One of the questions I get asked the most is how to clean a cork grip. Any rod that's seen any use fishing will have dirt & grim built up on the cork handle. Years of use will result in a grip that has a patina covering its entire surface. Many folks who have recently bought an older vintage rod would like to have that patina removed, so that they can start with fresh, clean cork as they begin using the rod. Well cleaning a cork grip is easy & it doesn't involve any dangerous chemicals or special tools &/or supplies. All you need to clean a cork grip is a sink with running water & some mild dish detergent. Here's how it's done:
Holding the rod grip under the faucet, run some room temperature water over the grip in your sink. Get some mild dish washing detergent (the powdered kind like you use in the dish washer) & rub the detergent gently into the cork as the water pours over it. Don't rub too aggressively, just enough to work into the surface dirt of the grip. This will loosen all that dirt & grime build up on the cork. As the powdered dish detergent washes away, sprinkle some more on the grip. I suggest working around the grip & also working from one end to the other. Continue rinsing & washing the cork as you work. When the cork's all clean, rinse it thoroughly to get all the detergent off, pat it dry w/ some paper towels & let it sit overnight. That's it. Pretty simple, huh?
There are just a couple of points to consider when doing this:
1.) Never do this to a bamboo rod when there is no varnish on the rod, or the varnish is in bad shape. The varnish protects the bamboo & the glue holding the rod together. Depending on the rod you have, the water & soap may harm the rod's glue.
2.) If you're going to be taking sand paper to the grip to re-shape it, or for any reason - NEVER do any sanding of the cork until the cork has completely dried. This means letting the grip sit to air dry overnight at least & maybe a couple of days in a humid environment. Even though the cork may look dry an hour or so after washing it - it's not. The fresh, exposed cork surface has absorbed the water & the cork has swelled somewhat in size. As the cork dries it will take on it's original size. If you go sanding the grip while there's still water deep within it, the next day you may find that the grip is much smaller than you wanted.
Cleaning the cork on your fly rod is easy & after years of heavy use, it might not be a bad idea. Then again, there are folks who want that dark patina on their rod's grip as it's proof of a well used, experienced fly rod. Either way, if you want a clean grip, don't shy away from doing it yourself. As you can see, it's not hard to get good results when cleaning a cork grip.