Spinning Reel Maintenance (Detailed Guide)


by Robert Ceran

If you maintain a high quality spinning reel properly, it can function reliably for decades.

On the other hand, if you’re one of the anglers who don’t perform maintenance, even the best model will eventually start to perform poorly.

This can cause malfunction at a critical time, causing you to lose the fish of a lifetime. 

The best way to avoid this situation is by taking care of your spinning reels regularly, and maintaining them with the right tools and correct lubricant.

If you get in the habit of doing this regularly, then your equipment won’t let you down when it counts.

In this guide we’ll walk you through the key steps of how to maintain your spinning reel for optimum performance. 

Basic spinning reel maintenance tips

You should aim to perform basic maintenance on your spinning reel at least once a week (if you’re fishing in freshwater), or after every second fishing trip (if you’re fishing in saltwater).

But in either case, cleaning up your tackle will become straightforward once you get into the habit of it.

Here are some general tips for maintaining your reels:

Respool your spinning reel regularly: depending on what kind of line you use and how often you fish, you should respool as frequently as once a month (for more details on this, check out our article on when should you respool your fishing reel?).

Get a spray bottle to clean the exterior: if your reel gets dirty (or exposed to salt water), a great way to clean the exterior parts is by gently spraying it with a mist of water, and then wiping it off with a soft cloth. But make sure the water you spray on is a fine mist, and not a strong jet, as that can force dirt and salt into the interior of your reel.

Loosen the drag after every fishing trip: this takes the pressure off the drag washers, which will increase their longevity. It also helps to avoid the drag mechanism getting stuck on a tight setting, which is really annoying when you want to loosen it while you’re fishing.

Make sure all the screws are tight: a loose screw that falls out can cause major spinning reel problems while you’re fighting a fish. Also, some spinning reels have a handle that can be screwed on or off, and you want to make sure that it is tightly screwed in (unless you fold the handle for storage).

Store your reel away from sunlight: wrap your reel in a cloth or an old sock, and store it in a place protected from sunlight.

Don’t take apart your reel completely: while it’s tempting to open up your spinning reel and take it apart completely, that’s usually not a good idea, because it can be hard to put it back together again (especially if you’ve never done it before).

But if you really do need to take it apart, make sure you’ve got the schematics at hand, to help you put it back together correctly. One useful trick is to set down the parts in exactly the order that you take them out, so you can use the reverse order to put them back together.

Below we’ll discuss some of the spinning reel parts that you can easily take apart for cleaning, and put them back together again quickly. These include the spool, handle, and bail arm, which should be included in a basic cleaning.

Now let’s talk about how to clean and lubricate your spinning reel properly.

How do you clean a spinning reel?

Here is a step by step guide of how to do a basic cleaning of a spinning reel:

  • Spray your reel with a mist of water, and wipe off any dirt and salt deposits on the surface with a paper towel or a soft cloth.
  • Screw off the cap on top of the spool, and remove the spool from the shaft.
  • Remove any sand, dirt, or debris from the inside and the top of the spool, and the drag washers inside the cap.
  • Add a few drops of oil to the base of the spool shaft, and turn the handle to move the shaft up and down to distribute the oil evenly.
  • Put the spool back on the shaft and screw the cap on again.
  • Remove the handle, and wipe off any sand or dirt from the different parts.
  • Add a drop of oil to the part of the handle that inserts into the body (to prevent it from getting stuck).
  • Unscrew the bail arm from the rotor, and remove the bail roller.
  • Examine the roller guide for dirt or damage, and clean it with a Q-tip dipped in Clenzoil.
  • Reassemble the bail arm and the handle, and wipe the whole frame with a cloth sprayed with Clenzoil.

While this is not a deep cleaning, it’s good enough for basic maintenance of your spinning reel. We’ve found that taking apart your entire reel is rarely necessary, and this basic procedure will keep it running smoothly for years.

What can you use to clean your spinning reel?

It’s important to make sure you’re using the right oil, grease, and lubricants, since using the wrong ones can create new problems, instead of fixing them.

The easiest way to do this is by using a spinning reel maintenance kit specifically designed for this purpose. Most reel manufacturers provide these kits, and you can get one from the same brand as the model you’re using.

The most important parts of the kit are the correct oil for lubricating the ball bearings, reel shaft, and handle, as well as the correct grease for the gears. Once you’re more familiar with all the components, you can put a kit together yourself.

In addition to the maintenance kit, use these basic tools:

  • Q-tips
  • Soft cloth
  • Paper towel
  • Soapy water
  • Small flat head screwdriver
  • Small Phillips head screwdriver
  • Soft toothbrush

Finally, use Clenzoil to wipe the exterior of your reel, which helps to clean it and adds a protective film to the surface.

Can you use WD40 on spinning reels?

You shouldn’t use WD40 on a fishing reel, since it acts as a degreaser that breaks down oil, grease and lubricants.

If some WD-40 were to get inside the reel body, that would wash out the oil and grease, which are essential for proper function. In addition to this, WD40 has a lubricating effect on the drag washers, which stops them from working properly.

So instead of WD40, use other products that are specifically designed for the task, such as Clenzoil. In addition to having a cleaning effect, these products add a protective coating that helps prevent corrosion.

How to clean a spinning reel after saltwater use?

If you’re using a reel with sealing technology you can use the same basic cleaning procedure as described above after saltwater use.

Sealing technology prevents corrosive saltwater from getting inside the body of the frame and the rotor housing, which protects the gears and bearings from corrosion and seizing up (good examples of this are the Penn Spinfisher and Torque II).

When cleaning salt build up from a spinning reel, pay close attention to any sand or salt residues you come across, and clean these off with a soft towel or Q-tip sprayed with Clenzoil.

On the other hand, if your model doesn’t have sealing technology, it’s possible for saltwater or sand to get inside the reel body, in which case you may need to take apart the whole reel to clean the inner parts.

Alternatively, you can also pay a professional reel cleaning service to do this for you.

If you’re specifically interested in saltwater fishing, check out our article on what is the best penn spinning reel for saltwater?

How do you lubricate a spinning reel?

When oiling your spinning reel, make sure to add only small amounts, as less oil is more when it comes to lubrication. Also keep in mind to oil only the right parts. These include the ball bearings and spool shaft.

You can also add oil to the base of the handle knob (which will help it to turn smoothly while you rotate the handle), as well as the part of the handle that inserts into the body (which helps to prevent it from getting stuck). Don’t add any oil to the gears, which require grease instead. 

What oil can you use on spinning reels?

Always use oils that are specifically designed to lubricate spinning reels. While it’s okay to use the same oil for different spinning reel brands, avoid any oils that are not intended for this purpose.

The latter include vegetable oil, olive oil, and machine oil. Machine oil is too thick and viscous for use in fishing reels, and will tend to slow down the movements of your reel parts.

The ideal oil for fishing reels is light and thin, and comes with a relatively low viscosity. This helps to make retrieve action smoother. 

How often should you oil your spinning reel?

If you fish a lot, aim to oil your spinning reel after every second or third fishing trip (or at least once a week). If you don’t fish a lot, oiling it once a month is fine.

But keep in mind that even if you don’t use your reel for months, it still needs to be oiled before your next fishing trip, as the oil degrades over time.

In case you’re interested in getting high quality spinning reels that will last longer with proper maintenance, check out our article: spinning reels made in USA reviewed.