At Flutes & Flutists, we draw a difference between cleaning and polishing.
To service or overhaul a flute, all the surfaces need to be clean, free of dust, oil, acid and fat from perspiration. A service does not necessarily mean the removal of tarnish. Unless tarnish is severe, it does not affect the performance of the flute and the only reason to remove it, is to restore it’s shiny original appearance.
Perspiration is made of mostly water and a small percentage of fat and acid. The fat and acid, combined with the oxidation of the silver, creates the tarnish, giving the flute what many people feel is an unattractive dark appearance.
There are some very fine and well-known players who think that the tarnish enhances the appearance and sound of their instrument. They certainly don’t think it detracts from it and judging by the results of their playing, it is hard to argue against them!
To remove tarnish it is necessary to do more than wipe the surfaces. It can be done by using a buffing machine which usually involves a lathe with a fast spinning cloth that rips into the tarnish, removing it. The problem with this approach is that no matter how skilled the operator, it takes some of the silver or silver plating off, which means the flute does not potentially last as long. The best way is to do it by hand, which is the way we do it at Flutes & Flutists. The downside with this process is that it is very time consuming.
Keeping your flute clean and looking like new is possible, but requires assiduous attention to wiping it every time you use it and putting it away after use. If you are doing a long playing session, it is necessary to wipe it every half an hour or so. This way the tarnish is kept to a minimum. We know this because when displaying flutes at an event, people will be trying the flutes all day and we are wiping them down soon after they have been play-tested. At the end of the day, we put them back into their cases and as long as we have kept wiping, they will stay clean and shiny. If we miss any areas, by the time we get back to the shop and put them away, it can be too late for further cleaning with a non treated cloth and will need more aggressive cleaning involving some silver cleaning product.
We don’t recommend you do this yourself as the silver cleaning product needs to be applied very carefully and should not be allowed to get into the mechanism or on the pads. If this happens, the mechanism will need to be cleaned out or the pads may need to be replaced, which adds more time and expense.
Keeping your flute clean and minimising the development of tarnish is a constant process and players vary enormously in their dedication to doing this. Some people never clean their flute and at the other end of the spectrum, some people clean it all the time. It is because of this that we make an optional quoted charge for removing tarnish. If you manage to keep your flute really clean, then you will keep the cost down to just the time of the service. If your flute is tarnished, you will have the option of paying for the extra time to have the tarnish removed by hand or you could leave it tarnished and look well used.