrease all its parts meticulously.” -Bass Resource

Inspect The Housing

The final step involves inspecting the housing of the reel itself. At first, follow all measures mentioned in steps 1-3 before moving onto this phase. One size doesn’t fit all, so ensure that you keep the health needs of every different type of metal, carbon fiber, plastic materials into consideration when choosing appropriate treatment priority protocols.

Avoid immersing housing units completely underwater as doing so might eventually erode the lubricated interior sections of the reel. Wipe off excess oil with a clean cloth, then let dry before assembling back together. When reassembling the reel, ensure that each part is correctly fitted and aligned because loose parts might interfere with smooth operation, causing excessive damages.

“Regular maintenance including preventative checks keeps your fishing equipment in top shape, increasing its longevity.” -Angling Active

Lubricate The Reel

If you want to keep your fishing reel in excellent condition, it is crucial to lubricate it regularly. Here are the steps on how to lubricate your fishing reel:

Apply Grease To The Gears

The gears on your fishing reel require grease to operate correctly. Fishing gear expert Jeff Samsel suggests using a reel oil or grease specifically designed for fishing reels.

“Using too much grease can attract dirt and debris, clog up the small spaces between the moving parts, and cause friction that decreases casting distance.” -Jeff Samsel

To apply grease to the gears:

  • First, disassemble the reel by removing the spool, handle, drag knob, and gearbox cover if necessary.
  • Clean any dirt or old lubrication from the gears with a soft-bristled brush or toothbrush.
  • Use a clean cloth to wipe off any residue left on the surfaces after cleaning.
  • Add a tiny amount of grease (about the size of a grain of rice) onto a toothpick or your fingertip.
  • Spread the grease evenly over the gears and other moving parts in the gearbox.
  • Remove excess grease with a paper towel or cotton swab.

Oil The Bearings

The bearings in your fishing reel play an essential role in making sure your reel performs smoothly. According to columnist Mark Sak, applying oil to your reel bearings prevents rust and corrosion while also reducing wear and tear on the reel’s internal parts.

“Be sure not to over-oil your bearing at any time because this will create more problems than you started with – so be mindful of the oil you apply.” -Mark Sak

To oil your reel bearings:

  • Disassemble the reel so that you can access the bearings.
  • Clean any dirt or old lubrication from the bearings with a cotton swab or toothbrush.
  • Add one or two drops of fishing reel oil to each bearing, making sure it gets evenly distributed on all surfaces. Be careful not to over-oil because this will cause problems instead of solving them.
  • Gently spin the rotor or spool after applying the oil to distribute it across the bearing’s surface.
  • Use a wipe or cloth to remove excess oil from the bearings and other parts before reassembling the reel.

Grease The Drag System

Your reel’s drag system helps determine how much resistance the fish feels when pulling the line out. It is essential to keep your drag system well-lubricated for optimal performance. Outdoor Empire suggests using a high-quality lithium grease for the drag system.

“A properly adjusted and maintained drag is critical to handling hard-fighting fish, and keeping plenty of clean lubricant handy when working on reels is key.” -Outdoor Empire

To grease your drag system:

  • Take apart your reel until you have access to the drag system.
  • Remove any old grease or grime from the drag system by wiping it down with a soft-bristled brush or cloth.
  • Add a small amount of lithium grease to the washers and gears in the drag system. Avoid adding too much since doing so may attract debris and pollutants.
  • Reconstruct the drag mechanism as-is and examine its functionality while turning the handle slowly.

Apply Corrosion Inhibitor

Corrosion can ruin the metal parts of your reel, weakening them and reducing performance. A corrosion inhibitor protects against most forms of corrosion caused by exposure to water and other elements. According to a blog post on Sport Fishing Australia, one way to apply a corrosion inhibitor is via a spray.

“Saltwater fishing gear must always be lubricated properly because saltwater will quickly corrode any part that has not been treated with the proper rust preventative.” -Sport Fishing Australia

To apply a corrosion inhibitor:

  • Spray a liberal amount of corrosion inhibitor over all metal components of your reel.
  • Gently wipe the surface with a dry cloth to distribute the coating evenly and remove any residue.
  • Let the corrosion inhibitor soak into the reel for 10-15 minutes before performing any final cleaning or reassembly.

Follow these steps regularly to clean your fishing reel as it guarantees that your reel stays in optimal condition while also improving its longevity.

Reassemble The Reel

Put The Drag System Back Together

The drag system is an essential part of the fishing reel. It helps you to adjust the tension or resistance on the line when you are reeling in your catch. To put the drag system back together, follow these steps:

  • Clean and lubricate all parts carefully.
  • Check each component for any wear and tear or cracks that could weaken the system’s integrity. Replace any damaged components immediately.
  • Place the metal washers into their correct positions, as illustrated in the manufacturer’s instructions of the reel.
  • Add grease or oil to the components before inserting them back into place.
  • Tighten the screws until they are snug, but don’t overtighten because you can damage the mechanism.

Reattach The Spool

The spool should slide smoothly onto the spindle. If it doesn’t fit securely, clean both surfaces and try again. There should be no gaps or looseness between the spool and the reel body. Follow these steps to reattach the spool properly:

  • Clean the spindle and arbor thoroughly before attaching the spool to ensure a tight connection.
  • Slide the spool over the exposed spindle while ensuring notches, grooves, or openings align correctly with pins on the inside of the spool, and the screw-in place.

Replace Any Broken Parts

If you notice any broken or worn-out parts while cleaning and disassembling your reel, replace them immediately. Here’s how to go about replacing broken parts:

  • Check the manufacturer’s manual for recommended replacement parts.
  • Purchase the correct part to ensure you make a proper fit and maintain reel specifications.
  • Carefully install the new component, ensuring that it moves smoothly once in place.
  • Grease or lubricate all parts to ensure optimum performance.

Test The Reel

The reassembled reel should be tested before heading out on your next fishing trip. To ensure optimal operation:

  • Tighten all screws to the manufacturer’s recommendations (often found on their website).
  • Sling off the line until roughly 1/4 of the spool remains, then test according to the type of reel.
  • If possible, apply some pressure using tension while spinning or cranking to see if everything operates smoothly.
“Proper cleaning, maintenance, and inspection can help prevent line snarls or other operational problems when you’re on the water.”- Consumer Reports

Frequently Asked Questions

What tools are needed to clean a fishing reel?

To clean a fishing reel, you will need a few tools like a screwdriver, pliers, toothbrush, soft cloth, and reel oil. The screwdriver is used to remove the screws holding the reel together while the pliers are used to hold the reel handle. The toothbrush is used to remove dirt and debris from the reel while the soft cloth is used to wipe the reel clean. Lastly, the reel oil is used to lubricate the reel’s moving parts.

What is the proper technique for disassembling a fishing reel?

The proper technique for disassembling a fishing reel is to first remove the spool and the handle. Next, use a screwdriver to remove the screws holding the reel together. Be sure to keep the parts in the order they were removed. Once disassembled, clean each part with a toothbrush and a cleaning solution. Dry each part with a soft cloth before reassembling the reel in the opposite order. Be sure to lubricate the moving parts with reel oil before using it.

How often should a fishing reel be cleaned?

A fishing reel should be cleaned after every use to maintain its performance and longevity. However, if you don’t use your reel regularly, it should be cleaned at least once a year. If you fish in saltwater, then it should be cleaned more frequently as saltwater can cause corrosion and damage to the reel. Regularly cleaning and maintaining your fishing reel will ensure that it lasts for many fishing trips to come.

What cleaning solution should be used to clean a fishing reel?

A gentle, mild cleaning solution should be used to clean a fishing reel. A mixture of warm water and mild dish soap works well. Avoid using harsh chemicals or solvents as they can damage the reel’s finish and moving parts. After cleaning, be sure to thoroughly rinse the reel with clean water to remove any leftover soap. Once dry, apply reel oil to lubricate the moving parts.

How should a fishing reel be lubricated after cleaning?

After cleaning a fishing reel, it should be lubricated with a light reel oil. Apply a small amount of oil to each moving part, including the gears, bearings, and handle. Avoid over-lubricating the reel as this can cause it to attract dirt and debris. Once lubricated, reassemble the reel and test it to ensure that it is functioning properly. Regularly lubricating your fishing reel will keep it running smoothly and extend its lifespan.

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