How to Clean a Fishing Reel

Nobody likes noticing that their fishing reel has gotten dirty. Taking it apart for cleaning can be intimidating. Never use gasoline, lighter fluid, or similar products to clean an old fishing reel, as these will melt most plastic parts. Soaking is also not the best way to clean a fishing reel, despite widespread advice on the internet. Excess moisture could enter the gear system and cause long-term damage.

How to Clean a Fishing Reel

Basics of Reel Cleaning

If you want to keep your fishing reel in good condition, do a thorough cleaning. We recommend you clean a fishing reel after every 5 to 10 fishing trips. That is only if you are fishing in freshwater. If you are going to the saltwater for a fishing trip, then you should clean it every time you finish. Fishing in saltwater, as you know, wreaks havoc on metal parts.

Tools for Cleaning a Fishing Reel

You need the right tools to ensure a proper clean spool.

  • A pair of screwdrivers. You will probably want to have a standard and a Phillips head to handle this job. You will likely need a few small screwdrivers as well, depending on how the spool is assembled.
  • An old toothbrush or small scrub brush.
  • A toothpick to get into even smaller areas.
  • A pair of tweezers to help you pick out any little bits that are stuck.
  • Wrench.
  • Some cotton swabs.
  • A quality cleaning solution, like a boat cleaner. Why a boat cleaner? Because they are designed to handle grease, oil, dirt, and things like fish blood. Basically everything you are going to have on a fishing reel.
  • A container to hold all the pieces.
  • Reel oil
  • A clean and dry bag

Do not use strong solvents to try to clean a fishing reel. You never want to use anything like gasoline or others lighter fluid. If that sounds crazy to you, know that people have tried it in the past. Solvents destroy plastic parts and remove the protective coating, so that’s a problem.

Soaking A Fishing Reel

Some people recommend soaking them for the cleaning process. The idea is that it promotes a deep cleaning. We are not going to recommend that here. The more you soak a fishing reel, the greater the chance it will get into your gear system. Even a high-quality fishing reel can only withstand excess moisture and abuse. Eventually, this is going to wear you out.

Cleaning Your Reel Prep

We will try to explain this as clearly as possible here. If you are not sure about the process, you may want to search for some videos on YouTube. Sometimes it helps if you can really see the process that is presented to you. There is also nothing wrong with going to a repair shop.

Have a notebook handy. Write down the order in which you take things of apart. There are many small parts involved in the operation of a fishing reel. It can get confusing if you have never done it before.
Another good option that some people have used in the past is sticky notes. Take off a part and put it on the sticky note with an identity number. That way everything is kept in order and you are less likely to get confused. You will also notice if something is missing so you can search for it.

Make sure you’ve got a reliable pair of tweezers. When you delve into the inner workings of your reel, there are some very tricky parts. Your fingers could potentially hurt them unintentionally. The tweezers will allow you to have more control. Although it may not seem obvious at first, body oils and hand sweat can wear down these delicate parts. If you’ve got an expensive reel, it is worth taking care of.

Taking Apart Your Fishing Rod and Reel

Time to start cleaning your reel. Obviously, the first thing you want to do removing the reel from the rod. Disassembling the reel after that requires patience and a steady hand.

  • Begin the process by removing the line from the spool or securing the line with any masking tape. That will prevent it from getting tangled later.
  • If you have a spincast reel, you will have to take it apart. Get a bit off the line and then secure it.
  • Remove the spool cover and remove the spinning head and spool. This is what you need a small key for.
  • With the spinning head spool out of the way, you can remove the center shaft. Then remove the crank, washers, clutch ring, and bearing from the crank. These are the parts that you should take care of with your tweezers. Take them out one at a time as you find them, put them on some paper towels or your sticky notes, and label them in order. There will be quite a number of small and delicate parts here. You do not want to lose any or forget where they go.
  • With everything taken apart, you can use your toothbrush to clean things. Use your cleaning solution and scrub the inside of the spool assembly. Once the larger parts are ready, you can gently clean the smaller parts with the same brush.
  • Use your clean rag or wipe everything afterward. Take a moment to hold them with the tweezers and look around to make sure they are completely clean.
  • You must lubricate the parts before reassembling everything. Make sure you have a suitable spool oil or spool grease to prevent corrosion. You want to grease the crank here and the axle to start with. Which can hit pick arms, washers, center shaft, bushings, etc.
  • Use a little spool oil on the handle knobs, ball bearings, reverse lever, clutch ring, and spool release. Make sure everything moves the way you want it to.
  • Follow their numbered instructions to put everything back together. Just go in the opposite direction from where you disassembled it.

Clean a Spinning Fishing Reel

Spinning reels are generally the easiest to clean. Taking them apart is less work than spincast reels. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful and keep track of all the pieces.

  • You will want to thoroughly clean the spool with fresh water. We said we would not recommend soaking the reel. But a spinning casting reel can work well with a quick swim if you’re a saltwater angler. It’s a great way to get rid of all the excess salt that you might otherwise miss.
  • As always, you want to secure your line and place before you begin.
  • Start by removing the spool and giving it a good turn with the toothbrush once you have removed it.
  • Use your pliers to remove the spool bushings and washers. Then you can remove the handle knobs, the pick-up pin, and the pick-up arm.
  • After that, you can work on the crankshaft. Remove the gears, center shaft, and clutch screw. The last thing you want to take out is the ball bearings along with the roller wheel. Remember to make a note of everything as you delete it. The number that is in order so you know how to put it back.
  • Use the toothbrush to clean each individual part with a little of your cleaning solution. Use a soft cloth to dry them when finished, but be gentle. You don’t want to accidentally bend or break anything.
  • Once everything is clean, you can grease the pickup pin, arms, handle knobs, spool release, and ball bearings. Don’t overly grease the ball bearings, they don’t need to be leaking or anything.
  • Use some grease on the main shaft and the rest of the crank system. The roller wheel and pick-up arm, as well as bushings and washers, may also use a little grease.
  • Use a cotton swab or cotton swab to remove the grease. You do not want it to collect dust and dirt and create greasy mud in there.
  • Follow their written instructions and put everything back together. Just go in the reverse order of how you disassembled it. Like we said, spinning fishing reels are a bit easier to work with than casting spinning reels or baitcasting reels.
Clean a Spinning Fishing Reel

Clean a Baitcasting Fishing Reel

A baitcasting reel can be difficult to clean. Take care to secure the line properly. Also, make sure you are tracking all those little pieces.

  • You need to loosen the drag knob. You can remove the drag system, including the spool, at this point.
  • Use some clean water and your toothbrush to clean the spool. Clean as much as you can from the inside of the reel.
  • Remove the tension knob from the track. Now you can remove the spool pin and other parts. Choose the stabilizer bar, pinion, shaft guard, and gear. You can also take out the release slider, bushings, handle knobs, and reel release. Use the tweezers to take these parts by part. Label and number them, and put them on your sticky notes or jot them down in your notebook.
  • Clean each piece gently with your toothbrush. Also, use your cleaning solution. Remember, gentle is the key here.
  • Finish cleaning the inside of the spool as best you can. And then use a cleaning cloth to dry everything.
  • Once it’s clean, you need to lubricate everything again. You can grease the reel shaft and handle knobs. Make sure you put the ball bearings on the stabilizer bar as well. Be careful not to get things too greasy, they don’t need to be swimming in it.
  • You can then lubricate the pinion yoke and main gear, as well as the shaft and gear guard. And you can use cotton swabs or cotton swabs to clean up any excess.
  • You should be able to put everything back together now. Just follow their written instructions.

Keep Your Fishing Line Clean

If you are your saltwater angler especially, be sure to rinse the line and reel. Clean the entire reel after each use. Using saltwater will eventually damage any reel. Don’t let the salty water air dry. It will greatly extend the life of your rod and reel if you clean them properly.

Your best bet is to do a proper cleaning every time you return from ocean fishing. You want to clean your spool completely. If that’s not an option, you should at least rinse it off. We honestly don’t recommend doing just that, but it’s better than nothing. If for some reason you are short on time and cannot do a thorough cleaning, do your best to remove the saltwater. We know that many anglers do not always completely clean every sign, but it is best for your reel.

Don’t Over Lubricate Your Reel

Lubrication will prevent oxidation, so it is necessary to apply grease. When using especially oil, you can end up using too much lubrication. A little oil will do. The reel oil is quite light. It is capable of spreading and doing its job without the need to apply a ton. In fact, if you use too much it can start to hamper performance. It will also clog more easily as the real thing gets dirty again. Eventually, it could cause more damage than if you hadn’t used it that much.

Always make sure you have something on hand to clean up the excess while you apply it.

Keep it Organized

This is the most important part of cleaning any fishing reel. The steps we describe are pretty simple when you read them. Just a handful of things to do. But if you don’t keep track of when you got all the pieces out and where they go, the work can be overwhelming. Label everything and number it. Keep track of where it was and you can easily put it back.

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