Music Box Maintenance and Tips

The Music Boxes and Musical Toys I acquire from various sources are mostly in a used state and may be dirty – some deeply dirty from years of being exposed to smoke, grime, etc.


My first choice is to clean them with a soft cloth in warm, but not hot, water with dishwasher detergent. But be careful! On many objects the colors are painted on without a primer and can easily come off in contact with water and a cleaning action. Err on the safe side, better to have a dirty object than an object with some of the color washed away. This problem of colors washing off is often true for objects from countries other than Japan, specially Taiwan, from the seventies and eighties. Objects that are glazed over, as many of the Otagiri products are, do not have this problem and can be more easily cleaned and restored to an original state.

On a base not painted over, or on plastic parts with integral colors, it is possible to use a pad with scouring action and to get rid of pencil marks, spots, etc. Use a toothbrush (is harsher) or cotton swabs (softer) to get hard-to-reach parts. Vendors I know swear by the use of WD-40 to clean porcelain or stoneware of dirt. Just spritz it on and let sit for some time, wash with warm water afterwards. My use of WD-40 has had mixed results, sometimes it helped at least somewhat, mostly it helped very little. The problem is that for best results you still have to use a cloth to rub the object and clean it and cannot do that in the cases it may rub off the colors. In general, cleaning is good, but to have a music box still fully colored is much better.


To ‘oil’ music mechanisms I use Alum-a-Lub exclusively, an aerosol that is a lubricant, cleaner and protection all in one. Never use an oil, as that may clog up the mechanism over time. Alum-a-Lub may be found at your local hardware store, but if not call their phone # 1-800-369-0342 (leave your telephone number, they will call back) and ask for a local distributor/user or send them a check and they will UPS the article to you. Their web site with all information is:

In many cases you can reach the mechanism, even if glued in, by holes in the bottom, or from an on/off switch in the side, or in some cases from the top. In cases where there is no hole, you can usually take out one of the screws in the bottom (tighten the other screws first), give one spritz of Alum-a-Lub through that hole, and put the screw back again. Play the mechanism a couple of times to be certain it is playing well.

Overwound mechanisms (key cannot be tightened further) can often be saved/restored by injecting some Alum-a-Lub, let the object sit for some time, and try to start the mechanism by turning the key backwards and/or by shaking or tapping the part where the mechanism is, mostly the bottom, to try to free the governor. Repeat if necessary over time. Where you can reach the mechanism, try moving around the governor by hand or a soft object (cotton swab) many times (after having applied one spritz of Alum-a-Lub first), and after (quite) some time the mechanism may restart by itself; be careful not to exert pressure which may disalign the governor. After it works again wind and play at least a number of times.

Broken Music Mechanism

If the music mechanism is not working at all (most likely caused by broken spring, teeth broken off or mechanical problems) I prefer not to take the object in my collection, as without the original music mechanism the item is not original anymore (for me, as a collector). The one exception to that is if it is possible to switch out the cylinder from the old mechanism to a similar working one and remount in the object. I may do so as it still will sound like the original, same cylinder with the same tune; but that is an exception. And of course the old cylinder needs to match the teeth in the new mechanism. It is also sometimes possible just to replace the teeth, if damaged, with a new similar one.

For many music box enthusiasts, having the same music mechanism may not be that important and it may be more important to have a working mechanism. Many of the larger hobby shops (at least in the U.S.A.) stock new (Sankyo) music mechanisms and provided you get a similar one (holes to match, etc.) you can just install them in the same way as the old non-working one. Also eBay offers (used, sometimes new) music mechanisms for sale. The trouble is to find a tune you like. As there are literally thousands of tunes used over time in music mechanisms, many will not be available anymore and you may have to replace the tune with whatever is available.

Under ‘ Links ‘ you can find addresses of a number of companies that offer services with regard to repairs or sales of new music boxes/music mechanisms (or music movements). We do not accept responsability in any way for these links, as we do not test the companies involved and do not have any relations with them. Exercise normal caution when dealing with the companies and do not advance money or credit card information untill you are sure it is legitimate.