Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sticky Pads, Tarnish, and Other Icky Things

By Steven Wasser

Yes, it’s sad but true – your flute is what you eat.  Gross, right?  But if you don’t like sticky pads or tarnished silver then this article is for you.

Coca Cola is sweet and acidic.  The sugar that is delivered via your breath can coat your pads and make them sticky.  So can cookies and pretty much anything else with sugar.  Sticky pads not only make that “smacking” sound but can get so bad that the flute key won’t come back up when you lift your finger.

Acids?  Not just Coca Cola but many foods are acidic.  Coffee, barbequed potato chips, and plenty more.  What you eat manifests itself in multiple ways – not just your breath, but your sweat as well.  Acids and sterling silver do not get along.  Want to do a test?  Get some sulfur from your local drug store and drop a flute key in it.  Check the next morning.  The key will likely be black.  In fact this is the highly scientific approach we use to test potential new alloys for tarnish resistance. 

The body chemistry of people also varies.  Some people just touch a flute key and the next day it’s black.  Other people can fondle a flute for hours and the silver remains shiny and clean.  Even the air you breathe can tarnish silver.  If you live in an area near salt water or with high levels of pollutants, your flute is more likely to tarnish.

This is not a call for a special flute diet or for you to relocate from your home.  But if you are noticing sticky pads or tarnished silver on your flute, be aware that diet might be a contributing factor.

Here are some tips for prevention that don’t require a diet change.   
  • Wash your hands and brush your teeth before you play your flute. 
  •  Carefully wipe down your flute with a lint free cloth each time you finish playing.  Be careful you do not become so diligent you rub the edges of the pads and tear the pad skin.  The cloth does not need to have any polishing compound.
  • If your pad gets sticky you can try blotting it with ungummed cigarette paper.  Blot, do not pull!  If you don’t have cigarette paper a $1 bill will do.
Your flute loves good hygiene.  Be nice to your flute.

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