Covid19: (How) should I clean my harmonica?

(How) should I clean my harmonica?

I am getting asked this question a lot.

A dirty harmonica will not increase your chances of catching Covid19 (or any other flu). Social distancing and hand hygiene will protect you. Anything else is a false sense of security.

I don't see any realistic cleaning regimen that will somehow allow you to avoid social distancing but not catch the virus. If someone is coughing, singing or playing harmonica near you, they will transmit the disease to you via aerosol droplets.

Yes it will get into your harp but if it's gotten to your harp, it's already gotten to you. And that's the thing we need to avoid.


- Wash your hands before you pick up your instrument every single time. Wash your hands before you even open up your case.

- Stay away from others until the virus has subsided. Stay more than three feet (1 meter) away from anyone who is sick or stay home.

Follow these rules and clean your harps as usual.


What happens if I get Covid19?

Hopefully you get better.

Once you are better, it's time to clean your harps. Harmonicas create aerosol particles and you will spread the virus if you play harps you were in contact with while you were contagious.

Won't the virus be dead if I leave my harps to dry for a few days?

Possibly but not certainly.

I reckon the virus could survive quite a long time inside a harmonica with a porous comb. The inside of a harmonica is not like a surface such as a counter top. I assume that we could find biofilm on the inside of most harmonicas which would harbour microorganisms including viruses and help them survive dry spells and even a decent cleaning.

Biofilm is not visible to the naked eye.

Do not sanitize your instruments by dunking them in alcohol. That doesn't work.

Take them apart and clean them thoroughly with soap and water and then sanitize them. Hydrogen Peroxide is really great for that. It won't ruin any of the finishes on the tips of the tines and it is extremely effective at killing microorganisms. It doesn't have a harsh toxic odor and it's earth-friendly. It's cheap and easy to find, too.

If your comb is made of wood, you will have to face the fact that you may cause your comb to swell as you clean it. You really need to scrub and soak it. If the comb swells, I would recommend replacement rather than trying to re-seal it. It will eventually fail again. Replacement combs are easy to find.

This crisis is taking a toll on musicians. Contact me if you are looking for less costly replacement combs.

It may be worth considering putting some of your harps away for the duration of this crisis. If you are fond of some harps with unsealed wooden combs, I think it may be a good idea to keep them separate from your more frequently used - and easier to clean - harmonicas for the time being.

I hope that helps!