I'm working on restoring an old clarinet. The keys are badly tarnished - I've been working on them using a cloth and metal polish, but:

  1. It's very time consuming;
  2. I'm finding it impossible to get into all the corners, between the keys and the columns.

Does anyone have any experience with soaking keys, to remove tarnish chemically? I've heard of using a vinegar solution (a test is currently soaking now), and also this method using baking soda and aluminium foil. I'm also trying diet coke, as that's meant to be pretty corrosive.

Does anyone have any better ideas? I'm open to purpose-designed products, but wasn't able to find anything I trusted. Needless to say, a buffing machine, as the professionals appear to use is out of my budget.

  • 1
    Never tried it on a clarinet - but the baking-soda/foil trick has worked well on other similar materials.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 at 15:38

1 Answer 1


I trialled all three methods. Both the coke and vinegar solution took some of the tarnish off over about 8 hours, but neither did the entire job. (The coke was more effective, but perhaps using straight vinegar, rather than a solution may help.)

The bicarbonate of soda was the most effective method. An hour or two of soaking took a lot of tarnish off, although left a black residue. (Image 2 below, after a quick wipe.) This polished off with 10 mins of work and metal polish though, giving the effect in the third image below.

key polishing

To summarise the method for future readers:

  1. Line a container with aluminium foil
  2. Place key on foil, ensuring plenty of key is in contact with foil
  3. Boil enough water to submerge the item
  4. Add Bicarbonate of Soda to the water. [WARNING: Mix will fizz and may overflow, do this in a sink]
    • The guide recommends 1 cup soda/gallon water. Being British, and not understanding any of these measurements - I guessed.
  5. The guide recommends you may need multiple treatments i.e. reboiling the water. I haven't tried.
  • Great stuff! As a guitarist I'm unlikely ever to need to follow this advice, but +1 for providing good, clear information. (And for the "Being British" comment; sums up my attempts at following American recipes…) Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 20:38

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