I started playing the harmonica about two months ago and I noticing some build up at the opening of the holes. I know it’s my spit accumulating in the reed holes, but before I shove a qtip in there and mess something up; What is the proper way to clean my harmonica?
Welcome to the forum. Do not use a Q-Tip because it is too large and can damage the reeds that are on the inside of a hole (if it gets caught on them). It can also leave fine threads of itself on the reeds that can block their free movement.
For deposits on the very outside end of the holes you can use a toothpick and (holding the harp so that the deposits do not fall deeper into the hole, but out of the hole onto the table or floor) use the tip to scrape out the deposits.
What brand and model harp do you have? Many harps allow you to remove the top and bottom cover-plates by removing a couple of screws (such as the Lee Oskar harps, most Hohner harps such as the Hohner Special 20, Hohner Marine Band, most Seydel or Suzuki harps, and others).
When the covers have been removed, you can then also remove the upper reed plate (for the blow notes) and the lower reed plate (for the draw notes) from the comb by removing several more screws. Now everything is free for you to see if more detailed cleaning is necessary. Before removing the reed plates I always use a permanent felt-tip marker to write “B” on the top reed plate (the blow note plate) and “D” on the bottom reed plate (the draw note plate) to avoid confusion later when reassembling the harp.
The comb can then be cleaned well with a toothbrush, for example. If it is a plastic or metal comb, it can be first soaked in warm water (to loosen the crud) and then cleaned with the toothbrush. Dry it well before reassembling. Even a wood comb can be cleaned this way but do not let it soak in the water!! Just enough to loosen the deposits.
The reed plates are always able to be soaked in warm water to loosen any deposits. Then very gently use a soft toothbrush to brush off remaining deposits, rinse the plates and let them dry completely. Always brush from the rivet holding the reed to the plate towards the free end of the reed and try not to bend the reeds or move them laterally (or they will no longer swing freely in the reed slot).
The best cleaning method involves using an ultra-sonic cleaning device like is used to clean jewelry, etc. They cost around $20 and up (depending on brand, size etc.): do a Duck-Duck-Go or Google search using the term “ultra-sonic jewelry cleaner” to find one.
I take mine apart and use a solution of baking soda and vinegar w a tooth brush. There is a YouTube video on this method.