RangeOfSounds.com is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission through products purchased using links on this page.
Cymbals are, without a doubt, one of the most important aspects of a drum kit. They have such a significant impact on the overall sound of the kit.
A set of high-quality cymbals can make a lower-quality kit sound good. Conversely, low-quality cymbals can leave much to be desired, even if you are playing with a $5,000 kit. However, like the drum set, high-quality cymbals can be expensive.
If you spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on your cymbals, you will want to ensure they last for years. Unfortunately, even the highest-quality cymbals will eventually succumb to the effects of time and weather.
Even if you do everything you can to ensure their longevity, like regular cleaning and proper storage, they will wear down over time. One of the most common occurrences you will encounter as your cymbals age will be them turning a green color.
So what is going on here? Why are your cymbals turning green?
Cymbals are made of various metal alloys, including copper, brass, and bronze, which react with oxygen and moisture, causing a greenish color to form on the surface of the cymbals. This reaction with the elements can be significantly accelerated if the cymbals are continuously exposed to the elements, and aren’t properly cleaned or stored.
Below we will take a closer look at why cymbals will often turn green as they age, along with some ways to help prevent and delay this from happening. We will also look at ways to help get rid of this discoloration.
Does The Age Of Cymbals Make A Difference?
Music instruments, like everything else, will degrade over time. However, in many situations, as long as the instruments have been well taken care of, they will often sound better with age and even be sought more by collectors and players alike.
This is true for guitars, with many vintage guitars selling for tens of thousands of dollars, such as the infamous “Burst” Gibson Les Pauls produced between 1958 and 1960. Drum kits also frequently sound better with age, given that they have been stored and maintained correctly.
You probably have guessed it by now, but the same holds true for cymbals. Many drummers prefer older cymbals because they tend to have a more mellow, darker, and warmer sound than newer cymbals, which tend to sound very bright and crisp.
Whether you prefer the way new cymbals sound or old cymbals sound (I like both depending on the situation and genre of music I am playing), it is inevitable that cymbal sounds will change with age.
There are a few reasons why these changes in sound occur as cymbals age. The first is that dirt and grime build up, just like they do on guitar strings; second, the cymbals can become physically damaged; and third, they can interact with the elements, which is the main focus of this article.
Why Are My Cymbals Turning Green?
As stated in the introduction, cymbals turn green because of the reactions of some of the metal alloys with the air (namely oxygen and moisture).
You might be most familiar with rust, which is when the iron is exposed to oxygen and turns a red or reddish-brown color. This same process happens with cymbals, but they turn green rather than red because they are made of different metal alloys.
Cymbals are often a combination of bronze, copper, and brass (among others), all of which are susceptible to turning green. This green layer that develops on cymbals is known as patina, and you are likely aware of one of the most famous examples of this; the statue of Liberty.
Patina develops by the metal interacting with oxygen and moisture over time. In many situations, this color change can be quite beautiful and aesthetically pleasing. When it comes to cymbals, the feeling is mixed.
Still, many drummers will purposely avoid cleaning their cymbals because it is believed this can improve the sound of the cymbals by creating a darker and more mellow-sounding cymbal, as opposed to the bright and crisp sound new cymbals are usually associated with.
How To Prevent And Delay Cymbals From Turning Green
There are a few different ways to prevent or at least delay and minimize your cymbals turning green. However, it should be noted that this is only sometimes desirable, as this oxidation effect can contribute to the sought-after sonic changes in the cymbal as it ages.
Let’s look at some ways to help prevent and delay your cymbals from turning green.
Step 1: Regular Cleaning
Musical instruments must be frequently cleaned and regularly maintained if you wish to improve their longevity. This is true in everything from guitar pedals to guitars to drums and everything in between.
While you might get away with not cleaning your cymbals for a while, eventually, this lack of cleaning will cause changes in the cymbal sound.
If you read my article on cymbals sounding better with age, you will have recognized that the build-up of dirt and grime over time can contribute to the sound changing.
You would have also read that many drummers prefer the way older cymbals sound, which might lead you to think you should just let them become filthy because it will favorably change the sound.
This is not necessarily the case. Just because older cymbals will often sound better (this is subjective) doesn’t mean you should be letting your cymbals collect dust and grime and never clean them.
While dirt and grime won’t necessarily contribute to your cymbals turning green, letting them collect dirt is still not a good idea. Taking the time to clean your cymbals ensures longevity, which is important because, as I said early, they are not cheap.
Further, a regular cleaning practice ensures that the oxidation process, which does turn your cymbals green, is prevented or, at the very least, delayed and mitigated.
Generally, I wipe down my cymbals with a microfiber cloth after every practice session and show. I prefer my cymbals to be as shiny as possible; this simple act helps them stay that way.
Further, if I have been playing many live shows, I will clean my cymbals with warm water and regular dish soap. Water and soap can do a great job of cleaning off the dirt and grime build-up that might not be fully cleared away by a microfiber cloth alone.
However, if you do plan to clean your cymbals this way, make sure that you completely dry your cymbals, as leaving water (or other liquids) on your cymbals will only accelerate the oxidation process resulting in your cymbals turning green much quicker.
Step 2: Deep Cleaning
I will also take my cymbals through a deeper cleaning process every few months, using a cymbal polish or brand name cleaner (more on this in the next section).
Cleaning with lemon juice and vinegar is also an option, but I have never done this. If you’re planning on using this method (or any method with cleaner or polish), be careful of the logos, as they can wear off when cleaning this way.
This simple regular upkeep helps keep my cymbals looking and sounding newer. However, as mentioned above, many drummers prefer a mellow and dark-sounding cymbal, which can be achieved by allowing the cymbals to oxidize and develop that green covering (patina).
In fact, some drummers will intentionally not clean their cymbals to achieve this with their cymbals faster. I like to keep my cymbals looking and sounding as bright and crisp as possible. If I want a darker and more mellow sound, I will buy some used cymbals.
Again, this is a personal preference with no right or wrong answer. The sound (and look) of your cymbals is all about personal preference.
Step 3: Control The Climate
Much more important than ensuring dirt and grime are not present on the cymbals is ensuring that the climate in which your cymbals are stored or sitting in will not contribute to the oxidation process.
There is a good chance that regardless of how careful you are with your cymbals, they will oxidize at some point, but if you are dutiful in your care and storage, the effects can be significantly minimized.
I have had some cymbals for well over a decade with little to no patina development, whereas one splash I bought just a couple of years ago continually develops some patina and requires extra cleaning attention.
The climate, and humidity in particular, as explained in the section on why the cymbals are turning green in the first place, can be devastating for cymbals.
Like with guitars or any other instrument made of wood or metal, humidity is your enemy.
The best chance of resisting patina is to ensure your cymbals are stored in a cool, dry place. Extreme cold temperatures shouldn’t impact cymbals too much, but moisture will. The most important factor when deciding where to store your cymbals is to ensure the location is dry.
Allowing any moisture to collect on your cymbals will accelerate the oxidation process.
It is also a good idea to store and transport your cymbals in a carrying case or, at the very least, wrap them in sheets.
How To Restore Cymbals
While regular cleaning can help prevent the development of patina, there might come a time when you need to remove the excess dirt and grime or patina buildup. Simply dusting off the cymbals or using soap and water might not cut it in these situations.
This is where more advanced cleaning methods and the use of name-brand cleaners and cymbal polish will come into play.
Again, I must stress that if you plan to use polish or cleaners, do your best to avoid the logo, as it will wear off over time if you use them over the logos. Plus, if you ever try to re-sell your cymbals without a logo, you likely won’t get as much money for them.
There are many different brands of polish, and many are specifically designed for certain types of cymbals. For example, the Zildjian brilliant cymbal cleaning polish should only be used for brilliant finished cymbals, whereas the Lizard Spit cymbal polish for raw cymbals should only be used for raw or uncoated cymbals.
If you are going to use cymbal polish and cleaners, make sure you do your homework on the products you are purchasing and test a tiny section on the cymbal first before you start applying the polish or cleaner all over the place. It’s also not a bad idea to try any type of cleaner or polish on the underside of the cymbal first in case something goes wrong.
It is also unlikely that you will be able to restore your cymbal to its original brand-new look, feel, and sound, so don’t be overly disappointed if this happens.
However, with regular cleaning and frequent polishing (if that is something you want to do) you will be able to keep your cymbals in good condition for longer.
Restoring Cymbals With Household Items
I recently came across some old and patina-riddled cymbals that did not sound great, so I decided to try three different cleaning methods using household items. What is great about using household items is avoiding the harsh chemicals you might otherwise encounter with other products.
I used toothpaste, vinegar mixed with lemon juice, and ketchup for my three household cleaning items. I spent less than $10 for all the materials, so not only are household cleaning methods cheap, but they are surprisingly effective too! So which one was the best?
First, let’s look at some pictures before I applied any of the cleaners.
As you can see, they were pretty dirty, with a considerable amount of patina on two of the cymbals, particularly on the underside. I don’t know how old these cymbals are, but this was some of the worst patina I have ever seen on cymbals.
Sometimes patina and dirt make cymbals sound better, but these did not sound great. They had a very dull sound, and they were challenging to play with any articulation, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give them a deep clean and remove as much of the grime as possible to see if that would improve the playability.
To decide which household product I should use, I decided to put all three on the same underside of the big ride cymbal and see which one cleaned it the best.
I let them sit for three hours; as you can see below, the ketchup did the best. The after picture is simple after rinsing off the cymbals with water, no scrubbing.
After determining that ketchup was the most effective, I cleaned the rest with only ketchup. I just made one application for each, I let them sit for three to five hours, and then scrubbed them off in the bathtub with warm water and a washcloth.
Most of the patina and grime came off with little effort once the ketchup loosened under the water. As you can see, this was by no means a perfect job, but I was thrilled with the result.
I have read that the ketchup smell was overpowering, but I didn’t find this to be the case, and the scent was nonexistent after washing and scrubbing them.
I didn’t put much on the logos, and I would use caution as with any other cleaning product so that you do not ruin the logos, but I did get ketchup on part of the logos, and it didn’t take any of the logos off with it.
Overall, I would definitely use ketchup again. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked much better for me than the toothpaste and, vinegar & lemon juice.
Cymbals turning green is a common occurrence. Thankfully, there are many ways to prevent or delay this from happening and solutions to get rid of it if it does develop on the surface.
However, remember that patina is sometimes sought after as many drummers feel it makes their cymbals sound better, producing a warmer and more mellow tone.
Determining whether you should try to prevent or remove it from your cymbals is up to you, depending on the type of sound and look you are going for.
I hope you found this article helpful, and you should now have a better understanding of why your cymbals might be turning green and what you can do about it.
Until next time, happy playing!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.