Spinning Reel Maintenance Made Easy

How to Keep Your Reel Working Smoothly

Fishing reel
Photo © Ken Schultz

Is your spinning reel telling you that it needs a little TLC? Some maintenance perhaps? It is if, over the past couple of fishing trips, your reel feels like it is slowly filling with sand. If the handle sticks in one spot on the retrieve, making rhythmic presentations difficult. Or if the reel binds after getting wet. You may think that it's time to replace the reel. But an hour with some grease, an old toothbrush, rubbing alcohol, and a quality reel oil will make your reel feel like it did right out of the box.  

Most anglers do reel maintenance during the winter off-season. However, you should perform maintenance any time that the reel is impairing your fishing efforts. Spinning reels take a lot abuse, especially if you fish for trout or smallmouth bass or if you float-tube ponds. The reel gets dunked often. Dipping a reel in a freshwater removes valuable oil and grease and replaces it with crud.

There are numerous reel and greases available that form a molecular bond with the metals they contact. They cost more than traditional reel oil and grease, but they make a reel sing and are worth the price. You'll be astounded at the difference these new lubricants make in the performance of your spinning reel.


Grab a used egg carton to store the parts you remove from the reel. Nothing is as frustrating as searching for a tiny screw in thick carpet. The tiny ultra-thin washers in spinning reels are nearly impossible to find if they drop on the floor.

Take off the spool first. Clean the spool shaft and add a few drops of reel oil. Again, use the new molecular oil or reel oil, not household oil. Household oil thickens and hardens much quicker than reel oil and can form a layer of crud on reel parts. Check the nut at the bottom of the reel shaft to make sure it is tight.

Squeeze a few drops of oil on the roller guide that wraps the line around the reel spool. Oil the area where the bail spring meets the reel spool housing as well. Remove the handle and apply a few drops of oil on the handle knob shaft and the shaft that fits inside the reel.


Take the side plate off with the small screws to access the guts of the reel. Right in the middle is the main bearing. Lift this bearing off the main gear and remove the main gear if possible. Drop the main bearing in a degreaser, kerosene, rubbing alcohol, or lighter fluid to dissolve old grease and sludgy oil. Clean the teeth of the main gear with an old toothbrush and soapy water or degreaser.

Allow the parts to air dry and apply oil to the bearings and a tiny amount of grease to each tooth of the main gear. Check the inside of the reel for crud, sand, dirt, fibers, or any other gunk. Do not spray the inside with harsh chemical solvents or use gasoline. This may damage some of the plastic parts and push crud into the inner recesses of the reel.

Grease the spiral worm gear in the bottom of the reel and the gears in the front of the worm gear with a light coating of oil. Grease any part that slides along another part. Use grease sparingly as it attracts dirt and sand and negatively impacts the performance of your reel. Applying too much grease makes the reel feel like it is full of mud.

Put the reel back together, spray the outside with WD-40, and wipe it down. Now you have a smooth spinning reel that will last you for many outings to come.

This article was edited and revised by our Freshwater Fishing expert, Ken Schultz.