Informational Guide

How To Clean Fishing Reels

Read our guide below to find out the best way to clean your fishing reels.

by Andrew

Informational Guide

How To Clean Fishing Reels

Read our guide below to find out the best way to clean your fishing reels.

by Andrew

by Andrew

While fishing can be a lot of fun, you need to take good care of your fishing reel to help it last for years to come. Some reels, like the ones from Shimano, are just built to last and made of anti-corrosive materials that give them the longevity that they need. 

But at the end of the day, every reel will need a thorough cleaning once in a blue moon. Unfortunately, many anglers out there aren't quite sure how to clean fishing reels properly. Read our guide below to find out the best way to clean your fishing reels. 

Any true angler knows that a clean fishing reel is the centerpiece of a proper fishing setup. The problem is that when the reels get dirty, the grime can find its way into the moving parts of the reel and cause it to malfunction.  

It only takes a few minutes to complete a quick washdown, which you should do every time you use the reel. Pair this with 15 minutes of maintenance on the reel every few months, depending on usage.   

The first time cleaning the reel is always the most challenging part. You have to figure out the proper steps and how to take the reel apart and put it back together. Once you do it one time, though, you will learn the secrets and can keep the fishing reel clean all the time.  

How To Clean Fishing Reels: Tips & Tricks For Proper Reel Care

What You’ll Need To Clean Your Fishing Reel 

Anglers will need a few different tools to help them clean their fishing reel properly. These can help take the reel apart, store the different items, and more. Some of the tools that you should gather ahead of time include: 

  • Pair Of Screwdrivers:
    Consider grabbing a few different types of screwdrivers to have on hand. This makes it easier to take apart the reel so you can clean all the little components. 
  • Old Toothbrush:
    A toothbrush is good for scrubbing down some of the parts of the fishing reel without leaving scratches and dents on the fishing reel. Choose a soft-bristled one that you no longer plan to use. 
  • Toothpick:
    There are a lot of little parts that go with your fishing reel. A toothpick or two will help you clean out the smaller areas so nothing gets left behind. 
  • Pair of Tweezers:
    A pair of tweezers is a good choice for those screws that are deep inside the reel. 
  • Wrench:
    There may be a few more complex components to move on the reel, so having a wrench nearby could be a smart decision. 
  • Cotton Swabs:
    Cotton swabs are the perfect solution to help you to clean out the different parts of the reel. Just add in some of the cleaning solution, and you can wipe it all down. 
  • Quality Cleaning Solution:
    There are different types of cleaning solutions that you can choose to work with on your reel. Explore which types work the best for your reel to keep it clean. 
  • Container:
    A few containers can be nice for cleaning. You can choose a small one to hold all of the little pieces of your fishing reel so they do not roll around. A larger one with fresh water is a good idea for soaking the reel.
  • Clean & Dry Rag:
    As you clean off the reel, you will want to dry it off too. A clean rag will help with that. 
  • Reel Oil:
    Take the time to use high-quality reel oil on the fishing reel. This ensures that you will have all the parts of the reel working well. 

Disassembling A Fishing Reel 

The first step is to disassemble the fishing reel so that it is ready to go. Start this by removing the line from the spool, or you can use masking tape to secure the line. This prevents the line from tangling later. Keep a container nearby to help as you take the fishing reel apart.

You can add the parts to the container as you work to prevent them from rolling around and getting lost. Consider labels for the parts to help put them back together, or keep the user manual nearby to help you.  

fishing poles reel after cleaning

How To Clean Fishing Reels: Guide For Different Types 

1. Cleaning A Spincasting Reel 

  • Take the reel apart. Slowly remove all of the items from the spool, and set them into a container to clean.  
  • When everything is removed, use a toothbrush to clean all of the items. A good cleaning solution and a toothbrush will clean all the bigger parts.  
  • Use the clean rag to wipe it all down. Hold up to a light and look around to make sure all the gunk inside is removed.  
  • Lubricate all of the parts too. Reel grease or oil are good for these. Add a bit onto the ball bearings, handle knobs, clutch ring, and spool release.  
  • Follow the instructions in the user’s manual to help put all of the parts back together the right way.  
  • Wipe down the outside of the reel, including the rod, before storing it away for later. 

2. Cleaning A Spinning Reel 

  • Clean it with fresh water. A quick soak can help make it easier to clean this reel.  
  • Secure the line with some tape before continuing.  
  • Remove the spool and wipe it down with a toothbrush when it is removed.  
  • Using the tweezers, take out the spool bushings and all the washers. Then remove the handle knobs, and the pickup arm and pin.  
  • Work on the crankshaft to remove all of those parts.  
  • With everything removed, you can use your toothbrush and the cleaning solution to get all of the parts cleaned. Dry them off gently with a soft cloth when done.  
  • Use some oil and grease on all of the parts to lubricate them and prevent sticking or grinding gears later on.  
  • Allow the grease or oil to sit there for a few minutes, and then use the cotton swab to remove the grease and dust everything off.  
  • Put the fishing reel back together, following the instructions in the manual.  
clean spinning reel

3. Cleaning A Baitcasting Reel 

  • Loosen up the drag knob. You will then be able to remove the spool and the drag system.  
  • A toothbrush and clean water will help clean off the reel. Try to clean up the spool and other parts as much as possible.  
  • Remove the track tension knob and the spool shaft. Slowly remove all of the parts in the reel, putting them in a container or marking them down to put back later.  
  • Gently use the toothbrush to clean off each piece with some of the cleaning solution. Be gentle with the parts as you go.  
  • Finish cleaning off the reel. Dry everything with a clean cloth as you go.  
  • Using a reel oil or grease, it is time to lubricate all of the parts. A few drops are plenty; you do not want to over oil things.  
  • Follow your instructions from before or the user’s manual to help put all the components back together.  

4. Cleaning a Corroded Reel 

Anglers who do not take good care of their fishing reel will find that the components will start to corrode. You must inspect the reel often to make sure that it does not corrode and the components stay clean and working well.  

However, if there is corrosion on the fishing reel, it is good to clean it off. Many of the rod and reel cleaners out there will be strong enough to remove some of the corrosion. Letting the reel sit in clean water and the reel cleaner of your choice can help remove a good deal of the corrosion.  

If you are out of reel cleaner, then something like vinegar can work. Vinegar is safe for removing corrosion on the reel, without causing a lot of damage at the same time. Let the reel soak in vinegar for at least a few hours, though overnight is better. Then brush off the corroded parts in the morning.  

Cleaning Your Fishing Reel After Saltwater Fishing 

Anglers should consider cleaning their fishing reel an extra time after the fish in saltwater. Salt will cause some corrosion on the fishing reel, which can quickly destroy it and make the reel hard to use.  

After each use in salt water, rinse the reel off with some fresh water, giving it time to air dry. That is a basic cleaning that will get you by if you plan to go back out fishing in the next few days. Salt will stay on the fishing reel and line, so a deeper cleanse is better.  

Once you are done with fishing in saltwater for an extended period of time, you need to do a deep clean of the fishing reel. Follow the detailed instructions above to ensure you do this the right way.  

Related Article: 9 Best Saltwater Spinning Reels: Reviewed, Rated & Compared

What Not To Do When Cleaning Your Fishing Reels 

  • Don’t Clean The Fishing Reel Using Salt Water 
    Saltwater is one of the worst things to put on the fishing reel. The salt is corrosive and can end up damaging the fishing reel in your hands. The goal should be to remove any saltwater that reaches the fishing reel when you go out fishing. Choose to work with fresh, clean water instead to help the reel look nice without damage.  
  • Don’t Use Harsh Cleaners 
    Always double-check the cleaner that you want to use on the fishing reel. Avoid any harsh cleaners that will tear off the components of the reel. There are several good cleaners out there designed to work on a fishing reel. Choose one of the trusted brands to help clean the reel without any damage.  
  • Never Aim A Spray Nozzle Or A Hose Directly At The Reel 
    You may use a spray bottle to help get the cleaning solution onto the fishing reel. Just make sure that you do not spray the nozzle directly at the reel. This can be strong pressure on the reel and makes it harder for you to control the cleaning that gets done. Low pressure is often better for cleaning and will not cause damage to the reel.  
  • Do Not Use Too Much Grease 
    While grease is a good way to help you lubricate the reel and keep the parts from grinding together and having problems, you do not want to use too much because this can make a mess around the reel. A few drops on the different parts of the reel will often be enough to help lubricate the area and help it work well.  
  • Don’t Leave The Drag Knob On 
    It is best for the angler to undo the drag knob first before you try to grease the shaft and put the spool and drag knob back in place. You can loosen up the drag knob a bit to help avoid putting pressure on the drag washer during the cleaning process. It can stay off for a little bit of time while you clean. Clean it off nicely and add some lubrication before putting it all back together.  

Common Cleaning Fishing Reel Questions

Is WD-40 good for cleaning fishing reels? 

WD-40 is a good option when you want to clean off your fishing reel, but you should never use it to lubricate the fishing reel. WD-40 will provide a good protective coat on the reel, but it will be a type of grease, not a lubricating choice. Using it at the right time will help you get the best out of your fishing reel.  

How often should you clean your fishing reel? 

Anglers should clean the fishing reel every five to seven months. If you do not go fishing often, then you may be able to do it one time a year. Most anglers will need to clean the reel at least two times a year to get it shiny and looking good.  

What kind of oil is best for fishing reels? 

Anglers can choose from several types of oils to help keep their fishing reels clean and working well. Penn reel oil is good for Penn fishing reels as well as others, and hot sauce oil is a good choice for the bearings on your fishing reel.  

Can you soak fishing reels overnight? 

It is possible to soak the fishing reel overnight. Just make sure that it is done in clean, fresh water without any chemicals inside that can ruin the reel. You can place all the parts of the fishing reel inside the water to ensure that the tough stuff will come off in no time.  


Anglers need to spend time cleaning their fishing reels. After each time you use the reel, we suggest tying down the reel on the dock after fishing to prevent it from flopping around. All you need to do next is just spray the reel gently and spray a quality corrosion-inhibitor / lubricant onto a clean rag until part of it is saturated, and then use it to wipe down the reel’s metal parts.  

This will help to keep the reel working well for years to come and prevent issues with decay or breaking apart from the salt of the water. Follow some of the easy steps above if you are looking for that deep clean after months of use.