How to Keep Your Flute From Turning Brown with Tarnish
When you first set sight on your new flute it was shiny shiny shiny, wasn’t it? Take a look at it now. What happened? It’s more common than not that you’ve probably noticed your instrument is turning brown with tarnish.
It’s okay. No panic. I’ll help you.
First, put your flute away in its case each and every single day (including night time). I understand that you may like to keep it out so that you can practice off and on, but leaving it out in the air causes a big problem for the silver.
I recently took a walk-about Europe, and on my travels I met a sweet family who had a flute sitting on their piano. I was curious to how it would sound and they encouraged me to play for them. Wellllll…. I was pretty skeptical since it was brown, brown with tarnish creep all over it. I played it some, and it actually responded about 40% of what a new flute would have.
I just wish someone had spent some time teaching them how to properly care for their flute. They probably would have enjoyed many more years with it. At this rate though, it’ll be dead by Christmas. The tarnish will eventually “rust” the mechanism and it’ll freeze up, and the pads will dry completely up. I took a picture of that flute that day for you so you can see what I’m talking about.
I just wish someone had spent some time teaching them how to properly care for their flute
Our flutes are made of precious metals that change and sort of oxidize while sitting out in the air. Tarnish (the brown stuff) is caused by any number of different chemicals that can react with silver, and the most common one is sulfur, believe it or not. Sulfur is present in the air around us every day. There are different types of sulfurs (Hydrogen Sulfide H2S and Sulfur Dioxide SO2 in the air particles surrounding us all the time. These react with the silver on your flute (and the other metals) to form “silver sulfide” – this is what tarnish is made of.
This is one of the reasons we need to treat our flutes well, and take some extra-special care. We can keep them shiny and new-looking by just following a quick maintenance list daily. It doesn’t take much thought after a couple of habits are formed.
I have some good information here on this article, in the podcasts added, and also in videos. This video will demonstration visually even more about flute tarnish (tips for removal and prevention) if you prefer to watch:
If you live somewhere pretty humid, you’ll have more issues with tarnish than if you live in a dry climate (in general) because the rate of tarnish growing is faster in higher level of humidity. Silver does not tarnish quickly in dry air.
Another reason some flutes will tarnish quicker than others is that some people have acidic skin. Some people just have different PH levels. Not your fault if this seems like you, just know that your flute will need to be cleaned more carefully, and never skip cleaning it on a day after playing it.
So, basically, there are various things in daily life that will cause your silver flute to tarnish, but the speed it will tarnish varies depending on the conditions it lives in (humidity and PH of skin). You can listen to me talk even deeper about the subject of avoiding a brown tarnished flute even more here: https://learnfluteonline.com/lfp-006-how-to-avoid-a-brown-tarnished-flute/.
Did your grandmother have a case of “real silverware”? Mine did, and we still have it. It’s full of shiny, beautiful forks, spoons, and knives. About once or twice a year my mom replaces a “Silver Saver” paper inside the chest. If this hasn’t been done, we lay it all out and clean it together. This is also why we need to keep these “Silver Saver” paper in our flute cases.
Silver Saver papers can literally ‘save’ your instrument.
You may also know these as “anti-tarnish strips”.
Many brand new flutes will actually come with a Silver Saver paper in the case, but so many people don’t know what it’s for so they quickly throw it away as if it’s some sort of wrapping that is meant to be discarded immediately after purchase. Not so!
Here’s a link to the Anti-Tarnish Strips you can find on Amazon- easily and painlessly delivered right to your front door this week.
Here’s what you do:
- Order your Anti-Tarnish Strips HERE (or find them somewhere else)
- When they arrive, keep them in an airtight package/ziplock type bag.
- Place one inside your flute case- right on top of the flute itself.
- Replace it every 4 – 9 months.
Voila! It’s that easy.
*You still have to clean and wipe off your flute after playing it because of all the oils and spit etc. But this will help SO SO SO much!
*A quick note about silica gel packets.. It’s NOT recommended you use these in your flute case to help with moisture because they will most likely dry out your pads, which will cause them to crack.
Let me help you with your cleaning technique and helping to keep your flute nice and shiny:
If you acquire or have a flute that is brown, blue, or even green with mold or tarnish, you may want to ask a professional flute technician what they recommend. These extreme conditions can be remedied quickly by them, but for a price. Sometimes if it is a very low-quality flute, you may opt to purchase a new one instead. Here’s more information for you on this and how to know if your flute needs to be seen by a flute technician: https://learnfluteonline.com/what-does-a-flute-technician-do/
Many people ask about these oils and germs, especially on their flutes, and if you’re interested in getting more detailed about cleaning and making sure your flute stays in mint condition (a very good idea), here are more resources from me here at Learn Flute Online.
Winter colds and viruses make you wonder what you can do to keep the germs off of your flute. Here’s a good podcast episode you can listen to today that will help you out with this subject: https://learnfluteonline.com/flute-care-cleaning-germs/
How you store and clean your flute is kind of a big deal also for keeping it in good condition and nice and shiny. I have more information in my easy-to-listen-to podcast here for you: http://learnfluteonline.con/lfp-028-how-to-store-your-flute-in-different-seasons/
I’m so happy you are interested in keeping your flute in great condition. Following my tips and lessons will make you into a flute pro! Learning how to keep your flute from turning brown with tarnish is a great first step in learning all about how to play the flute.
40 thoughts on “How to Keep Your Flute from Turning Brown with Tarnish”
My flute has what looks like tarnish only “inside” amongst the keys in places I really can’t reach. Is there any way for me to clean that myself? Maybe denatured alcohol on a qtip?
Hi Stacy! It’s super hard to keep your flute from tarnishing in those little crevice areas, it’s true. A q-tip could help, but it’s more often than not that you could harm the mechanism (ask me how I know haha – expensive mistake) – If it’s not too bad, just leave it. When/if you ever take your flute for an overhaul it’ll all be taken care of by the technician. Glad you’re thinking about the health of your flute! Rebecca
The link to order the anti-tarnish strips doesn’t work anymore. What is the brand name and size of the ones you recommend? So I can order the correct ones. Thanks!
Hi Stacy, thank you for letting me know that the link doesn’t work anymore. I will fix that right away. In the meantime I recommend getting the Anti Tarnish Strips here: https://amzn.to/3VNeNzA
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Hello Ms.Fuller, I have a question, I’ve had my flute for almost three years now, but just recently it has started to look kind of bronze-looking and I thought cleaning it a bit more often would help, but now it’s getting dark bronze spots all over, what should do?
Leslie, this totally happens if you leave your flute out. Flutes are made out of metal that tarnishes when it reacts with the oxygen. So the number one way to keep your flute looking nice and shiny is to make sure it is wiped down (to get all the natural finger oils off) and then put into your case every time you are done practicing. There are a few more ways to keep your flute looking nice and shiny, so let me send you to an article I have written about this very thing. Here’s the link: https://learnfluteonline.com/how-to-keep-your-flute-from-turning-brown-with-tarnish/ ~Rebecca
What do you do if your flute already has tarnish and rust on it? Will the Silver Saver Pads still work?
Hi Abby, if you clean your flute really well first (with denatured alcohol and possibly silver polish) then the silver saver papers will definitely help keep it nice for a much longer time. Be careful and don’t clean in the mechanism areas (easy to break something). And, in the future just remember to always clean and put your flute away in its case every time after your practice. Great question! ~Rebecca
Oh, Rebecca! I have a friend with one of those brown flutes. My flute is still very new and so shiny and pretty. I cringe at the thought of my sweet silver friend sadly turning an unattractive tarnished shade of brown. Thank you so much for this word of advice! Will definitely order the silver saver papers right away. My grandma had the real silver tableware, too.
My husband has been very sick and disabled for the past five years. My flute was a gift to myself. I first tried the Native American flutes, which in my hands always seemed to play a happy melody, despite my sadness. The music always cheered me. I had wanted to learn flute many years ago in school, so finally took the leap and bought a nice silver Yamaha. Your lessons are perfect in my circumstances, and although I’m moving through them slowly, they are such a joy! I know in time I’ll be playing sweet melodies that sooth my soul. Music is magic! Thank you, thank you!!!
Hi Nancy, .. haha… the brown flute.. oh dear. Silver Savers really Save! I’m so glad you’ve been able to use music as an avenue to happiness. It sounds like you are really in-tune. I’m so glad you’re doing well. You’re right, music is magic! ~Rebecca
So now I understand what silver saver papers are for. I shall be purchasing some shortly to keep my beautiful Azumi silver flute shiny. Thank you.
Hi Rebecca I love your helpful tips thank u so much I was wondering if u had a video for tounging which is what I do to make a more complete sound to half notes and a video for scaling ? also thanks about telling us about silver savers because my flute is a Jupiter and it came with them and I had no idea what they was thanks and I ❤️ U and ur videos
Yes, I have lots of videos that teach everything- all skills including exactly how to tongue correctly for great tone. You should join the membership! You’ll get access to all of the lessons. And, there’s a great sale right now you should take advantage of: https://learnfluteonline.com/gold-lessons/ Let me know if you have questions! ~Rebecca
I have had a silver saver strip in with my flute since I bought it…think
I must have seen your suggestion somewhere…my flute looks lovely, shiny
& inviting, except for around the keys. Do you have an idea how to clean up the brownish tarnish around them?
Hi Nancy, great question. If you haven’t changed your silver saver paper in more than 6 months, you need to do it now. It’ll help. I use my fingernails to get in the little cracks on the tops of the keys (fingernail inside cloth) with some denatured alcohol on the cloth. Other than that – it’s just kind of a bummer that happens to us all. If it gets really bad over a few years you can take it to a super good technician who will take it apart, polish it, and put it back together for you. *don’t do this often,…it’s pretty expensive and can oftentimes result in a broken flute if your technician isn’t top-notch. Good luck! ~Rebecca
Hi Rebecca, I’m so glad you posted this about flute tarnish. I just got my new flute for Christmas. I got the Pearl you had suggested in your favorite flute things section and boy do I love it. I’m sorry to say it came with that paper I thought was used for shipping and I tossed it. I did wonder about it and I wish I had ask you about it first. I’m going to order these strips today. I have two questions: 1) so you put one strip in a baggy and put that in the case on top of the flute? Does it work that way? and 2) I bought the gray Blitz polishing cloth. Is that safe to use on my flute every day or should I only use it occasionally? Will it strip the shine off if I use it everyday? Thank you so much for all the information you provide for us. I’m really loving the gold lessons and as someone who has never played the flute I am learning so much.
Hi Robin, I’m glad you’re doing so well. Those gray colored silver-saver papers need to sit right inside your flute case “with” your flute. (great question btw) I don’t think you can ruin your flute by shining it too much. Just be careful not to mess up any mechanism by ‘touching’ it hard while you clean. The silver-saver papers are here: http://amzn.to/1PNdpSx
I don’t have an issue with disassembling my flute and stashing it in the case when I’m not practicing, but……
Reading these posts reminded me of the two old David Carradine TV series, Kung Fu, and Kung Fu the Legend Continues. In those productions, the hero, Kwai Chang Caine made and played flutes. The ones he made were bamboo, but I recall seeing him playing a silver alto flute on at least one episode. He carried his flute in a shoulder strap tube that looked similar to the cases architects carry plans in.
A little googling on line lead me to this site (among others): http://www.aliexpress.com/item/75cm-Professional-portable-durable-bamboo-chinese-dizi-flute-bag-case-soft-gig-padded-cover-box-backpack/32490027123.html
Granted a case like this would be longer than a “standard” C-flute case, but have you seen how big a bass guitar case is?!!! Or a double bass violin?
What’s your opinion regarding these cases?
Great comments here, Bill. There are other types of cases for flute out there. I just use a regular one with a hard case inside either a soft or a leather strapped case (I have a few different ones), but I can’t help but wonder if one of the tube shaped flute cases by ‘wiseman’ would be really good for traveling. Yes, they would be longer and bigger. Not sure if it’s necessary… guess I’d have to hold one in my hands and then decide. 🙂 ~Rebecca
Hi, Rebecca. Love your lessons! I started with a used silver Yamaha student flute and in order to keep it on my mind and practice, I was advised by a friend to get a flute stand (!) and anti-tarnish cloth cover, to keep the flute fully-assembled and ready. Well, I had another stroke and broke my right thumb and the flute just sat under the cover. Now I’m ready to play again, and when I took off the cover, the flute was–well, not dark tarnished, but looked mildewy. The shine was gone. I had a pair of silver cleaning gloves and I wiped the tubes and tops of the keys, so it looks better, but what happened? I guess those anti-tarnish cloth covers aren’t as good as they say. Could I put a silver sheet in it, and would it work? I love having my flute ready and waiting.
Hey Barbara, I’m SO glad you posted this question here. It’s true that an anti-tarnish cloth will help .. but the intention is not to keep your flute there long-term.. perhaps if you need to run an errand for an hour or so you can cover it with the cloth. But, the BEST thing for your flute and its shine is to put it away in the case every single day. This is true.. and I have seen it both ways. In the case is still best. Thanks for asking. ~ Rebecca
Thank you for the tip and I will sign up for the Gold Package on Friday.
Have great evening.
Great, we’ll see you then! 🙂
love getting these tips!
Some flutes in our school are not that old and there are even new ones that have arrive. there’s no tarnishing but there’s somewhat fading and the flute lost its shine and even the new flutes that have arrived last year don’t look good anymore, has this got to do with players sweaty hands(‘coz I have sweaty hands)? What can I do about this? and How can I prevent this from happening again? thanks for the help 🙂
Yes, it happens. Wash your hands before playing. Wipe off your flute after playing. Use a fresh ‘silver protector’ sheet every three months. These things should really help a lot.
I will get some of these strips. My flute looks quite ugly Hard to clean under and around keys. On another subject — I am having problems with my shoulder — do you have any exercises to deal with this. Not sure if it is all flute related.
Hi Rebecca. I only recently discovered your flute site and am planning to join….I am one of those students who used to play and wants to learn to play again. But I saw this thread/conversation about the tarnish strips and had a question. I’m sure you would only recommend something that would be harmless and safe to use…but can you tell us exactly what ingredient is in the tarnish strips that enables them to prevent tarnish? Thanks.
thanks Rebecca have just received my tarnish strips so thanks for your handy tips !
They make a BIG difference. Actually, I’m going to go change mine right now. (Thanks for the reminder) ~ Rebecca
Thanks so much. I’m a complete beginner so know I know how to keep it safe. Thanks again!
I’m glad you’re reading and watching this important information. Everyone wants to keep their flute investment safe. See you in the lesson modules! 🙂 ~ Rebecca
Rebecca’s flute learning videos are so easy to follow.
They are very fun and makes it much easier than trying to learn it by yourself.
You will have so much fun with your time being taught.
I especially love the music in the beginning!
Awesome, Julia. THanks so much!! ~ Rebecca
I ordered the anti tarnish strips. I have a Yamaha 361 YFL intermediate flute. It came with plugs in them. I would like to take them out and wash them or buy new ones. Which ones are the best. I saw the plastic ones which I have. I also saw some sticker plugs. Which do you think is best? Thanks for all the advise you provide to your students!
Hi Elaine, I’m glad you mention this here. I’ll be sure to add the information about removing the plugs of an open-holed flute in the Intermediate Level. For now, just know that you do not have to do anything to the plugs you have. In fact, they are custom made for your flute. Plugs that are made for a different model or brand will damage the keys. Leave them for now. I’ll add that tutorial. Thanks for mentioning it. 🙂
Hi Mrs. Fuller! My flute was actually getting sort of brown and we got a cloth that is supposed to take tarnish off. It worked in most spots, but some places it didn’t work as well. What do you think I’m supposed to do?
Hi Brenna, yup- it’s tricky to get the tarnish off once it starts. (that’s why my article to you here is a lot about prevention) Just do your best with the cloth you purchased, but know that denatured alcohol is wonderful for cleaning a flute with. Here’s a bit more on denatured alcohol: https://learnfluteonline.com/bonus-content/ Note: Be very careful rubbing around the mechanism because it’s easy to do some damage. Good luck, and remember to clean and put your flute away in its case when you’re not using it. 🙂 ~Rebecca