How to Clean a Fishing Reel

How to Clean a Fishing Reel

A lot of today’s fishing reels are built to last you a long time while maintaining their functionality. Even so, proper upkeep of your reels can greatly extend its lifespan and keeps some extra cash in your pocket.

With some basic and extremely easy cleaning protocols, you can keep corrosion at bay and keep your gears, bearings, and reel body at peak performance like it just came out of the box.

In this article, we will take a look at some helpful tools to clean your spinning, baitcaster, and conventional reels as well as outline critical parts of the reel that need tending.

Why Clean your Reel?

It’s pretty obvious why you would clean a reel that is used in saltwater applications as corrosion will happen quickly. But what about your reel used for bass fishing or other freshwater fishing?

Even then, water getting into your reel and the dirt and grime over time can lead to corrosion of gears and ball bearings within your reel.

Over time, this corrosion is going to cause a loss in efficiency in your reel. Retrieval will be jumpy, line lay won’t be even, you are going to lose cranking power, and eventually, the reel will fail altogether.  

Cleaning, degreasing, and re applying grease to your gears and oil to your bearings are going to greatly extend the life of your fishing reel. But taking apart your reel can be a frightening idea for those who are not mechanically minded.

Have no fear, the majority of reels don’t have to be broken down to each part to give the reel a good and thorough cleaning. Given the space we have available to us, we are going to go through the steps and tips to give your reel a good cleaning without having to break the reel down completely.

Now, depending on the type of reel you are using, the steps to taking the reel apart differ a little, but the parts to clean and how to clean them remains the same.

The Basics

There are several steps you should take for the most basic cleaning and upkeep of your reel. Cleaning off the external components of a reel is one of the best steps you can take with your reel and should be done after every outing.

If it’s used in the salt or out on the lake, cleaning off the grime with a soft cloth followed by a low-pressure wash of your reel with a garden hose to remove salt, sand, or any other debris will help keep that grime from finding a way inside your reel.

A lot of reels also come with a maintenance port where you can apply oil to the reel. We recommend adding a drop of oil to the port every 4-5 outings with the reel. Be sure to check that the oil you are applying is recommended by the manufacturer.

The Tools

There are several tools that you will need available to take apart and clean the reel as efficiently as possible. A small flat and Phillips head screwdriver is useful. Needle nose pliers and hemostats can also be helpful.

An old toothbrush with tougher bristles is great for scrubbing gears, and toothpicks are useful for applying grease to the gears. Often, a reel will come with tools specific to that reel, and it is always helpful to hold on to them for this scenario.  

As for cleaning solutions, lighter fluid is often used to clean grime from the parts of the reel as is isopropyl rubbing alcohol. Cotton swabs are perfect for using these products on your reel. You will also need oil and grease. You shouldn’t just use whatever is handy and you shouldn’t use oil and grease every part of the reel as grease can negatively effect some parts.

The manufacturer of the reel will have clear instructions on what products should be used.  

Basic Spinning Reel Cleaning

There are several components of a spinning reel that are easy to access and clean/maintain without breaking down your entire reel piece by piece.

The spool assembly can be easily removed by removing the drag dial giving you access to the spool shaft. You can also easily access and oil the line roller assembly and bearing as well as the bail arm assembly.

You can easily remove the handle to access and oil the drive gear bearing that sits directly within where the arm is attached.

Most reels are going to have a maintenance port that will allow you to apply oil to the internal components without having to take apart the housing of the reel.

Basic Baitcaster Reel Cleaning

For baitcasters like Abu Garcia Pro Max, you can also get to some key components fairly easily. On the opposite side plate from the handle and drag system, you can remove the side plate and gain access to the spool.

From here you can clean the spool and pinion gear, which is the opening on the inside of the opposite side plate, of the as well as oil the centrifugal brake collars if that type of brake system is used and oil the spool bearings.

You can also easily access the drag and gear system on the other side of the faceplate where you can oil the drag, grease the main gears, and other support bearings. Be sure to keep parts in the proper order as it can quickly get messy on this side.

The Breakdown

The following section is some tips for if you decide to break your reel down completely. We don’t have the space to give you a step by step guide to breaking down each type of reel so these general tips will have to suffice.

As you begin breaking down the reel, be sure that you have a light colored surface to keep the parts on. Lay down the parts in the order that you removed them to make re-assembly much easier. It’s also nice to have a specs sheet on hand or your computer that has the schematics of the reel. If you are taking a reel apart, using some masking tape and numbering the parts is also a tip we recommend.


Today’s reels are built to last and to perform at peak efficiency for years. Even so, some basic reel upkeep is going to keep your reel performing as it did out of the box for years.

We hope that this article has provided an outline for this basic reel maintenance and taken away the fear of pulling the reel apart.

How to Clean a Fishing Reel
Article Name
How to Clean a Fishing Reel
Cleaning a fishing reel isn't a piece of cake. However, after reading our guide about how to clean a fishing reel, you'll definitely know how to do it the right way!
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Cast For Fish
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