You might have seen -or imagined- some venerable Irish musicians playing battered instruments and leaving them on beer-soaked pub tables, and you may have come to the conclusion that a genuine ‘trad’ instrument requires no preventive care whatsoever. But contrary to popular belief, a flute or whistle does not age well, and if not cared for properly, its initial sound qualities will rapidly fade away. Please treat them carefully!
Any particular reason? As you play your whistle regularly, dried saliva and finger sweat tend to accumulate in the canal and toneholes. For wooden flutes, humidity release some fibers which make the bore suface somewhat rough. These modifications of the instrument will impair significantely the original sound and response as designed and tuned by the flutemaker. Whistles are particularly sensitive to minute changes in the windway area, and you might be surprised how quickly this happens during normal use.
How can I avoid this? For your tinwhistle, it’s very straighforward: wash your instrument regularly with lukewarm soapy water, and sometimes clean the canal using a thin strip or thick paper. As for the outside, you are free to polish it or not -it has no effect on the sound. A regular dishwashing scouring sponge does the trick for aluminium whistles. For the brass tuning slides, apply at drop of lanoline (sold in pharmacies) to obtain a perfect tacky seal. And I do recommend using a cleaning rod for wiping the bore as often as possible.
I recently discovered that a nice cleaning rod can be made with those ‘microfibre’ towels sold for housecleaning jobs. Just glue a piece of this stuff on a properly sized wooden rod, et voilà: you can clean the bore -up to the cork- of both your wooden flutes and whistles.