How to Clean a Spinning Reel

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There’s nothing I love more than a bit of surf fishing. There's a huge variety of fish species to catch, and it offers the enjoyment of a peaceful atmosphere. My baitcaster skills aren't something to envy, but the modern spinning reel is more than capable of catching some impressive fish.

I've made some pretty remarkable catches with my spinning reel setup, especially when it was brand new. Then, as time went by, my casting distance reduced and I began to notice faint signs of rust. Saltwater isn't a reel's best friend, and it's cost me dearly.

I've replaced my spinning reels countless times – unnecessarily, as it turns out. The issue was that I always neglected to clean my reel properly; saltwater corrosion eventually takes its toll and essentially renders components useless.​

I don't even want to think about how much money I've wasted due to lack of basic maintenance, but I do know I want you to avoid doing the same thing. That's why I've produced this step by step guide to help you learn how to clean and lubricate a spinning reel.​​

What You will Need to Follow this Tutorial

Before we dive straight into the instructions, you’ll need to purchase a few things to clean your reel thoroughly. Most of the following items will be good for more than one cleaning session, and you’ll need them if you’re going to take care of your reel after saltwater fishing.

  • Reel oil
  • Reel grease
  • WD40
  • Two rags
  • One clean dry towel
  • Spinning reel

You should buy oil specially made for fishing reels because other oils aren't designed for the same purpose. Same goes for the grease – there are plenty of companies in the fishing industry who make grease especially for reels, and it's a better option than most alternatives.

It's also worth noting that you don't necessarily need to wash your reel after every use for regular fishing – every other month will suffice. However, it’s a good idea to wash it after every time you go saltwater fishing because salt deposits can make their way into your components and cause corrosion or rust.

Corrosion will hamper your fishing abilities in the short run and inevitably lead to the necessity of replacing your reel. For the same reason, you should avoid fully submerging your reel to prevent any water damage.

There’s no reason you reel can’t last for years if it’s well looked after – something I wish I’d have learnt from the beginning instead of the hard way.​​

Step by Step Instructions

Follow this guide thoroughly, and you'll be extending the lifespan of your reel to its maximum potential. It's not a very hard process and with a bit of practice, you should be able to clean and lube your reel in under 15 minutes.

Step 1 – Clean the Outside of the Reel

First of all, remove your reel from your rod and unscrew your spool from your reel. This part is going to involve the use of WD40, and you want to avoid any of it from getting onto your spool and line to prevent odours from attracting fish.

You also don’t want any of the WD40 to get inside your components, so turn the handle until the shaft is at its lowest point. You can then either spray the WD40 onto the reel from a distance of around 10 inches, or you can spray it onto a rag.

One key advantage of this step is that the layer of grease will help water to slide straight off your reel, lessening the risk of corrosion the next time you go fishing.​​

  • Pro Tip: I would recommend spraying a rag to ensure no WD40 catches the spool. You can then use the rag simply to wipe down all areas of your reel – accept the shaft.

Step 2 – Take the Reel Apart

You've now already unscrewed your spool, which you should leave off, and now you need to also remove the handle. For the most thorough clean possible, you could remove the bail to clean the bail bearings, but there’s a lot of fiddly parts in there, so I wouldn’t bother with that unless you really know what you’re doing.

The most important things to remove from your reel are the handle and spool. The following video offers some guidance.​

Step 3 – Grease the Shaft

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Now, you need to spin the bail until the shaft is fully extended. Then you should pour one – and only one – drop of reel grease onto the shaft, specifically the area under the drag click washer that wouldn’t be visible if the shaft was at its lowest point.

Next, spin the bail a few times to make sure the entire shaft is coated with the grease. Spinning too much isn't going to do any harm, but five or six rotations should do the trick.

Doing this will make the spin action of the spool and bail much smoother, and it'll help prevent the line from binding. This is an important step if you want to make sure your casting distance is maximized and you can reel in the line without a struggle.​​

Step 4 – Oil the Bearings

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At this point, your handle should already have been removed from the reel's handle. The main reason for doing this is so that the bearings are exposed. Saltwater and dirt build-up can make turning the handle a pain, but this step will help prevent that from happening for as long as possible.

Take your fish oil and apply one drop of reel oil to each bearing. You won't need any more than that – because one drop is enough, but also simply to prevent making a big mess.

  • Pro Tip: After you’ve applied the oil, you should spin the spool and bail again to make sure the oil spreads over the bearings evenly. This, similar to greasing the shaft, is going to help your casting distance while making it easy to reel in the line.

Step 5 – Clear Away the Excess Grease and Oil

Even though you've only used two or three drops of both oil and grease, there's likely some excess of each that's made it onto other parts of your reel. You need to get rid of this, so take a clean rag and give your product a good wipe all over.

Your spool shouldn’t have any lubricants on it, but this is still a good opportunity to wipe down the inside and outside of the component. This is to get rid of rust or any other substances that could lead to rust.

Now, with a dry rag, give your components – including the inside and outside of the spool – another good wipe to both dry and eliminate any remaining excess grease or oil.​

  • Pro Tip: You can, optionally, open the rotating mechanism on the reel and add a drop of oil inside there, too. It’ll help make the turning action smoother, but it’s not entirely necessary every time you clean your product.

Step 6 – Reassemble your Reel

You don't have to do this in any particular order, but I've promised you a step by step guide, so here's how I do it.

The first thing I reattach is the spool. You should screw it on quite tight – but not too tight to make sure it's still actually capable of spinning. Now that you've lubricated the most critical components you should notice that everything works a little smoother.

Next, seeing as we've only taken the spool and handle off for this clean, you'll need to reattach the handle and then your reel is completely set up once again. If you need some top tips to spool a line correctly, the video below should help.

Step 7 – Catch Some Trophy Fish

That's it! Now your reel has had the maintenance it needs to maximise its lifespan, and you're ready to hit the saltwater to get fishing again. Remember, if you are commonly using your spinning reel for surf fishing, you might want to give it a clean every day. Otherwise, you could get away with cleaning it every other month (as often as possible is recommended).

You might want to remember that baitcasters are typically used for saltwater fishing, but I think you can catch some decent fish without one. Here are a few tips for surf fishing with a spinning reel.​

Conclusion

I’ve never calculated how much money I’ve wasted buying brand new reels frequently due to a simple lack of maintenance. It’s a shame not just because of the wasted cash, but also because I’ve lost some excellent reels due to rust and corrosion.

I used to believe the reels I was buying were just poor quality, but it turns out they weren't lasting very long because I didn't give them a simple clean after every use. Cleaning every single time you go fishing might not be necessary – unless you go saltwater fishing – but it's likely to make your reel last longer if you want to put in the effort.

Did you find my guide on how to clean a spinning reel useful? Do you have any time-saving tips or steps to add? Let us know what you think by submitting a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!​​

About the Author Jimmy Bruce

Loves everything to do with fishing and gear.

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