How To Clean A Fishing Reel

When it comes to fishing, a reel is the most crucial piece of equipment. Specific techniques and tools make it easy to clean your fishing gear to ensure that it remains functional after repeated use.

There are some general cleaning methods and specific techniques for how to clean a fishing reel. You also need to be methodical in your cleaning and maintenance to keep the reel in good repair.

Making Sure You Have the Right Equipment to Clean a Fishing Reel

Proper fishing reel care requires the right cleaning techniques. However, the first step in caring for your reel is making sure you have the right equipment on hand.

How to Clean a Fishing Reel

Learning how to clean a fishing reel starts with your supplies. Then you’ll clean up your rod and reel in three steps.

What Tools and Cleaning Products Do You Need?

There are some general tools you may need during cleaning. These include cleaning products and tools to disassemble and reassemble the reel if necessary.

Your toolbox should have the following:

  • A wrench
  • A standard screwdriver and a Phillips head screwdriver
  • A few toothpicks
  • A toothbrush or similarly-sized brush with stiff bristles
  • Tweezers
  • The user’s manual for the reel if possible
  • A list of reel parts if possible

Fishing Reel Cleaning Equipment

These are the main things you will need to disassemble the reel, clean the parts, reassemble them, and perform essential maintenance. Just make sure the tools are the right size for your reel.

Apart from these tools, you should also have some cleaning products to take care of the various aspects of cleaning. Your toolbox should also have:

  • A light rod and reel cleaner
  • Synthetic reel grease
  • Synthetic reel oil
  • A soft sponge
  • A soft cloth

You should note that this list is not exhaustive, and you may find that you do not need some of these tools or products at all.

Your toolbox components can vary depending on the specific kind of reel you’re trying to clean and just how thorough you want the cleaning to be. However, in most cases, you will want to have these things when cleaning a fishing reel.

The Three-Step Process for Cleaning a Fishing Reel

You want to move through the cleaning process in a step-by-step manner to get everything clean.

Step One: Clean the Reel

Start by tightening the drag on the reel to stop water from getting into the drag stack. You can then use a sponge and soapy water to wash the reel.

  • Never immerse the reel in water or use pressurized water to spray it. Doing this could damage the gearing.
  • Once you’re satisfied that the reel is clean, rinse it off with fresh water and wipe it dry with a cloth
  • It’s good practice to wipe the line as well. You can also remove the spool and wash it with fresh water to remove any grime or salt that may have collected on top of the reel rotor or under the spool.
  • Finally, you can spray some lubricant on a clean cloth and use it to wipe the reel. When you do this, make sure the oil does not touch the line.

Step Two: Clean the Spool

To clean the spool, begin by undoing the drag knob to loosen the spool until it slides off the reel.

  • You can use a sponge or cloth to clean the underside of the spool.
  • After it is clean, you should grease the main shaft of the spool and then put it back into its position.
  • Don’t tighten the drag knob just yet. Leave it loose so that the drag washers aren’t under too much pressure while the reel isn’t in use. You can tighten the drag knob when you are preparing to fish.
  • Apply some light oil on the line rollers, handle knobs, folding handle, and bail arm springs.

Step Three: Clean the Rod and Rod Handle

Finally, it is time to wash down the rod with fresh water. You want to make sure that the line guides are clean and free of debris that might damage the line.

  • Wash the grips carefully with warm soapy water.
  • Lightly grease the guides to protect them from corrosion.

Tips for Cleaning Reels Specific Reel Types

Some cleaning techniques are different depending on the type of reel that you have. Certain techniques can damage or completely ruin your reel depending on how it works (and what gears or other components lie inside).

If you have a spin-cast, spinning, or baitcaster reel, follow these tips for better cleaning.

Spin-Cast Reels

Spin-cast reels have all their parts on the inside. That means you’ll have to disassemble it to clean it. This process may be a little difficult the first time, and you should be careful with the more fragile parts.

However, as you get the hang of it, you will get more comfortable.

Cleaning a spin-cast reel involves first soaking the whole reel in clean water for a couple of hours. This step will allow the water to get inside and soften any dirt that has built up. You do not want to take this step with other types of reels, however.

Next, you need to feed the line. Press the thumb button that you use to cast. You should secure the line after it lets out so that it does not get tangled.

The next step is to remove the reel covers. You can start by using a wrench. However, you want to be careful when removing the center shaft, crank bearing, handle, and clutch ring. Tweezers could be a better tool for the bearing and clutch ring.

For the actual cleaning, you can use a toothbrush dipped in reel cleaner. You will clean from the inside out as gently as possible.

Finally, you can wipe down each part with a soft cloth, making sure all residue is gone. Before you put the cover on, you will want to lubricate your spin-cast reel. Lubricant needs can vary, so you should refer to the user’s manual for the reel or look up the directions online.

Spinning Reels

Spinning reels are among the most popular options on the market. They are easy to use and easy to disassemble. You can follow general cleaning methods for the most part, but you don’t want to forget to be careful with the fragile parts.

It is especially important to soak spinning reels in clean water, but only if you used them in saltwater. This step will get rid of salt and other minerals. You can then disassemble it and clean out the internals with a brush dipped in reel cleaner.

Baitcaster Reels

Baitcasting reels are great, but only if you use them carefully. If you use them wrong, they are likely to damage your line.

Unfortunately, they are also a little challenging to disassemble and clean. You can start by wiping down the outside with a cloth soaked in washing liquid. Get rid of all the buildup and dirt you can find.

Next, you can loosen the drag knob with a screwdriver until it is loose enough to remove the spool. You then clean the reel with a toothbrush soaked in reel cleaner.

The next step is to remove the drag knob and take apart the reel. You clean each part with a toothbrush soaked in a reel cleaner and add lubricant after ensuring that each component is dry.

Finally, you can reassemble the reel.

What Are the Dos and Don’ts for Cleaning a Fishing Reel?

There are some essential things to do and other important things to avoid when cleaning a fishing reel.


  • Make sure you have all the necessary tools and products before you begin disassembling the reel.
  • Place the parts in a container or on a work table so that you do not lose them.
  • The first few times you take apart a reel, use a notepad to write the steps you used. When putting the reel back together, you can reverse the order. This idea will keep you from skipping any steps.
  • User tweezers for the smallest and most delicate parts of the reel. This way, you won’t damage them.
  • Securing the fishing line before removing the spool is necessary. This step will protect you from having to deal with impossible knots or tangles.
  • Remember to lubricate after cleaning. Use lubricating products that are certified safe for reels in general and for your reel in particular where applicable.


  • Don’t use abrasive cleaners. You want to avoid any petroleum-based solvents or cleaners as they may destroy the reel’s fragile components.
  • Also, don’t use TFE lubricants as these become after application, which can lead to buildup over time that may damage the reel.
  • Don’t lubricate the wrong places on your reel. Apply grease only to the bottom of the gears and avoid spreading it to the whole reel as this could impede performance.
  • Don’t let metal come into contact with metal. Most reel components connect plastic or fiber components with metal ones. Metal-on-metal contact will cause damage.