How To Clean Vintage Fly Fishing Reels

Some people like to keep their vintage fly fishing reels in the same condition they found them, but there are others who want to know how to clean vintage fly fishing reels to keep them in their original condition. The reels may be made of many different materials, so it is important to know how to clean them without hurting or changing the original materials.

 Things you will need:

  • A rag, Q-tips, paper towels
  • Vinegar and/or kerosene
  • Warm water
  • Old toothbrush
  • Dish soap
  • Lube oil and grease
  • Wax or silicone gun cloth
  • Miracle lemon-oil cloth


  1. Disassemble the reel. The first thing you might want to do is take the vintage fly fishing reel apart as far as you feel comfortable. Put the parts on paper towels. Wipe each item down with an old rag, Q-tips, or paper towels.
  2. Soak parts in vinegar. Prepare a finger-warm solution of one-fourth cup vinegar to one cup water and soak the parts. Real brass or German silver fly fishing reels can be soaked for three hours, plated brass for two hours, and one hour for lead finished alloy reels. Painted reels, rubber parts, and handles should not be soaked for more than 30 to 45 minutes. Brush every few minutes with toothbrush to loosen dirt and grease. Do not use this on painted brass.
  3. For heavy duty grease buildup. An alternate method for cleaning heavy buildup on vintage fly fishing reels is to dip the toothbrush in kerosene and brush it lightly on the greasy part. Once again, brush with detergent and rinse with clean water. Before using kerosene, be sure that it will not hurt the material parts you are cleaning. Some parts like plastic and rubber may not be conducive to cleaning with kerosene. If the parts are sensitive to kerosene, simply use the brush and detergent.
  4. Wash away the dirt. When everything is wiped down and has been soaked, take a soft toothbrush and some dish detergent to remove the remainder of the dirt. Rinse the vintage fly fishing reel with clean water with a final rinse of cold water. Make sure you do not rinse any tiny parts down the sink.
  5. Air dry the parts. Letting the parts sit out overnight to air dry is the best way. You can also use compressed air if you like.
  6. Protect the parts. Rub the parts of the vintage fly fishing reel with wax or use a silicone gun cloth to protect the parts.
  7. Lube the parts. Before reassembling the vintage fly fishing reel, use a light oil on spindles, bushings, pawl stanchions, drag blocks, bearings, handle spindles, and threads. Use a heavier grease on spindles that are worn and wobbly and on drag gears. Use good oil and grease made for reels, not WD-40.
  8. Reassemble the vintage reel. You now have a vintage fly fishing reel that looks like new for your collection and/or use. You could wipe it down with a lemon-oil Miracle cloth to keep it from getting a calcium buildup. Wipe it down after with a chamois.



If you are not mechanically inclined, send your reel out to a professional for cleaning!

Maintain your reels after every use to prolong their life.

Never clean the reel while it is attached to the rod.

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