How to Clean and Maintain a Fishing Reel – Spinning, Baitcasting and Spincast

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Take care of your equipment and it will take care of you.

The idea is simple enough, but it does take some effort to keep your valued fishing equipment in working order. Most veterans of the fishing world understand this quite well. They were either taught well by someone from a previous generation or they didn’t clean and maintain their tools in the past and learned the hard way – from experience.

Before digging into the specifics of how to clean and maintain different types of fishing reels, it might be wise to devote a few minutes to basic maintenance and cleaning. This can be as simple as rinsing the reel inside and out with clean, fresh water and allow it to air dry. If you do this after a day of fishing, you’ll be well ahead of some people who don’t take this basic step regularly.

After this quick rinse, it’s also a good idea to lubricate the accessible moving parts with a light oil. Lubrication and protection of parts is essential if you’re using your gear for saltwater fishing or you’ve been in dirty conditions an entire day.

TIP: Don’t use the reel again until it’s very clean, especially if there’s grit, sand and dirt involved. Skipping this will lead to damage, if not now, in the near future.

Clean and Maintain Spinning Reel

Basic Detailing

If you’ve invested in good reels for any type of fishing, you would be wise to learn more about them than just the simple cleaning steps already mentioned. Take your maintenance and cleaning to the next level. Be comfortable with removing reel covers, spool, clutch ring, center-shaft assembly etc. You may want to get a manual for each piece of equipment, if available, so you have it for reference when issues arrive.

You should use a toothbrush or a small paint brush, along with a mild dish detergent, to remove debris and grit from the parts. Once you’ve done this, rinse everything thoroughly and dry the parts with a soft, clean cloth. Let the reel sit for a while to air dry before reassembly. Just before it’s time to reassemble your reels, follow the manufacturer’s directions on lubrication. If you’re not comfortable with detailed cleaning and disassembly, you should locate and start to use a professional cleaning/maintenance service.


These general guidelines should keep your fishing tools in working order. But if you’re a saltwater enthusiast you’ll take a few extra steps that focus on the one element that can cause serious problems for moving parts – salt. Again, the basic steps involve removing the spool and soaking it in fresh water. The body of the reel should be rinsed with clean water using a light spray. Some fishing veterans use a new, clean spray bottle for this step. Make sure the bottle you use hasn’t contained any other chemical or cleanser. If you use a hose or other method, make sure the setting is as light as possible but still gets the body clean.

When you use your quality reels for saltwater fishing, your focus should always be on removing the salt residue. While this may not be enough to corrode the parts, it can have the same effect as sand or dirt. The reel may bind during use or wear gradually over time due to the residue. Use a soft, clean cloth to remove excess water, then apply a quality lubricant designed to also prevent corrosion. There are specific products made for use on fishing reels. Spend the money and reduce your stress.

Different Reels

With this more general information as a foundation, you can put the magnifying glass on the different reels you may use or may have used.

1. Clean/Maintain Spin-Cast Reel

The first of these, which most young fishing enthusiasts begin with, is the closed-face, spin-cast reel. The design serves to keep most of the essential parts inside the cover, which often looks like the nose cone of a spacecraft.

The line feeds out of the hole in front. You press the thumb button on the back during the cast. When you let go of the button, the line stops feeding out. The spin-cast reel is very easy to use, though you may be giving up some distance and accuracy when casting. However, it’s ideal for beginners and simple pond/lake fishing.

  • Remove reel covers
  • Disassemble spinner head, spool, clutch ring, center shaft, crank bearing etc.
  • Use tooth brush or small paint brush with mild dishwashing liquid to scrub parts
  • Lubricate with light oil made for fishing equipment

You may want to learn more about assembly and disassembly from manual or online video.

If you’re coming in from saltwater fishing, it’s best to remove the salt residue as thoroughly as possible, since it can cause the reel to bind during use. Salt residue will also have the same wearing effect as sand or dirt. If you’re uncomfortable with taking the reel apart or have difficulty putting it back together, don’t just avoid the cleaning and maintenance. Get in touch with a manufacturer’s repair center or a local pro.

2. Clean/Maintain Bait-Casting Reel

You may also be using a bait-casting reel, which can be a bit difficult to get used to. The spool turns when you cast and must be controlled so the line doesn’t become a tangled mess. This type of reel can be best with heavier lines and lures with more weight, which make the reel quite accurate. Experienced anglers who learn to use this type of reel tend to stay with it, leaving other designs at home.

Maintain your bait-casting reel by wiping it with a clean, damp cloth. You can also do regular, light maintenance by using a light oil on the handle rivets, on both ends of the spool shaft, and the part that contacts the pinion gear. If you’re uncomfortable with disassembly and reassembly, don’t put off annual cleaning and maintenance. Find a professional to help you.

If you’re involved in saltwater fishing, you should remove the spool and soak it in clean water, then rinse the body with a light spray of water. As mentioned earlier, make sure you take the extra step of removing the salt residue, which you may not be able to see without a magnifying glass. Use a soft cloth to dry excess water and allow to air dry. Use a light, lubricating oil made for reel maintenance.

Oil should be used on:

  • Spool shaft and spool-shaft ends
  • Handle knobs
  • Spool release mechanism
  • Stabilizer bar and ball bearings

Grease should be used on:

  • Main gear, pinion gear
  • Pinion yoke
  • Worm-shaft guard, worm gear (lightly greased)
  • Release slider, bushings

3. Clean/Maintain Spinning Reel

The third major category of reel is the spinning reel, which has become extremely popular through the years. The open-faced design helps make this type more accurate than a spin-cast design and easier to use than bait-casting reels, for most people. Veterans like this design due to its line capacity, and the fact that it works so well with line weights under 20-pound test.

You can follow the same general guidelines for cleaning and day-to-day maintenance as you do for other reels. However, you should be familiar with assembly and disassembly if you want to properly lubricate any open-design reel. Having a physical manual or access to an online manual will be helpful.

Oil should be used on:

  • Handle knobs
  • Pickup pin
  • Arm lever and kick lever
  • Clutch screw and spool-release mechanism
  • Ball bearings

Grease should be used on:

  • Crank shaft
  • Crank gear
  • Center-shaft
  • Pickup arm
  • Roller wheel
  • Spool washers, bushings

Overview and Summary

In addition to these cleaning and maintenance details, you would be wise to pay attention to some general advice for keeping your fishing gear in good working order. If you’re a saltwater fisherman, you shouldn’t be satisfied with simply hosing down your rods and reels. This may remove the obvious dirt and some of the salt, but grit and salt can be forced into the gears by the strong spray of the hose.

You’d be wise to use a spray bottle and do this rinsing “close up.” In addition, you should take a few minutes to wipe down your reel with a moist (not wet) cloth. Pay particular attention to the drive-gear bearings. Learn how to remove the reel handle or have someone do it, so you can gain access to the bearings on both sides of the frame.

A couple of drops of light oil will suffice. Put the handle back on and you’ve done your reel a great service. Unless you are an expert, or very skilled at reel repair, you shouldn’t remove the bearings or degrease them. Light oil should be enough for in-season maintenance.

You can do this equipment a lot of good by removing the drag knob on the front, then take the spool off of the drive shaft. Wipe the shaft to remove debris and dirt, then put a bead of light oil along the shaft (both sides). When you turn the rotor the lubrication will work into the reel. You can also put a drop of oil on the line roller and both hinges.

Final Thoughts

Before you start any maintenance or cleaning process, make sure you have gathered the tools you’ll need, including small screwdrivers. You may need both a Phillips head and a slot head. Reel maintenance also requires a toothbrush or small paint brush as well as tweezers. If your reel came with a parts list, a manual, and specific tools, make sure they are ready to use.

The finest, modern reels can be complex so it’s best to learn all you can about your reels before you try to clean, maintain, assemble or disassemble. There can be a lot of small parts, some of which should only be handled by trained professionals or qualified repair people. But you can do a certain amount of cleaning and maintenance, as long as you’re careful. Good fishing!

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Louis McCarthy

With over 40 years of fishing experience, I am a true veteran of the sport with a passion for reeling in the big ones. From coast to coast, I have lived in some of the best fishing spots the US has to offer. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and love for the sport, one catch at a time. Join me as I explore the great outdoors and share my expertise in the art of fishing. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

1 thought on “How to Clean and Maintain a Fishing Reel – Spinning, Baitcasting and Spincast”

  1. Thanks Soutdoors for sharing this nice article. I like the Idea of not using the reel before properly cleaning it. Looking for more articles like this.


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