How to Clean and Maintain Fishing Reels

fishing reels

Keeping your fishing equipment in check is critical if you want the equipment to work well for you. There’s no mistake about it, and it works for almost any type of gear you can think of. But there’s something this works exceptionally well with, the fishing reel.

While this piece of equipment for fishing seems simple to clean, it’s not. If you are a beginner or someone who doesn’t wash their reel too often, you’ll see how complex it is.

From disassembling it to cleaning from the outside as well as maintaining with oil and grease – there are various steps you should follow when it comes to reels, and you may not know them.

Luckily for you, here we come with a detailed guide on how to clean your reel to keep it working as it should. Come and take a look further to find out more!

How to Clean Fishing Reels – Step By Step Fishing Gear Care

Why Clean Your Fishing Reel

The reel is probably the most crucial fishing item alongside the rod. Without a reel, you may not have enough strength to bring strong fish close to you. And that would eventually make the whole fishing experience useless.

clean your fishing reel

But you can always take care of your reel. Clean it when it is dirty and filled with unwanted impurities, grease it when you need to, and pour oil where it’s needed – so you can have a completely functional and long-lasting product.

Especially when it comes to saltwater fishing, it’s critical to maintain your reel in pristine condition. Salt minerals tend to damage it much faster and effectively than any other factor. So, if you want to have an issue-free reel that lasts for years, you should maintain it free of any impurity.

Whatever the use you give to the reel, it’s nonetheless essential to get rid of everything that could harm it after using. From using soapy water to soft rinses of fresh water plus a gentle wipe with a clean cloth, that will help you keep your reel in a good state and working correctly.

However, there are a few more things you should do; here we are going to show them to you.

Find the Right Tools & Cleaning Products

There are a few tools and products that are vital for cleaning and maintaining your product. We’re going to start first with the tools you’ll need;

  • Two screwdrivers (Standard & Phillips)
  • Tweezers
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpick
  • Wrench
  • Sticky Notes or Notepad (optional)
  • List of Reel Parts (if possible)
  • User’s Manual of the Reel (if possible)

These tools are mostly for disassembling, assembling and picking different parts when cleaning. Make sure they are small tools according to the size of the reel. Measure each one and make sure they fit your needs for working with the little pieces of the part.

Then you have the necessary products for cleaning and maintaining. These will help you maintain the reel in a good state. We recommend the following ones;

  • A-Rod & Reel Cleaner (light preferably)
  • Synthetic Reel Oil
  • Synthetic Reel Grease
  • A Soft Fabric Cloth

Now that you know what you need for cleaning & taking apart the reel, it’s time to learn some general rules to follow.

Cleaning Guidelines

You may think watching a video or reading a short guide can help you clean & maintain a reel completely, but probably that’s not enough.

Here we explain a few general rules you should know before taking apart & cleaning your reel;

 What to Do

Never forget to do these things while cleaning reels;

    • Prepare Everything

Before disassembling the reel, make sure you have all the tools & cleaning products close to you. Also, find a table or desk where you can place all the disassembled parts without losing them. A mat would be useful to prevent metal-on-metal contact.

    • Write Down Assembling Order

Remember the place & disassembling order of each part. We recommend numbering each component as you take it out, this way you won’t forget when assembling it back. You can use sticky notes and write a number to each part, and then you can construct the unit using that order.

    • Keep It Simple

It’s recommended to hold the reel with your non-leading hand and disassemble/assemble with the other. This will help you have more control when doing it, as you’re using the hand you have more control over to handle the parts. And of course, it keeps the process fast & easy.

    • Use Tweezers

Always use tweezers to handle small components such as wire clips, springs or even screws if possible. This will help you not only to prevent losing them but also damaging them. Body oils or sweat that comes down to your hand can eventually damage these metal parts.

    • Be Careful with the Pool

Before removing the spool, it’s useful to secure the fishing line with tape or a clip. This will help you remove the part without getting a wiring problem eventually. If you don’t secure the line, you may subsequently have a knot to get rid of.

Or the line may get into the mechanism which will prevent you from disassembling it. Prevent this by securing it before doing anything with the spool.

    • Clean Excess of Cleaner Afterward

The lighter fluid or reel cleaner product will be an essential part of the whole cleaning process. But it is recommended to always clean the excess of liquid after getting rid of dirt, dust or minerals.

    • Add Oil & Grease for Lubrication

After cleaning you should always add oil & grease to the parts that need it. Remember to get safe products, preferably oriented towards reel maintenance so you can prevent any damage to the components.

What Not to Do

​Here’s what you should avoid when cleaning reels;

    • Don’t Use Harmful Cleaners

Prevent the use of solvents, cleaner or fluids that are made from petroleum-based formulas. Gasoline and diesel can clean effectively but not safely, mainly because they are corrosive and can damage the small parts of the reel.

So always look for reel-cleaning products with biodegradable formulas, this will help you avoid any unwanted destruction to the gears.

    • Don’t Use TFE Lubricants

Stay away from TFE oils and grease. Lubrication is essential for your reel, but you should always avoid the use of TFE-made oils at all times. This TFE is a component that’s more solid than liquid, and it eventually gets hard after using.

If you lubricate the unit with a product that contains TFE, you may eventually create an unnecessary buildup that could harm the reel.

    • Prevent the Use of Grease in Wrong Places

Never apply grease on the wrong place. It’s always recommended to apply grease only to the bottom part of the gears. This will help you avoid spreading lubricant all along the reel which could hurt overall performance and damage other parts.

Just apply a small coating of grease to the bottom of the gear so you won’t have to clean afterward.

    • Avoid Metal-on-Metal Contact

Avoid placing metal on metal when assembling the product. Most reel components don’t touch any metal part while you’re using it. This means that they are made to work on plastic or fiber, so they don’t get damaged while working.

If you want to avoid any harm, we recommend placing the parts on a mat while cleaning & assemble the reel following the disassembling process to the letter.

Cleaning Different Types of Reels

Now that you have a general idea of what to do when cleaning reels, here we have additional information depending on the exact design of the product.

The following information will help you clean your specific model;

    Spin-Cast Reel

The spin-cast reel keeps all its part inside. This means you’ll have a piece that’s very protective of all its components. If you need to clean it, then you’ll have to disassemble it.

spincast reel

And surely, this process may be a little more difficult than expected. But as long as you’re careful, it can be done with no problem. Here we explain how;

Cleaning a Spin-Cast Reel

The disassembling process of the spin-casting reel can be a little complicated. Some of the parts are really small, and the protective pressure that keeps it together may be overwhelming for some users.

If you can’t take it apart and clean it yourself, you can always ask a professional, repair shop or manufacturer for tips or help.

    • Soaking in Water

Rinse the whole reel in freshwater for a few hours. Let it soak until the water gets inside the product and softens up any build up or dirt.

    • Feeding the Line

Start by pressing the thumb button that helps to cast. This will make the line feed to the reel when you let go. Secure the line that comes out from the front hole of the reel when most of it is inside.

    • Removing the Covers

Now remove the reel covers. Start by removing the spinner head and the spool. You may need the wrench for this. Then you can go on with the center shaft, the crank bearing, washers, crank handle, and clutch ring.

Be careful because most of these parts are very delicate, use tweezers to take them out. Take all the rest out as well.

    • Cleaning with a Brush

With the reel disassembled, you can pick the toothbrush and soak it in reel-cleaning liquid to start getting rid of any residue inside. Start with the outside parts from the inside, and then go on with each small component with care.

    • Wiping with a Cloth

After removing all the residues and buildup, you can clean each part carefully with a fabric cloth. Make sure they are free of any impurity or dirt. Then you’re done with cleaning.

Lubricating a Spin-Cast Reel

  • Remember to read the specific manual for lubrication for your particular model. This will help you lubricate more effectively.
  • For a spin-cast reel, add grease in the crank gear and shaft, pinion gear, pick-up arm, washers, bushings, and center shaft.
  • Add oil to the handle knobs, the arm lever, pick-up pin, the kick lever, the ball bearings, spool release, and clutch ring.

If you’ve finished this process, then you can assemble the reel back. We recommend following the same order as you did when disassembling. If you took notes and numbered the parts, then you should have no problem when assembling.

Bait-Casting Reel​

The bait-casting reel is a product that can be very damaging to your line when using. If you don’t use it correctly, the line becomes a total mess and eventually makes the process hard to do.

bait casting reel

But as long as you use it correctly, this type of reel can be a fantastic piece to have. This also means, however, that cleaning & disassembling it may be a little harder than others, so you must be careful.

Cleaning a Bait-Casting Reel​

This process can also be a little overwhelming. If you don’t feel like doing it yourself, we recommend calling a professional or repair shop for help. You can also bring the reel to a technician shop if you don’t want to it yourself.

    • Wipe Clean the Outside

Start by wiping the reel with a cloth and washing liquid. You should get rid of any salt, impurities, buildup, or even spots of any dirt you can find. Make sure it is clean in the outside before you take the clean to the insides. Dry up with a dry cloth when finished.

    • Eliminate Residues from the Spool

First, loosen the drag tension knob to release the spool using the screwdriver. Now you can remove the spool. We recommend soaking the reel in freshwater for a few minutes, then grab the toothbrush and clean it using the liquid. Remove all the residues inside the spool as much as possible.

    • TakeAll the Parts Out

Now you can remove the drag tension knob completely. Then remove the drag-system parts including the spool shaft, handle knobs, spool release, stabilizer bar, pinion gear and yoke, shaft guard and gear, the release slider plus the bushings.

Remember to use tweezers. Take it all out and clean them softly with the toothbrush and washing liquid.

    • Finishing Off

Remove the remaining residue on the parts and finish off by drying all the pieces with a soft cloth.

Lubricating a Bait-Casting Reel

  • The manual of the specific model and design of reel will let you know how to proceed with this part. Otherwise, you can follow our next advice
  • Add oil on the spool shaft and ends, the handle knobs and the spool release. Also, add to the stabilizer bar and the ball bearings. Don’t add much and prevent any oil contact with other parts.
  • Finish up by adding grease to the main gear and pinion yoke, the worm-shaft guard and the worm gear plus the release slider and the bushings. Try to remove the excess with a cotton swab without letting debris behind. Do this, and you’re done.

Finish off the cleaning process of the bait-casting reel by putting it back together. Remember the order of disassembling.

Be careful with the tension knob of this reel, and don’t put a lot of pressure when placing it back. Then you can piece it all the remaining parts together, and you’re done.

Spinning Reel

This is probably the most popular reel nowadays, not only because it is easier to use but also because it is a piece of cake to disassemble and clean.

spinning reel

You can follow almost the same guidelines as previous types, but we recommend being careful; nonetheless, it can be a little problematic with some small parts.

Cleaning a Spinning Reel

Same as the other cleaning chores, you can do it on your own, or you canrely on a professional or an expert friend of yours.

    • Soaking in Water and Taking Out the Line

For spinning reels, it is especially important to soak it in freshwater if you used it in saltwater. This will get rid of any additional salt or minerals in part. Then dry it off with a soft cloth.

Now you can go on by securing or taking the line out. We recommend sticking tape to the line against the rod to preventing it from moving.

    • Disassemble the Unit

After securing the line or removing it completely, you can go on by using the screwdrivers or wrench to disassemble the piece. Remember to start with the spool, taking it out and cleaning it entirely before you keep going with the rest of the parts.

    • Taking Out the Parts

Take each part with care using the tweezers. Start with the spool washers and bushings. Keep on with the handle knobs, pickup arm, and pickup pin. Then go on with the crankshaft and gears, the center shaft, the clutch screw, and pool-release. Finish with the roller wheel and the ball bearings.

    • Brushing it Clean

Use a toothbrush to clean up each part adding some cleaning liquid to it. After cleaning each component and removing all the residues and buildup, you can dry them off. Use the soft cloth to get rid of the excess of washing liquid.

Lubricating a Spinning Reel

  • Here you will put oil on the handle knobs, the pickup pin, and the arm and kick levers. The clutch screw, spool-release mechanism, and the ball bearings also need a little oil.
  • Finish up by using grease on the crank system, including the center shaft. Also add on the roller wheel, the pickup arm, and the spoon washers and the bushings.

Now you can start piecing up the reel again. Make sure you do it slowly but following the same order as you did when disassembling. This type of reel tends to be simpler than other models so you won’t probably have any problem doing it. Rebuild the piece, and you’re done.

Additional Tips to Consider

Even though the previous guide will help you clean your reels effectively and without leaving anything behind, there are still a few extra steps you can consider to increase the effectiveness of the cleaning.

Here’s what you should know;

    • Clean Saltwater After Using

If you used your reel for saltwater fishing, it is almost a rule to clean it thoroughly before storing it. Saltwater tends to leave dirt, salt, and small residues from seawater that can damage the piece.

We recommend doing a deep cleaning. A simple hose is never a good choice; pressure may eventually bring outside dirt to the insides.

    • Dry Components After Cleaning

After cleaning each part of the reel, make sure you dry them up softly. A moist or dry cloth will help you do that, not only to get rid of excess moisture but also to get rid of any additional dirt, debris, or salt residues in the reel.

    • Use Just Enough Lubricant

Light oil for lubricating is always the best one. But you should still use just two or three drops of oil, and that’s it. As light oil, it tends to move and spread around the piece more effectively, and that can be a problem if you add too much.

    • Be Careful When Handling the Reel

Removing the bearings of a reel can be pretty overwhelming. Not only you’ll have to be careful by using tweezers to prevent damage, but you’ll also have to remember the precise place of each part afterward to assemble it.

Whether it is a spin-cast, bait-casting, or spinning reel – if you don’t have any idea how to disassemble it, ask an expert before you damage the product.

Conclusion – Start Cleaning your Reel Today!

After you’ve read the article, you’re probably ready to start getting rid of all the impurities and debris in your reel. Before you take any step, just remember this is something that will make your piece work better as well as prevent any potential issue from unwanted particles inside.

So not only you should try to clean it as well as possible but also do it carefully to avoid any accidental damage.

Now you can say you’re ready to tackle this process. Don’t waste your time and clean your reel before it is too late.

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