Keeping reels clean

by Bob McGary | March 18, 2022
a reel spool, disassembled and cleaned

Many anglers take their fishing reels for granted. While technology has improved the mechanics and materials used in new reels, proper care and maintenance are still required to achieve smooth operation. Follow a few simple steps and you’ll get years of use from your reel.

When you get home

• Once home, take a few seconds to wipe down the reel with a moist soft cloth.

• If dust and dirt got on the reel, rinse it off with a gentle flow of water from the hose. Don’t use a spray nozzle since the higher pressure can force dirt particles into the reel.

• Loosen the drag after fishing, otherwise pressure from the felt drag washers will push out grease and the drag will stick.

Quick cleaning

Tyler Mallon at Rockey’s Tackle Services in Orillia ( does all the warranty repairs and service for most of the major reel companies. Here’s how he gives a reel a quick clean:

Spinning reels:

1. Wipe the entire reel, including line roller, with a microfibre cloth to remove surface debris.

2. Remove the dust cover on the opposite side of the handle, remove the handle, clean and oil the threads on the dust cover, and oil the metal handle shaft.

3. Remove the reel spool, which usually is held in place by a retaining screw/drag adjustment disc, clean the spool top and wipe down the main shaft.

4. At the base of the spool shaft, apply a cou- ple of drops of oil and let it seep down into the pinion gear.

These steps should be performed every three or four trips.

Level-wind reels:

1. Use oil, not grease along the underside of the exposed worm gear.

2. Remove the spool tension knob and apply two or three drops.

Finding the right lube

Grease for gears:
Grease is a paste lubricant and is used for the main gears. It has high viscosity and is meant to adhere and not drip.

Try: Abu Garcia Reel Grease, Ardent Reel Butter Grease, Lew’s Super Duty Spinning Reel Grease, Quantum Hot Sauce Reel Grease, Penn Grease

Oil for bearings:
Reel oil is low in viscosity and will seep through the bearings and other moving parts. Low viscosity means freer moving parts.

Try: Daiwa Needle Nose Reel Oiler, Abu Garcia High Speed Reel Oil, Ardent Reel Butter Oil, Bass Pro Shops Premium Reel Oil, Quantum Hot Sauce Oil

Say no to WD40:
WD40 was developed by the US military as a degreaser and rust preventative. Although the product has many uses and is a great cleaner do not use it on fishing reels. It will break down grease and remove oil lubrication.

Should you deep clean

Factory lubrication gradually loses effectiveness. The inside gears (oscillating, main, pinion) and body may need to be cleaned with mineral spirits, then have new grease applied. Completely disassembling a reel for a complete re-grease is not for the faint of heart. If you are mechanically inclined, however, follow Mallon’s suggestions:

  • Always use a reel schematic that shows how parts fit together
  • Number all parts or place them in sequence
  • Absolutely never lay your rod and reel on sand and dirt. These particles will easily make their way inside the reel, damaging gears and bearings.
  • Avoid dunking your reel in a lake or river. A bit of rain exposure is all right but submersion removes protective grease and oil.
  • Reels should not be left outside for an extended period in sunlight and hot temperatures. This will break down the components of oil and grease.
  • After fishing in cold weather, bring reels inside to avoid water freezing inside components. If you use your reels in salt water, rinse them immediately and thoroughly with fresh water.

Originally published in the Ontario OUT of DOORS 2021 Fishing Annual.

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