Mouthpiece Brushes: Why You Need Them – Or Not

I don’t know how I stumbled across this particular item on eBay, but the description of these saxophone mouthpiece brushes made me laugh so hard, that I decided that I had to share them with you…

A seller who specializes in children’s musical instruments is flogging multi-coloured mouthpiece brushes for soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones.

mouthpiece brushes, saxophone mouthpiece cleaning brush

Source: Little-Kids-Instruments on

This is how the seller describes these little gems:

Soprano Saxophone Mouthpiece Cleaning Brush – This powerful cleaning tool helps remove dirt & grime build-up inside your mouthpiece, which is unsightly and detrimental. The tapered shape of this stiff bristled nylon mouthpiece cleaning brush enables thorough cleaning, and will help you maintain an unobstructed airflow making for better tone production. This tool is an essential accessory for all Soprano Saxophone Players.

“Unsightly and detrimental”. I know I am always worried about what people might think about me if my mouthpiece was unsightly on the INSIDE. But isn’t that a bit like people snooping through your medicine cabinets when at a party at your house. WTF are people doing looking at the inside of your mouthpiece? Or are you just leaving it around on the dinner table for others to handle? Really? That’s just gross on a lot of different levels!

As far as “dirt and grime” building up inside your mouthpiece being detrimental; how so? Sure, your mouthpiece is a haven for bacteria and fungi, but is that really what they mean? Let’s take a closer look.

The sellers claim that their mouthpiece brushes allow you to clean your piece so that you’ll have “an unobstructed airflow making for better tone production”. WTF! Just how much bacteria do they think we have growing inside our mouthpieces so that they become obstructed?

My curiosity was now piqued, so I started taking a look at all the mouthpieces I have, and I noticed something: perhaps Little-Kids-Instruments has a point.

Ever since I quit smoking 15 or so years ago, I started chewing gum. Yes, I have been known to chew gum when I play sax. Well looky here… this is where some of my used gum is… ;)

saxophone mouthpiece shank, used gum,

OK, so you know that was a joke, right? I don’t really have gum stuck to the inside of my saxophone mouthpiece. That said, if I did, these saxophone mouthpiece brushes certainly wouldn’t do the job of getting it out.

Mouthpiece cleaning: saxophone mouthpiece brushes not required

There is no disputing that cleaning your saxophone mouthpiece is an important part of the overall aspect of instrument hygiene. After all, you don’t want to end up with saxophone lung.

That said, mouthpiece brushes have never been a favourite tool of mine for the simple fact that they can scratch the inside of the mouthpiece. For as long as I’ve been playing I’ve done the following, and it has worked for me.

Materials needed:

  • Plastic container big enough to hold mouthpieces. Plastic is important because it won’t scratch the pieces.
  • Regular dish soap. Be sure it’s NOT anti-bacterial.
  • Q-tips
  • Warm, not hot, water.
  • A clean towel

How to clean your mouthpieces:

  1. Add a drop of dish soap to the plastic container.
  2. Fill the plastic container with warm water, the temperature should be about that you wash your hands with. NO HOTTER.
  3. Gently place your mouthpiece(s) in the soapy water and let them soak for 5 minutes of so.
  4. Using Q-tips, clean the beak, tip and side rails, chamber, and as far into the barrel as you can. Don’t cheap out on the Q-tips. I usually use at least 3 or 4 per mouthpiece.
  5. When you’re done cleaning the mouthpiece, rinse it with warm, (NOT HOT) water.
  6. Lay it on a clean towel, table side up, so that the chamber and barrel has lots of access to air.

NB: It’s important not to use hot water because it will damage hard rubber mouthpieces and discolour them.

If you’re still in doubt about mouthpiece brushes, take a look at the metal loop that the bristles are attached to. Not only do I not like the bristles scratching the inside of a mouthpiece, the metal loop can definitely do some damage. Furthermore, certain mouthpieces, like the Dukoffs, are especially prone to damage, so this is for sure a no, no.

mouthpiece brushes, saxophone mouthpiece cleaning brushes

Source: Little-Kids-Instruments on

So, happy and safe mouthpiece cleaning everyone. It isn’t the sexist part of being a sax player, but it sure beats the alternative ;)   ….

saxophone lung, joke anatomy cartoon

Original source material from:

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

© 2015, Helen. All rights reserved.


Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.


  1. Recently I saw a picture where I played a Dukoff crystalite (the inside was clean).
    I liked the see through effect and enhanced it by replacing the black ligature with a see through one. It is an extra inspiration to keep it clean. I use almost the same cleaning method. :nuclear:

    • I use lots of clear mouthpieces. My soprano and alto pieces are all clear. Some are coloured, but nonetheless, if they were to get crud build-up in them they would look very disgusting.

      I have an alto Dukoff crystalite piece. I don’t use it currently, but yes, keeping it clean is a priority. The moisture showing in it always surprised me. Of course we know moisture builds in our horns, but having it so obviously show in the mouthpiece makes it clear why we need to be drying our horns after we play them.

  2. I generally use a retired soft toothbrush which I have narrowed to easily fit into all parts of a mouthpiece. If it seems “icky” to use a retired toothbrush this way, what are you doing with a mouthpiece other than sticking it in your mouth? There’s nothing on that toothbrush that also isn’t in your mouth.

    Since I have switched to using medium, rather than soft, toothbrushes for their normal purpose, I have had to dedicate mouthpiece brushes straight out of the box. Fortunately, practically all toothbrushes given away in promotions of any sort are of the soft variety.

    • I’m sure you know how to do it safely Mal-2. The reason I don’t recommend using a toothbrush is that it can damage the inside of the mouthpiece if used a bit too aggressively. I’m not talking about the bristles here, I’m talking about the plastic part.

      Using a child’s toothbrush (soft) would be less likely to damage a mouthpiece. I’m thinking of a soprano piece, for example, my Runyon Custom wouldn’t accommodate an adult size toothbrush very well. Over time the inside would get scratched up by the plastic of the brush. Even a child’s brush might be too big for my sop piece.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * 

Add an image if you like. (JPEG only)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.