You may have seen the viral news story of the so called 'bagpipe lung'.
Apart from this not being a real thing, what it boils down to is a man in the UK contracted a rare infection that might have been caused by an unclean bagpipe bag.
Whether or not this is true it raises the issue of keeping bagpipes clean and free of disease – something that has never been more important in current times.
There a few things to consider when it comes to keeping bagpipes free of things that could possibly cause infection. First, there are two types of infections. One is caused by poor bagpipe maintenance and the other is caused by transmission from the player.
The easier of the two to prevent and clean up after is poor maintenance. A bagpipe can have the ideal breeding ground for fungus and bacteria. The bag itself – dark, warm, humid – could not be more perfect.
If you have the tendency to just put your bagpipes back in the case when you are done playing you are skipping an important part of the bagpipe playing process. Make sure you dry everything out after each playing session.
Run a swab through the drones to remove any standing moisture. Find a safe place to lay the bagpipes out. Pull all the sections apart to give the hemp, drone reeds, and all bagpipe parts a chance to air dry. If the bag has a zipper open it up and give it some air.
This simple routine should be enough to prevent anything nasty from popping up and causing any problems. The other cause of infection in a bagpipe can come from the player themselves. You are blowing warm air into the bag and anything in your mouth or system can, and will, end up in the bag. The things you need to worry about are mainly viral, bacterial, or fungal.
If it’s viral you don’t really have too much to worry about. This includes things like the common cold or flu. You have to remember, each time you get a cold or the flu, it’s a unique virus, different from any other one you have had before. Once you get over it you are essentially immune.
To clean your bagpipes after both types of infection involves common household items. If your blowpipe or mouthpiece is plastic these can be taken off and cleaned with warm, soapy water. If you have a synthetic bag, this too can be cleaned with warm water and soap. You can also clean water traps and other synthetic parts. Make sure to thoroughly rinse and dry everything before reassembly.
The same things can, and should be done with a practice chanter. Plastic chanters can be rinsed lightly and wood chanters can be swabbed and air-dried. Some instrument manufacturers sell disinfectants that you can use safely with instruments – just be sure you check they won't damage the material your pipes are made from before you use them, if you want to.
The takeaway from all this is to take proper care of your bagpipes. Keep up with your maintenance routines, try not to share your bagpipes with anyone with an obvious cold, and to clean your pipes after you've been sick and you (and your pipes) should remain healthy for a good long time.
Want to learn more about bagpipe maintenance? Our Transitioning to the Bagpipes course is the perfect way to get up to speed on all aspects of maintaining your pipes.