Wiki cymbal cleaning supplemental

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My journey to find the perfect cymbal cleaner

The gang's all here
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assembly line
before and after
The three stages of cleaning a very tarnished cymbal
The three stages of cleaning another very tarnished cymbal
The three stages of cleaning another very tarnished cymbal
Before and after on an absurdly oxidised cymbal!
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Big Deezy's house of B8 & B20 and sometimes NS12!
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Patina, Tarnish, corrosion, oxidation... what is it, how does it happen and more importantly, how do you get rid of it? A little chemistry lesson 1st:

"Copper does not react with water, but it does slowly react with atmospheric oxygen to form a layer of brown-black copper oxide which, unlike the rust that forms on iron in moist air, protects the underlying metal from further corrosion (passivation). A green layer of verdigris (copper carbonate) can often be seen on old copper structures, such as the roofing of many older buildings and the Statue of Liberty. Copper tarnishes when exposed to some sulfur compounds, with which it reacts to form various copper sulfides."
Patina, also referred to as precious rust or copper rust, is a dull corrosion layer that forms on the surface of primarily copper objects and copper-containing alloys (such as bronze) as a result of oxidation of the metal when exposed to air and moisture. The color of this layer can vary from green to dark brown. The difference in color has to do with the much more aggressive effect of the acid in rain than the much calmer oxidation of the copper with only the oxygen from the air. The formation of a patina layer can take decades. Natural copper patinas consist of basic copper compounds (carbonate, sulfate and chloride).

"Tin resists corrosion from water, but can be corroded by acids and alkalis. Tin can be highly polished and is used as a protective coat for other metals, a protective oxide (passivation) layer prevents further oxidation"

  • Note: I exchange the terms "tarnish", "corrosion" and "oxidation" throughout this article, my intention is they have the same meaning.

Experience attained over decades of cleaning cymbals:

I have been using and cleaning Paiste cymbals since 1980. Since day one, I have strived to find the perfect cleaner that won't remove the clear coat or labels from the cymbal but will clean off fingerprints and oxidation.
From my experience of owning both B8 and B20 cymbals, I have found that B8 cymbals tend to oxidize/tarnish very quickly (it's assumed this is from the high copper to tin ratio) if they are not coated or if the clear coat has been worn off, this can happen in a matter of hours (see pictures below).
I speculate that when Paiste first produced their B8 cymbals in the mid 1960s, they realized they would have to coat them in order to keep them from immediately tarnishing and oxidizing. There was no way they could sell new cymbals with the change in color and with dark fingerprints on them. I believe this is when they started applying a clear coat on their new B8 cymbals and soon after, applied it to all thier other series.
The salt and sweat, from your fingers tends to be mildly corrosive to the alloy, especially B8, this tends to work its way through the clear coat and start to eat away or oxidize the copper in the alloy (in severe cases, if left in that condition of years). When the tarnish is removed (usually by a mild acid in the cleaner), the oxidized material will be broken down and removed as well. You see the same effect but on a much larger scale when rust has been removed from steel and the pitting is revealed. After removing the tarnish (for example, with Flitz tarnish spray) what you have left is a smooth matte finish, not shiny, but rather dull looking (see picture below).
When polish is applied, you can bring back the shine of the cymbal, but it will never regain the original texture/finish. Some of the alloy was broken down and removed and you are now polishing a new surface, the cymbal will have more of a shiny, brilliant" polished finish (see pictures to the lower right and below) after cleaning.

  • Cleaning tip: Always, Always rub/wipe the cleaner along the lathing grooves (in a curved motion) when cleaning a cymbal, never "across" them! I have have seen countless cleaning videos where the user rubs the cleaner in a back and forth pattern across the lathing or in small circles like when waxing a car! Doing this will wear off the clear coat on the top of the lathing groves and leave swirl marks all over the cymbal (depending on how abrasive the cleaner is). It is also recommended you use the same technique when applying any type of coating/protector.
  • Note: Abrasives will tend to remove ink logos and clear coat and "polish" the finish. Acids will break down the dark stains of tarnish/oxidation, this reduces the amount of rubbing needed and reduces the likelihood of removing the ink logos and clear coat.
  • Different alloys and rate of oxidation: I have found B8 cymbals oxidise the quickest by far, they are the most reactive owing to the large amount of copper, B20 cymbals tarnish much slower and when they do, they attain a yellow hue, NS12 or nickel silver cymbals take a long time to tarnish because of the large amount of nickel and relative small amount of copper.
  • Cleaners: B20 cymbals tend to need a lot more scrubbing (or a more abrasive cleaner) to get them to shine because of the harder alloy, B8 is relatively soft and NS12 is the softest requiring the least amount of effort to clean and build up a shine.
  • Ink logos: I have found the black ink stamps ("black label era) can be incredibly delicate, some will start to come off with soap, water and a little rubbing! Others are more durable. Colored logos from the "colored label era" are much more tough and will take a lot of abuse before starting to fade, the ink on the top of the lathing grooves will wear down 1st. as an indicator you're wearing out the ink!

To clean or not to clean, that is the question!

For decades and decades, there has always been the controversy on whether or not you should clean your cymbals or let them oxidize tarnish to build up a “patina”.
Many say that this builds “character” in the cymbal, the basic truth is, dirt and corrosion tarnish will dull the cymbal reduce the high frequencies and sustain. How much of an effect this has on the overall sound depends on many factors, size and weight of the cymbal is a big one; a splash will be affected to a much greater degree than a 24" heavy ride, even so, it's very hard to quantify, but careful A/B tests before and after cleaning does show a difference.
My take on this whole situation is when a new cymbal is originally designed/developed, the designer doesn't take it and bury it in his backyard for several months trying to get it to oxidize, tarnish and corrode, then dig it up and then say "that's the sound I was looking for"!
A new cymbal sound is developed when the cymbal is clean, not dirty and tarnished. Therefore, my thinking is; I want my vintage cymbal to resemble as closely as possible the cymbal that left the factory when it was made. I can't account for wear and tear and metal fatigue, but what I can do is make the cymbal as clean as it was when it left the factory.
Letting cymbal tarnish and build up a patina is great for jazz drummers if you're looking for a dark, dull, trashy, dirty sound, I am not of that school, so I try to get my cymbals to resemble as closely as possible when they were created! The last point is the visual aspect: because of the hammering techniques and use of a clear coat, Paiste cymbals have a distinct look and shine compared to any other brand.


Here's my experience with several different cleaners I have used and tested, I put them in order of most gentle to most abrasive.
I have also added two ratings for each cleaner "effectiveness" and "abrasiveness", and a scale of 1 to 10.

Soap & water

Effectiveness: 2
Abrasiveness: 0

If the cymbal is relatively new, soap (dish detergent), water and a paper towel will get the salt, oil and dirt from your fingers off of the cymbal so it doesn't start to degrade the clear coat and corrode the alloy. Really only effective on newer cymbals.

Cymbal soap:

Effectiveness: 3
Abrasiveness: 0
Better cleaner than plain dish detergent, more effective at removing fingerprints, rub it in until it dries then wash the cymbal with soap & water, will leave a nice shine when dried.

Flitz spray/tarnish remover:

Effectiveness: 11+
Abrasiveness: 0

"This one goes to eleven"!
Flitz tarnish remover spray will breakdown the worst green tarnish/oxidation in seconds (see video below). The drawback is it will leave the alloy "bare/exposed" and ready to oxidize/tarnish immediately, the cymbal must be washed with soap & water afterward to remove the remnants and then dried ASAP. It must then be coated ASAP before it starts to change color!
Wear cloves! I found it irritated my hands, I also found pouring it on a paper towel and wiping it on is much more effective than spraying. Also, the mist created by the spray is very irritating to the eyes
(do not get in your eyes!). Do not leave on for more than about a minute or the cymbal will start to change color and eventually turn black if left to dry (ask me how I know this!).
For extremely tarnished corroded cymbal, I used a worn slightly abrasive scotch brite pad to "work" the worst spots of corrosion.
Flitz spray in action, I'm wearing gloves, a mask and glasses

Contains: Dioxane and "Urea Monohydro-Chloride" which is acidic.

Klasse all in one

Effectiveness: 5 (cleaning ability)
Abrasiveness: 1

I've listed this product twice because it's both a cleaner and a "sealer". Very effective for cymbals with a clear coat and moderate dirt, uses an "acrylic-based" coating, not sure if it has an abrasive, but is effective at cleaning moderately dirty cymbals, should be safe for ink logos and clear coat.
Works best on cymbals without a clear coat, does both jobs simultaneously! Acrylic coating/finish is slightly hazy compared to the bare alloy.

Contains: Acrylic based coating, other ingredients unknown, abrasives unknown or not present.

Blue magic:

Effectiveness: 6
Abrasiveness: 4

Smelly (contains Ammonia) and messy but easy on ink labels, the cleaner will take them off if rubbed long and hard enough, it is gentle on the clear coat, if used lightly, it will actually polish the clear coat (see example below). Best practice is to rub off cleaner in multiple stages using clean paper towels, this process will actually help polish the finish of the cymbal. Washing with soap and water will not remove all of the remnants (slight dark tinge to the finish will remain).
I have found a very light diluted (with water) coating of Barkeeper's soft cleanser will bring out the rest of the Blue magic cleaner (paper towel will turn black). Wash with soap & water and dry ASAP, then coat cymbal if it doesn't have a clear coat. I've used this process on most of my cymbals that were fairly to moderately dirty.

Contains: Oleic Acid, Aluminium Oxide (abrasive), Ammonium Hydroxide, Silicone.

Flitz paste

Effectiveness: 6
Abrasiveness: 4

Good all around cleaner has tarnish remover chemicals in it, not nearly as messy as Blue magic, it does have an abrasive in it (even though the label says differently), will remove clear coat and labels if rubbed hard and long enough. Good alternative to Blue magic or Paiste cymbal cleaner, does not leave behind remnants like Blue magic does, but I still recommend washing with soap & water afterward.

Contains: Aluminum Oxide, Triethanolamine 102-71-6 (cleaning agent) Castor oil, sulfated, sodium salt (surfactant).

Paiste cymbal cleaner

Effectiveness: 7
Abrasiveness: 6

The standard all other cleaners are measured against! Can be used gently on cymbals with a clear coat, eventually labels and clear coat will wear off from repeated uses. FYI: Cleaner does contain a mild acid and abrasive. Recent findings show that Paiste cymbal cleaner is actually "Stahl fix" in a relabeld bottle, see below for review and contents.

Contains: should be same as Stahl fix

Mr. Muscle/Stahl fix

Effectiveness: 7
Abrasiveness: 6

Paiste cymbal cleaner in the original bottle (see explanation below)!
Cleans very effectively and will not remove labels if cymbal is wet to dilute the cleaner and you rub very gently. The amount of cleaning is determined by how much you rub, that also determines how much clear coat and labels are removed. The acids in the cleaner help remove the dark stains from tarnish very well. Do not let dry, it will become very abrasive at that stage, Washes of with water, recommend washing with soap & water afterward.

According to my source, he was at the factory about 20+ years ago and saw the Paiste techs pouring Stahl fix from a large bulk container into the orange Paiste cymbal cleaner bottles! The formula also changed around that time as well, another user has some of the "old" Paiste cleaner and when comparing the two, he says the "smell" changed from the old 1990's cleaner compared to the "modern" version. He also says latest Paiste cleaner does smell very similar to the current Mr. Muscle. As usual, I wash with soap & water afterward.

Contains: aluminum oxide, citric acid, phosphoric acid, mineral oil.

Barkeeper's soft cleanser

Effectiveness: 9
Abrasiveness: 7

The best all around cleaner for moderate to very dirty cymbals. The acids are are strong which is great at removing tarnish and green corrosion from salty finger prints. Can be used on cymbals with a clear coat if diluted with water and rubbed VERY lightly! In this application, the acids do almost all the work. On very dirty cymbals the color change is immediate, only Flitz tarnish spray is stronger. As usual, I wash with soap & water afterward.

Contains: Oxalic Acid, Glass Oxide Abrasive, Citric Acid, Surfactants

Barkeeper's dry cleanser

Effectiveness: 9
Abrasiveness: 11+

Same basic recipe as the soft cleanser, but in dry form making more abrasive when wet.

Contains: same as soft cleanser

Sealers protective coatings I have added a rating for each coating/protector for their effectiveness (scale 1 to 10):

The Last coat

Effectiveness: 0

Does nothing to protect the cymbal, does add a little bit of shine but otherwise, completely ineffective.


Pearl drum & cymbal polish

Effectiveness: 3

I had high hopes for this product, when it was applied and buffed it left a very nice shine and smooth slippery coating, 24 hours alter the cymbal started to oxidize, so only really effective on cymbals with a clear coat. Also, I couldn't really tell if it cleaned the cymbal at all, maybe it will work better on my drums!

Contains: ?

Lemon pledge

Effectiveness: 6

Not as effective as Carnauba wax, smells nice, reasonably effective at protecting the cymbals, leaves a decent shine, very little haziness.

Contains: iso paraffin (petroleum based wax), dimethicone (silicon-based polymer)

Pure (no cleaner) Carnauba wax

Effectiveness: 7

Creates a decent protective layer if the clear coat is gone, requires lots of rubbing to get it to shine, finish is still hazy, does keep the cymbal from oxidizing fairly well.

Contains: Carnauba wax

Paiste cymbal protector

Effectiveness: ?

Never seen it in person, never used it, according to Paiste, it's the same coating they use when the cymbals leave the factory....


Klasse all in one

Effectiveness: 7

See review above in the cleaner section.


Klasse high gloss sealant glaze

Effectiveness: 8

Works best on cymbals without a clear coat, acrylic coating/finish is slightly hazy compared to the bare alloy, good at keeping oxidation away but there is still a slight color change after a few days. Must apply a lot of it, work it into the cymbal, wipe off excess quickly then buff till dry. Do not let it dry with excess amount!

Contains: acrylic based coating


Effectiveness: 11+

I believe this is what Paiste ues at the factory; either oil based or water based clear lacquer. I tested it on a "dummy cymbal", it goes on a little thick, but is rock solid in protecting the cymbal, it has not changed color/tarnished one bit in the last month! The next step is to "cut it" 50/50 with lacquer thinner so I can apply a thinner coat. I'll do a before and after video to see how much the cymbals' sound changes from the coating.

Contains: Oil based clear lacquer

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