How to Clean Fishing Reels

Learn how to clean a spinning reel after saltwater use.


February 19, 2020

Spinning reel maintenance kit
Here’s what you need for a proper reel-maintenance kit. Alex Suescun

When you’re on a hot bite or a long-planned trip, the worst thing that could happen is tackle failure. Losing a great catch due to something that could have been prevented is annoying. Avoid that problem by maintaining and regularly servicing your spinning reels and you’ll enjoy years of dependable use. Here are some steps to cleaning fishing reels and keeping those reels in good working order.

End each fishing trip with a thorough cleaning. Gently rinse each reel to remove salt particles. Don’t loosen the drags yet and don’t use a lot of water pressure, either, to prevent forcing salt and dirt into internal components. If possible, wash reels with warm, soapy, fresh water to remove salt, body oils, blood, and dirt.

In particular, here’s how to clean a spinning reel: Remove the skirted spool (and drag knob, if necessary), and clean the underside of the spool and the spindle area. Next rinse the entire reel again with a gentle spray and let them air dry or pat with a towel. Next, loosen the drag knob to remove pressure so the washers don’t become compressed and warped.


After cleaning, it’s time for the basic fishing reel maintenance. Wipe the reel down with a rag soaked with a protective coating like Aluma Guard, Reel magic or WD-40. A light coating of liquid furniture polish will also work. Be careful to avoid contact with the line or handle grips.

reel maintenance kit
Before each trip, give your reel a proper cleaning. Alex Suescun

Lubrication is an essential part of spinning reel maintenance. Use the oil that came with the reel or a quality after-market brand. Ball bearings and metal bushings tend to collect water and salt, leading to corrosion and seizure if not oiled. It’s difficult to crank in a fish if the handle won’t turn. A little oil goes a long way though. Too much is almost as bad as not enough, so apply sparingly.

To keep reels in prime fighting condition, periodic disassembly and cleaning is necessary at least every two years, preferably annually. Because of the intricate mechanics, deep cleaning a spinning reel is best left to professional technicians at reputable tackle shops or service centers. The reels will be completely disassembled down to the last screw and thoroughly cleaned, with ultrasonic dunking the preferred method. For the quickest turnaround, have this done in the winter off-season.


After cleaning, components are inspected before reassembly. If a part won’t endure a complete season, it needs to be replaced. Items subject to normal wear and tear like plastic drag knobs are checked for stress cracks. Drag washers typically last a couple of years depending on use; a shiny or worn one needs to be replaced immediately. Technicians also know whether to lube the drag washers. Certain drag material requires lubricants to work properly, while others are designed to stay dry and grease-free.

Keep your spinners spinning smoothly and they won’t let you down when that drag starts screaming.


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