NEMC Musical Instrument Safe Handling and Cleaning Guidance: Updated October 2020
The importance of hand hygiene when playing a musical instrument
NEMC highly recommends practicing good hand hygiene before and after playing any musical instrument. This means washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after playing or cleaning your instrument. Alternately, hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol can be used if soap and water are not available. Starting each practice session with clean hands minimizes the dirt and germs that can clog the mechanism or degrade the finish. In addition to proper hand hygiene, players of wind instruments should follow additional mouthpiece cleaning and handling guidelines found in the instructions by instrument type to help ensure a safe and enjoyable playing experience.
Why situations matter
The level of effort required to safely enjoy playing a musical instrument depends on the instrument type, how often it is played and by whom. A violin played by a single user at home requires a dramatically different cleaning protocol than a tuba shared by multiple performers in a school band. In the first instance, it is reasonable to handle your violin as you would any other frequently touched personal item in your home… a bedroom doorknob, cell phone or computer keyboard for instance. But if someone else plays your violin, you may want to ask them to wash their hands before doing so and be more aggressive about cleaning the instrument surfaces that were touched before playing it yourself.
What science tells us Covid-19 transmission
Although there is much we still don’t know about how Covid-19 is transmitted, the CDC in October informs us that “spread from touching surfaces is not thought to be a common way that Covid-19 is spread”. Therefore, aggressive disinfection of musical instrument surfaces, which can degrade the finish, is no longer recommended as a means to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Special precautions for wind instruments
Sound is produced by brass and woodwind instruments like trumpets, flutes and clarinets by putting a mouthpiece in or near the mucus membranes of the mouth creating a direct path for potential nasties to get into our bodies. Sound is produced by brass and woodwind instruments like trumpets, flutes and clarinets by putting a mouthpiece in or near the mucus membranes of the mouth and nose creating a direct path for potential nasties to get into our bodies. That’s why mouthpieces and other instrument parts that come in contact with the mouth, or face require a completely different level of attention. Mouthpieces should be treated like eating utensils, washed after each use and never shared without aggressive disinfection. Additionally, when played a considerable amount of moisture laden air is forced though the instrument and out the bell creating aerosols and droplets in quantities similar to loud talking or singing according to recent scientific studies. To protect others in rehearsals and other congregate settings, it is now recommended that instrument bell covers be used to mitigate aerosols and droplets produced by playing wind instruments.