How to Clean Baitcaster Reels After Saltwater Fishing  

Saltwater fishing can take a toll on your baitcasting reels. The best way to protect your investment is to get a good habit of cleaning your reels after every fishing trip.

And yes, there’s a right and wrong way of doing this. It may sound tedious at first, but it’s fairly simple (even for beginner anglers) and should only take a few minutes of your time.

The key is to be consistent in your care and maintenance.

In this step-by-step guide, we’ll break down the proper way to rinse and maintain your baitcasting reel after your saltwater fishing trip.

Let’s begin.

How to Clean Your Reel

Guy fishing in surf at sunset

Step 1: Rinsing

Before we start, you should never use high pressure to wash your fishing reels. Many people think using a high-pressure wash is better for deep cleaning. In reality, you’re putting your reels at risk by forcing salt, sand, and other impurities into the drag system, main gear, and inner parts. 

The proper cleaning method is to lightly wash or spray with clean water. We’ve outlined three easy ways to do this below.

Option 1: Garden Hose

Gently rest your rod with your reel attached vertically against a wall outside so that your reel will never get a chance to sit in a pool of water. You want the water to drip down and away from your reel.

Use a garden hose with a nozzle. If your spray nozzle has a mist setting, use that to rinse your reel for about 60 seconds. You can do it longer, but 60 seconds is good enough to prevent corrosion.

Take a toothbrush and gently brush over the reel to release salt and sand while misting.

Option 2: Spray Bottle

Use a spray bottle filled with clean water. You can leave your reel attached to the rod (leaning vertically against a wall again), or you can detach the reel from the rod before rinsing.

Take a toothbrush and gently brush over the reel to release salt and sand as you spray.

One benefit of this method is that you can use distilled water. This will prevent any impurities from leaving hard water spots when drying.

Warming up the water a little before filling the spray bottle will help dissolve the salt away faster.

Option 3: Kitchen Faucet

Detach your reel and gently wash it over the kitchen sink with the faucet lightly turned on with warm water.

You don’t want fast running water here, just a light stream.

Use a toothbrush to wipe salt and sand from your reel while rinsing gently.

Pro Tip: Before rinsing, gently tighten your drag and cast control knob. This will prevent excess water, salt, and sand from entering the reel during the cleaning process.

Step 2: Wiping

Get yourself a lint-free towel made of microfiber. This will help reduce any fibers from getting into your worm gear and other greased and oil parts that the lint can cling on.

Aside from being lint-free, microfiber is very absorbent. It’s also positively charged and can pull dirt and grime away.

Give your reel handle a couple of spins to extract some water. Take the entire fishing reel and give it a couple of quick shakes as well.

Open the side plate and carefully remove the spool from the reel body.

Blot dry your reel as much as you can inside the spool area and outer surface. You can add the spool back in and continue to the next step, drying.

Pro Tip: Avoid anything that can leave lint or tears easily, like cotton towels, an old t-shirt, or paper towels.

Step 3: Drying

At this stage, you should loosen your drag and cast control knob so it can properly dry. Leave your reel in a warm area in indirect sun.

Never leave your fishing reel in direct sunlight to dry. It will shorten the life span of your fishing line.

Let it fully dry before storing, we suggest at least 24 hours.

Pro Tip: Never use hot air like a blow dryer to speed up the drying process. This will weaken your fishing line. Always let it air dry.

Fishing Reel Maintenance

The more you use your fishing reels, you’ll eventually need to add oil and grease to the gears.

You won’t need to do this after every trip. We recommend adding more oil and lube to your reel every season or 1 – 4 times a year (Depending on how often it’s being used)

guy fishing in ocean on rocks


Can I soak my entire reel in water?

There are many opinions online about this, and we feel it isn’t necessary if you build a habit of properly rinsing and drying after each fishing trip.

Should I clean after every fishing trip, even in freshwater lakes?

Your reels take less of a toll when it comes to freshwater. However, if you’re reel is covered in fish slime, scales, and blood, we suggest giving it a rinse. Saltwater is a different beast and will wear down your reels much faster if not taken care of properly.

I accidentally dropped by reel in saltwater. Is it doomed?

No, rinse your reel as soon as you can with fresh, warm water. You might need to run a few passes if your reel was submerged for a long time.

Open the side plate to rinse any salt crystals that might have leaked in. Next, thoroughly dry the outer components and inner workings of the reel as much as you can.

Re-lube your gears and bearings.

Can I use WD40 to lube my reel?

We highly advise not to use WD40 for lubricating your reels. Use specialized reel oil and grease for this application. WD40 is a degreaser and breaks down oil and grease, which defeats the purpose. A bottle of reel oil will last you forever. A little oil goes a long way.

Final Thoughts

Saltwater can be harsh on all your fishing gear. From fishing shoes to sunglasses, it’s important to take proper care of your gear to help increase its lifespan.

Cleaning your baitcaster reel after saltwater fishing (especially when deep sea fishing or using your freshwater setup for saltwater) is important to maintain its function and lifespan.

Get in the habit of cleaning your reels after every trip, it only takes a few minutes.

And if you’re new to fishing, head here if you’re considering a baitcasting reel.

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