How to Clean a Spinning Reel – Helpful Guide Shows You How

Knowing how to clean a spinning reel is crucial to the continued performance of your spinning reel. Spinning reels are one of the most important pieces of fishing equipment that you could own. So you will want to clean your reel properly by removing dirt, debris, and saltwater that can accumulate on and in your reel.

These little particles can get in your reel and cause damage and corrosion that could become irreversible. That’s the last thing we want. You have spent your hard-earned money on this equipment and you want to keep it as pristine as possible.

If you adhere to the following guidelines, your spinning reel should last for years. Without further adieu let’s jump right into the dirty little details. 🙂

How to Clean a Spinning Reel

Spinning Reel Lying on its side

In this section, we will discuss exactly how to clean a spinning reel with tips along the way.

Disassembling Your Spinning Reel

Regular cleaning and maintenance are essential to keep your fishing reel in top condition for those long fishing trips.

Removing the Spool

The first thing to do is remove the spool from your fishing reel. Start by unscrewing the drag knob located on top of the spool. Gently pull the spool up and off the main shaft, then set it aside on a clean cloth to avoid losing any small parts.

Detaching the Handle

Next, you’ll need to detach the handle. Most modern spinning reels have a screw located on the opposite side of the handle, which can be loosened with a screwdriver. Once it’s loosened, rotate the handle counterclockwise to remove it from the reel body.

Taking Off the Rotor

Remove the rotor, which is the part of the reel that rotates the entire spool assembly. Unscrew the nut or screw that secures the rotor to the main shaft. Be sure to keep track of any small parts, like washers or fasteners.

Disassembling the Bail Assembly

The bail is a crucial component of the spinning reel, responsible for line management and smooth operation. To disassemble the bail:

  1. Carefully remove the screw that connects the bail arm to the line roller.
  2. Detach the bail arm from the reel body. You might need to use tweezers or a small brush to reach some screws.
  3. Remove any bail arm springs, taking note of how they’re positioned for reassembly.

When disassembling your fishing reel, remember to keep track of all small parts and place them on a clean cloth or paper towel. This ensures you won’t lose them during the cleaning process.

Proper maintenance, including regular cleaning and lubrication of your fishing equipment, ensures smooth operation and a longer lifespan for your spinning reel. Whether you’re a saltwater angler or a freshwater enthusiast, taking the time to care for your spinning reels will pay off in the long run.

Cleaning the Spinning Reel Components

Close up of a spinning reel

Cleaning the Spool

When cleaning your spinning reel, the first thing to do is remove the spool from the main shaft. Once removed, use a damp cloth or paper towel to wipe down the spool, paying extra attention to the area around the line roller and the underside. 

If saltwater use has left residue behind, soak the spool in warm water and a soapy solution for a few moments before wiping it clean. After cleaning, ensure that the spool is completely dry before reassembling.

Cleaning the Handle

Next, focus on the handle of your fishing reel. Remove the handle knobs and clean them separately using a damp cloth, small brush or cotton swabs. Wipe down the handle’s metal surface, removing any old grease, dirt, or saltwater residue.

 A cue tip dipped in lighter fluid can assist with removing stubborn grime. Once clean, apply a couple of drops of oil to the handle’s moving parts, ensuring good working order and smoother performance. Be sure to remove excess moisture and oil before reassembling the handle.

Cleaning the Gear System

The gear system plays a critical role in a fishing reel’s performance. Begin by removing the side plate, exposing the gears within. Use a small paintbrush or cotton swabs to remove debris and old grease from the gears. 

To maintain their function, apply a light coating of grease on the cleaned gears. Avoid using too much oil or grease, as it can hinder the reel’s functionality.

Cleaning the Bearings

Ball bearings require regular cleaning and lubrication to ensure optimal performance during your fishing trip. Remove the bearings from the reel body and clean them using a specialized reel cleaner or lighter fluid. 

Dry the bearings thoroughly with a clean cloth or paper towel. Apply a small amount of reel oil to the bearings and use a clean cloth to remove excess oil. Reinstall the bearings into the reel body, ensuring they’re properly seated and secured.

Cleaning the Bail Assembly

Finally, turn your attention to the bail assembly, consisting of the bail arm springs, bail roller, and line roller. Make sure to clean these small parts thoroughly using a soft cloth and reel cleaner, removing all debris and dirt. 

Use tweezers to hold the small components during the cleaning process if necessary. Be sure to lubricate the moving parts of the bail assembly with reel oil, taking care not to over-lubricate. Reassemble the bail assembly after ensuring all parts are dry and clean.

These simple steps will keep your fishing gear in top condition, extending its lifespan and guaranteeing peak performance during every fishing season. 

Proper spinning reel maintenance is essential for freshwater and saltwater anglers, resulting in long-lasting, reliable fishing equipment.

Lubricating Your Spinning Reel

Clenzoil Marine & Tackle 0.5 oz. Fishing Reel Oil Needle Oilers | 3 Pack | One-Step Cleaner, Lubricant, Protectant [CLP] Cleaning + Lubricating Oil in One Solution

Spinning reels need proper maintenance for long-lasting performance on your fishing trips. 

Lubricating the Gear System

To lubricate the gear system, use grease with the right viscosity for your fishing reel. Remove the side plate and apply some grease to the gear teeth. 

Use a small brush or a cotton swab to spread the grease evenly, ensuring all moving parts are well-lubricated. Avoid using too much grease, as this can attract dirt and impede the proper functioning of your fishing gear.

Lubricating the Bearings

Ball bearings play an essential role in the smooth operation of your fishing reel. To lubricate them, first, remove the bearings from the reel body. Clean the bearings using a clean cloth or cotton swabs dipped in lighter fluid. 

Allow them to dry thoroughly before applying reel oil. Apply a couple of drops of oil to each bearing, ensuring that the oil penetrates the small gaps. Do not over-apply oil as it could accumulate dirt and affect the bearings’ performance.

Lubricating Drag System

The drag system helps control the fishing line and is essential for successful saltwater and freshwater fishing. First, remove the drag knob from the top of the reel to lubricate the drag system. Next, take out the spool and remove the drag washers. 

Use a soft cloth or paper towel dampened with warm water to remove any old grease and dirt from the drag washers. Apply a light coating of grease to the washers and reinstall them in the spool. Replace the spool and drag knob on your spinning reel.

Lubricating the Bail Roller

The bail roller is a vital part of the spinning reel responsible for managing the fishing line during casts and retrieval. Proper lubrication of the bail roller ensures better line roller and reel maintenance. 

First, remove the roller from the bail arm to lubricate the bail roller. Use a cue tip or a small paintbrush to clean the bail roller with reel cleaner or warm soapy water. Once clean, allow it to dry before applying reel oil. 

Apply only a small amount of oil to the roller and reinstall it on the bail arm.

Following these simple steps and practicing regular maintenance, your spinning reel will remain in top condition for years. Proper cleaning and lubrication will prolong your fishing equipment’s life and enhance your saltwater and freshwater fishing experience.

Reassembling Your Spinning Reel

Disassembled Spinning Reel

After thoroughly cleaning your fishing reel, it’s time to reassemble it in preparation for your next fishing trip. Follow these steps to ensure a smooth reassembly process and a well-functioning reel.

First, inspect the main shaft and spool shaft, and apply a couple of drops of oil to the shafts, ensuring they are properly lubricated for smooth operation. Apply a light coating of grease on the underside of the spool, as this is an essential component for drag system performance.

Next, reattach the rotor to the reel body. Inspect and clean the bail arm springs and bail roller while reassembling the rotor. 

A small brush can remove any old grease or debris from these parts if needed. Once cleaned, lubricate the moving parts with reel oil, taking care not to use too much oil.

Now, it’s time to reattach the handle knobs and reel handle to the reel body. For this step, it’s a good idea to use a clean cloth or paper towel to remove any dirt or grease from the handle and handle knobs. 

Apply a small amount of oil to the handle knobs and ball bearings, ensuring smooth operation and preventing corrosion from saltwater use.

Consider the line roller and other internal parts when reassembling the spinning reel. Apply a small amount of reel oil to the fishing line roller and other moving parts for optimal performance. Regular cleaning and proper maintenance will keep your reel combo in top condition for a long time.

Lastly, reattach the spool to your fishing reel, ensuring the drag washers are correctly positioned and lubricated. Ensure that each component is in good working order and that you have adequately oiled the main shaft and bearings.

Fishing Guide: 10 High-Performing Spinning Reels under $50

Additional Maintenance Tips

Regular maintenance of your fishing reel is crucial to ensure long-lasting and smooth performance, especially after a fishing trip in saltwater. 

Maintain the Drag System

One of the first things to consider is the drag system. Check the drag washers regularly, as they can wear out over time. Replace them if they show signs of wear. 

It’s also a good idea to clean the drag washers with a soft cloth soaked in a combination of warm water and reel cleaner. This will ensure the drag system functions properly during your next fishing session.

Check the Fishing Line

Fishing line can affect the performance of your reel if it is dirty or tangled. After every fishing trip, check the line for dirt, tangles, and damage. 

If necessary, remove and replace it. This goes for both freshwater and saltwater use, as the fishing line can weaken over time and cause problems.

Clean the Reels Exterior

For the reel’s exterior, cleaning any residue or dirt that may have accumulated during your fishing sessions is essential. Spray the exterior of the reel with a reel cleaner or a mixture of warm water and mild soap. 

Use a cotton swab, cue tip, or small paintbrush to clean the areas near the line roller, handle knobs, and the reel body. Then, use a damp cloth to remove excess moisture or reel cleaner from the surface.

Lubricate the Internal Parts

To protect the internal parts of your spinning reel, such as the ball bearings and main shaft, you must keep them well-lubricated. Many reel maintenance kits come with a designated reel oil for this purpose. 

Apply small amounts of reel oil to these moving parts, ensuring that you do not use too much oil which can attract dirt and debris.

Maintaining a Saltwater Spinning Reel

Saltwater anglers should pay extra attention to their reel maintenance. Saltwater can cause corrosion, damaging the metal parts of your fishing reel. 

Make sure to rinse your entire reel, including the spool shaft and underside of the spool, with fresh water after each saltwater fishing trip. Dry your reel thoroughly using a clean cloth, removing any excess water and moisture.

Using a reel maintenance kit and following the steps outlined above will ensure proper care of your spinning reels. This will help extend the life of your fishing equipment, save you money in the long run, and maintain a high level of performance during your fishing trips.

Conclusion – How to Clean a Spinning Reel

Proper spinning reel maintenance is essential for ensuring longevity and quality performance on each fishing trip. A well-maintained fishing reel can be long-lasting and reliable for fresh and saltwater fishing. 

Regular cleaning and care for the reel components, such as the drag washers, ball bearings, and main shaft, will keep your fishing gear in top condition.

Regular reel maintenance helps prolong your fishing equipment’s life, ensuring its functionality for many fishing seasons. By taking care of your spinning reel, you’ll have reliable equipment ready for every adventure.

Cory is a content writer-editor and founder of Tackle Box Talk. Favorite Quote: "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."

8 thoughts on “How to Clean a Spinning Reel – Helpful Guide Shows You How”

  1. What about using a detergent that’s dissolved in water? A detergent, whether in a bar or in powder is a good surfactant that attracts the dirt including oils and maybe accumulated salt too from saltwater. Plus, they are economical and don’t cost much and I guess the spinning wheel won’t be damaged because it looks like it’s made with stainless steel.

    • It would depend on the detergent that you use. I would read the uses for the detergent carefully before using it on a spinning reel.

  2. What an informative article. Thank you for explaining how to clean the spinning reel. My uncle has just taken a liking to fishing as his new hobby so that this article will be useful for him. Oh, I got one question. How often should you regularly clean the reel? For your information, my uncle is a freshwater angler (for now). Thanks

    • I would recommend that your uncle clean his spinning reel once or twice a year. Clean it earlier in the middle of the season and once at the end of the fishing season. He could wipe it down after every use would be ideal, so the reel will stay functioning correctly for a long time to come.

  3. Thank you, Cory. What you have written is one of the most helpful articles on how to clean a spinning reel that I have come across. You help to clarify some things that I was still confused about after reading other guides on the subject. It sounds complicated to take apart the whole spinning reel, but with your guide, it makes it simpler. 

    If I knew someone who was having trouble with fishing equipment, I would recommend them to your website first. Thank you for your expertise on the subject, and have a great day.

    • I try and keep my guides as simple as possible. As long as you take the spinning reel apart piece by piece and number the parts as you go, then you should have no problem putting it back together in the reverse order. 

      Another tip is to take a video when you are disassembling the spinning reel so that if you run into an issue reassembling, you can go back and view the video. I’m glad I could help you with how to clean a spinning reel.

  4. I fish in saltwater a lot. I didn’t clean my first spinning reel as often as I should, and it was damaged rather quickly as a result. I had to spend a fortune to get a new one. I now clean the outside of the reel every single time and do a thorough clean once every two months. I wish I had come across your post earlier, as it is beneficial. Thank you.

    • Hey Joe, yeah even if your spinning reel has sealed bearings saltwater can do a lot of damage to the gears and other components in the reel. Doing a thorough cleaning like you said every two months is a wise thing to do if you want your reel to continue working properly for years to come. The cost savings from doing the cleaning every couple of months is priceless!


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