How to Clean Fishing Reel? Step by Step Instructions! (Summer 2022)

It was a perfect fishing trip. The weather was beautiful. The fish were biting, and the fish that were biting was impressive. After a fantastic fishing trip, it's time to unpack all the gear. But most importantly, you need to clean your fishing reel. If you don't know how to clean a fishing reel, continue reading to learn exactly how and why you need to do this.

The fishing reel is certainly one of the most vital parts of your rod setup. This reel determines the accuracy of the cast as well as putting the bait or lure in the water. It's also responsible for reeling in the fishing line (preferably with a fish) fast and efficiently.   Today's fishing reels are technological marvels. But that doesn't mean that they don't need to be maintained regularly. With proper care and maintenance, it can provide decades of reliable fishing. Like any other piece of gear in your tackle box, your fishing reel needs regular maintenance to work well and stay durable. Cleaning up a reel and tackle can be tedious, but with practice, it becomes increasingly simple.

Why Should You Clean Up Your Fishing Reel Regularly?

Regularly cleaning your fishing gear certainly makes it last much longer. This not only saves money in the long run because there's no need to replace reels often. It also saves you frustration. Reels that are regularly cleaned will function better without issues while fishing. A fishing reel is a mechanical device that consists of a fishing line wound on a spool surrounded by a system of gears operated by a manual crank.

Reels especially bait caster reels, need regular cleaning. The Tatula Baitcasting Reel Model by Daiwa uses a right-hand design, with a 100, 7.1: gear ratio, 29.80" retrieve rate, and 11 max drags. This is just one example of a reel that really needs regular cleaning.

What Happens If You Don’t Clean Your Reels Regularly?

There are many problems that can occur if you don't clean your reels properly. Even a simple clean can improve the longevity of the reel.

Reels Get Clogged

If a reel gets clogged by oil, grime, dirt, fish blood, or anything similar, it can become blocked. A reel that doesn't move freely isn't a functional reel.

Dirty Reels Corrode Much Faster

Having any kind of corrosive material such as fish guts, or salt water, that isn't regularly washed off can cause an exponential level of corrosion. This renders the reel functionally useless.

Are There Different Ways to Clean Your Reels?

There are many ways that you can clean a reel. The first is a simple hose down. This works perfectly for a simple fishing trip in freshwater. Because there's not a lot to clean, however, this does not mean dunking the reel into the water you were fishing in. That's anti-productive. The second is slightly more involved. This is an external clean after removing the line and spool. This typically uses a cleaner to get the external parts clean and bright. This is another simple clean that's ideal for a simple freshwater fishing trip.

The third type is a deep clean of both the external and internal parts. This requires the reel to be completely disassembled, including the side plate and most moving parts, such as the gears and bearings of the reel. This is important to do after each saltwater fishing trip and after a couple of fishing trips fishing in fresh water.

Below we'll take the steps for the third style of cleaning. This external and internal deep cleaning is in-depth. With this method, you'll be cleaning every nook and cranny available. This ensures that everything is as clean as possible.

Tools Required

Here's what you'll need to get your reel cleaned and cleaned properly. These tools all help in different ways to make sure that your reel is completely clean.

  • Cleaner
  • Two Small Screwdrivers
  • Toothbrush, Tiny Paintbrush, or Other Form of Brush
  • Package of Toothpicks
  • Cotton Swabs or Q-Tips
  • Tweezers
  • Reel Oil
  • Empty Bowl
  • Soft Washing Cloth
  • Blow Dryer

Step-by-Step Guide

There are a lot of different steps when it comes to cleaning a reel. To get it completely cleaned, there are different steps to do just that. In this article, we go over how to clean your reel thoroughly with our step-by-step guide. It's straightforward once all the steps are utilized.

External Clean

The process starts simple. All you must do is a thorough cleaning of exterior surfaces. Take a bit of water or a damp cloth to wash the exterior. There is a common misconception amongst fishers, especially amateurs, that they only need a rinse on the external parts. The thought process is because the internal parts are enclosed in the internal casings. A simple rinse is okay, but not after every fishing trip. There still needs to be a full cleaning. However, it still needs to be disassembled, which is the second step.

Disassemble the Reel

Now it's time to take everything apart. Once you have the exterior cleaned, start disassembling your reel. Disassembling and cleaning the interior of the reel is vital to keeping your reels clean.

Carefully take the reel apart to get into every nook and cranny. As fishing reels are mechanical with many moving parts, it is necessary to dismantle them. This provides access to the inner gears and mobile systems for thorough cleaning.

While you're disassembling, make sure to do it in an orderly fashion. This way, reassembly will be easier. Don't worry about this step. It can be daunting, but it becomes easier the more you do it, and the more you become used to your reel.

Clean the Parts Separately

Clean each one of the parts separately. Each reel part should be cleaned with care and attention to detail. All the small parts in the interior of the reel need to be cleaned.

Oil the Parts

Oil each of the parts, especially the ones that are constantly moving.


Carefully assemble the reel back to how it's supposed to be. One genius tip that many professionals and amateurs alike recommend is to take pictures of the reel in its various stages of cleaning and disassembly. Thus, way you'll have a record to visually compare if the need arises.

Cleaning Tips for Different Types of Reels

With the wide variety of reel types, it's important to know how to clean your specific reel. The cleaning is generally the same for all fishing reels. However, the cleaning differs slightly. Below we'll show you some tips for cleaning different reels, including spinning reels, spin cast reels, and bait caster reels.

Spinning Reels

Spinning reels are usually the most common type of fishing reel. These are also known as open face or open bail reels. These fishing reels have a broad appeal among both beginners and experienced fishers. They are adaptable to various types of lures, baits, and even different weights (thicknesses) of fishing lines.

For spinning reels, you should clean them after each trip, regardless of fishing in saltwater or freshwater. Spinning reels specifically require a bit more maintenance than others. This maintenance allows these reels to last for decades. Even the most expensive spinning reel, with amazing features and high-tech treatments, requires regularly, or the reel will suffer from the effects of corrosion. As this corrosion progresses, it will degrade pretty much anything and everything. It will, in most cases, eat away your favorite reel.

Spin Casting Reels

Spin casting reels, also called closed-face reels, are like spinning reels. Both have spools that are in line with the rod. Because of this, both the spinning reel and the spin caster reel are considered the ideal entry-level fishing gear for those that are just starting out.

Bait Caster Reels

Baitcasting reels are more often referred to as bait casters. These reels are used more so by experienced anglers who see fishing as a serious endeavor. These are typically more expensive and complex than spinning reels. Unlike either the spinning and spin casting reels, the bait caster's spool sits perpendicular to the rod and doesn't rotate.

Take this model, for example, Kast King's Royale Legend GT Baitcasting Reels provides an amazing new low-profile design with a magnetic braking system, 17.6 lbs. carbon fiber drag, and 5+1 shielded stainless steel bearings. This model would certainly require disassembly to clean throughout the braking system, drag, and the various stainless-steel bearings.

How to Clean a Fishing Reel After Fishing in Saltwater?

Although freshwater fishers only need to clean their reel at least once every five fishing trips, saltwater fishers need to clean their reels after every trip. Washing your reel is a must for all saltwater fishers. This is because salt can cause corrosion which will destroy your reel completely in a very short time.

For general cleaning, rinse your reel as soon as you’re done fishing. This will help remove most of the saltwater. Allow it to air dry.

For a more detailed cleaning, you should make sure to clean both the interior and exterior. The salt can easily ruin the interior if not washed after each trip. Keep in mind that salt can get pretty much everywhere, including the spook and on the fishing line itself. Clean all the aspects, including the spool and line, by rinsing it with fresh, clean water.

If you are traveling on a multiday trip and can’t do a deep clean after each fishing expedition, make sure you can at least rinse it off. There's an amazing number of saltwater areas to fish in throughout the states. A simple trick is to keep a spray bottle of fresh water to spray your reel with. This is an easy way to clean the salt off the fishing line when you're nowhere near running water or don't have the proper tools. Make sure that it dries completely.

How to Clean Corrosion Off Fishing Reel?

Corrosion is detrimental to your fishing reel because it will disintegrate it as time goes on. Even the fishing reels that are designed to be protected against corrosion still need to be regularly cleaned. Unfortunately, even if you are taking fantastic care of your reel and cleaning it regularly, corrosion may appear after time. It’s important to inspect the reel frequently to stop corrosion as it begins. Taking off the corrosion early helps to solve the problem before it’s irreversible.

For those that don't want to spend too much money on a corrosion cleaner, the easiest and simplest method is vinegar. Some remove corroded parts by soaking them in vinegar for a few hours. Or even overnight. Then once it's done soaking, you can brush it off with a brush or toothbrush. This method is cheaper, but you must be careful with more sensitive reels and parts. Sometimes cleaning off corrosion is not an option, and it's time to purchase an entirely new reel. This is unfortunate, but it's better to have a reel that functions properly than not at all.

How to Clean Different Fishing Reel Parts?

Fishing reels rely upon many different and small mechanical components. These include mechanics such as gears, bearings, and bushings. Each of these requires various forms of lubrication. Because of that lubrication, the reels moving parts can accumulate dirt, particles, and even minuscule shavings over time. Once the reel is disassembled, you can brush the gears and other small parts gently using a small brush, toothbrush, or a tiny paintbrush. It's important to pay attention to the inside part of each gear. Grease the gears afterward before installing them back.

It's important to note that the grease goes on the gears while the oil goes on the bearings as well as all the other parts. Grease is sued to help the gears stay in place while they rotate under immense pressure. The grease and oil make sure that it's well lubricated. Once you completely disassemble your reel after several uses, it's surprising how dirty it gets, even if you recently cleaned it.

How Often Should You Clean Your Fishing Reels?

This should be something you do regularly. Each fishing trip should end with general cleaning of all your fishing equipment. Clean the fishing reel simply by cleaning the exterior after every single use. More in-depth and detailed cleaning should be done after a few uses, at least every five fishing trips. This includes complete disassembly and spool removal.

When Should I Contact a Professional?

It doesn’t hurt to contact a professional. There are a few situations where it’s recommended.

If you are not comfortable disassembling and cleaning your fishing reel because of all the small pieces, opt to use a professional cleaning service. If you have a huge collection of reels that require regular cleaning, it may be simpler to merely send them all to get professionally cleaned. The ease and convenience will be worth the cost. If the reel is excessively dirty beyond the normal mud and grime, it’s advised to contact the pros. For example, fishing in polluted streams would require a more robust cleaning of your reels to avoid contaminating your fish and subsequent fishing trips.

Final Thoughts

After a perfect fishing trip, there are still things to do. Cleaning your fishing equipment is an important part of maintaining your gear. Learning how to clean a fishing reel is important for every angler should know and to do on a regular basis. There's something to be said about fishing with clean and ready-to-go gear. Dirt, salt, and water, among other grosser aspects like blood or grime, can significantly reduce a reel's lifespan. The debris buildup can cause the reel to break down. It'll be murphy's law and usually break down at the most inconvenient moment. Cleaning and oiling them regularly is a good way to increase their effectiveness and longevity. Although it just takes a few moments, this cleaning makes a huge difference.

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