Looking After My Fly Fishing Line? – A Complete Guide

I started to wonder if cleaning my line would help after noticing it was getting harder to cast. It sure did!  As a fly fishing beginner with a questionable casting technique, here’s what I’ve learned about how to look after my fly lines.

How Do I Look After My Fly Line?  Cleaning a fly line after each 2-3 uses.  It only takes a few minutes to clean your line in a basin of warm water with a dash of liquid soap. Dry by drawing the line through a cloth. Wipe floating lines with dressing/floatant.  Alternatives include store-bought cleaning kits. 

Below I’ve broken down the benefits of maintaining your lines, the best methods and products, troubleshooting fly line care, and how to keep your fly lines in good condition.

How often to clean a fly fishing line?

Clean (and dress) your lines every 2-3 outings, or anytime you think a dirty line may be hindering your casting.  A line will also benefit from a good clean if it has been in a dirty river or lake, been in contact with a sandy river bed, or has been sitting unused for some time.

How to clean a fly fishing line?

You will find lots of complex instructions on how to clean a fly line.  But the basics are simple. 

Spool the line off the reel into the kitchen sink, leave to soak for a few minutes, then dry it with a clean, soft cloth. Next, apply a fine coat of a quality fly line dressing with a cloth to protect and re-lubricate the line. There are also proprietary products and hacks.

For those who like more detailed instructions:-

What you need:

  • Liquid hand soap or mild detergent
  • two buckets of warm water
  • two clean micro-cloths
  1. Add a few pumps of liquid hand soap to one of the buckets and agitate it to create bubbles.
  2. As you pull your fly line off the reel, place it gently into the bucket with the soapy water.
  3. Leave it to soak for a few minutes.
  4. Draw the line through one of the micro-cloths – as you transfer the line into the bucket of clean, warm water to rinse.
  5. Use the second micro-cloth to dry off the line as re-spool the line back onto the reel.

What can I use to clean my fly line?

Here are some examples.

Scientific Angler sells a Fly Line cleaning pad and Dressing Kit.

You draw the line through the cleaning pad, which has a micro-textured surface like mild sandpaper.  You can also add a drop or two of dressing to the sponge portion of the cleaning pad. 


Advertised as the best line treatment and most straightforward line cleaning tool in one package.  It includes a small bottle of Line Speed and Line Cleaning Tool.


Rio market a WonderCloth that you can use with or without a pre-wash in soapy water. 

My best line cleaning hack

Wet wipes 

Look for biodegradable wet wipes or baby wipes.  You can buy these in small quantities in pocket-sized packs in most supermarkets, small enough to fit in your fishing vest or backpack.

Simply wipe your line down with a clean wipe after each use, especially the forward section that goes through the rod guides.

Why cleaning your fly line matters

Clean fly lines offer less resistance when casting – meaning your casting will be easier and more accurate.  And as beginners, we need all the help we can get!  

Cleaning your fly line matters because 1) Anything that causes friction in the casting process will make it more difficult for you to place the fly in your desired position.  And 2) Your floating line will not sit on the surface of the water, causing the flies also to lose their buoyancy. 

A successful cast depends on the proper casting action to use the line’s weight to propel the line up the rod guides and through the air. 

There’s a lot to this casting business, but one thing we can do to improve our fishing performance is to clean our fly line regularly.

Benefits of a clean fly line

  1. A line that has picked up dirt and residue will sit lower in the water. In comparison, a clean line will be easier to pick up off the water, load and cast. 
  2. A clean line will shoot through the rod guides more quickly as there will be less friction to slow the line as it passes through the rod guides.
  3. A line that sits high on the water surface will be easier to mend.
  4. Your lines will last longer before they need replacing.

Why your fly line gets dirty and loses condition

Over time every fly line will collect dirt from:

  1. Residue, weed, and algae from the river or lake
  2. Dirt pick up from practice casting on the lawn
  3. Solvents found in insect repellents, sunscreen, etc
  4. Line floatant wearing off
  5. Exposure to heat from storage in a hot car

There will always be a build-up of residue that adheres to the line, and if you are fishing in dirty water, then that process will happen more quickly.  

Algae, weed, and sand from the river bed are a sure recipe for making your line dirty and sticky.

How to tell if your fly line needs cleaning

Here’s how to know if your line needs cleaning.  

  • You feel micro-grit or stickiness on the line. 
  • The first 10 feet (or few meters) of a floating line doesn’t float any longer.  
  • The line retains memory and stays coiled when off the reel.

Your line should feel smooth, like butter.  And any time that’s not what you’re feeling is an excellent time to clean your lines.

Your line will sink from time to time.  Usually, this will be the first few feet, or couple of meters, which means your leader is also sinking.  Fishing a dry fly on a line and tippet that is submerged will not work. 

Fly line that is dirty is more likely to keeps its ‘curves’ when off the reel.  You know that feeling when you’ve got layers of dirt on your hands, and they feel dry and stiff.  A similar effect is what happens to your fly line, meaning it loses flexibility.  

Additional Tip:

Stretching the line while you clean it will help remove the line memory and result in better casting. 

Are all fly lines the same when it comes to cleaning?

All fly lines are porous, which is why dirt and residue stick so well.  

Floating lines benefit from the addition of dressing or floatant; however, sinking lines only need cleaning. 

However, some lines have additives impregnated into the PVC material covering the line’s core, rather than just a coating.  This means that the line is likely to maintain its floating, or sinking, capabilities over a long period. 

When cleaning these types of lines with the appropriate proprietary cleaning products, a new outer surface will appear as the line is cleaned, maintaining the line’s slickness and UV protection. 

When buying your lines, look out on the packaging to see if the line contains these properties.  

A fly line’s strength depends on the core material, covered with a plastic coating (polyurethane or PVC) into which various elements are added.  These include silicone, microspheres, tungsten,  and other proprietary materials. It is then cured and dried. 

Should I use a fly line dressing when cleaning my fly line?

Fly line dressing is a liquid that contains silicone or a waxy material that stays on the line to keep it afloat.  Only dry fly lines require dressing as they are the ones we want to keep on the surface of the water.  

Fly line dressings all contain hydrophobic chemicals, usually a form of silicone compound that repels water.

Sinking lines do not require fly line floatant or dressing. 

Additional Tip:

New modern fly lines do not need any special "treatments" until the self-renewing coating layer wears out. 

What is fly line floatant?

You use fly line floatant on floating lines. Floating lines work as they are buoyant and designed to repel water.  That’s called being ‘hydrophobic’. For lines to float their best, both of these features need to be working. 

The line won’t absorb water and become waterlogged and sink, but if it gets dirty, it won’t repel the water well, and it will float lower in the surface tension or sink completely.  

The key to good flotation is keeping your lines clean so that the hydrophobic surface can work.

Fly line floatant (also know as fly line dressing) maintains the buoyancy of fly lines.  New lines come dressed, and this dressing will be lost over time with use.

Is fly line dressing/floatant necessary?

Dressing or floatant is a must on floating lines.

Floating lines are used with dry flies that sit on or near the water surface, so if your line is sinking, then the flies will not present the right way, which means you will catch fewer fish. 

Floating lines also cast nymphs, suspended either under a dry fly or indicator, which also need to sit on the water’s surface. 

Floating lines help cast in such a way that presents the fly gently to a fish not to spook it.  

You do not want a sinking line (or tip) to float – or for it to take longer to sink than it is designed to do. 

Sinking lines are used with streamers or lures designed to get down within the water column, which needs to take place quickly, particularly in a swift current.

Floatant or dressing will replace the coating that has worn off during fishing or while cleaning the line.  

Will a fly line floatant clean my line?

Applying floatant to a dirty line will add to the gunk stopping your line from floating or casting well.  Therefore, it is essential to remove the dirt before applying a new coat of floatant or dressing.

Mucilin image

However, according to some, Mucilin, which is a silicon paste line dressing, can be used even when the line is wet. Just rub some into the applicator and pull the line through it.

Can I use alternative floatant/dressings such as Armor All?

I have a natural resistance to buying expensive specialist products in tiny bottles and wonder if there may be generic alternatives.  

Some fly fishers use alternative products, including Armor All and Rain-X, for dressing fly lines. However, there appears to be contention around the use of products designed for car plastics, etc. 

But here’s a testimonial that makes me think it’s worth a try. “That’s interesting…..a few of my mates and I have been treating our lines with Armorall for at least twenty years.”

Are there environmentally friendly line cleaners and floatants for fly lines?

I’m also looking for environmentally friendly alternatives to synthetic products, which are mostly silicone or petroleum-based.  There are natural alternatives, including tallow-based products, CDC preen oil from ducks, and emu oil.

Tallow- based products

Tallow is the rendered fat from animals such as goats, deer, cows.   When purified by rendering, it is an excellent natural preservative and protectant for your fly line. It’s can also be used on leather goods. 


The oil comes from the preen gland near the duck’s tail and is what stops their feathers from getting soaked.  (You are all familiar with watching water birds preen from the rear, up, where the glands are located.) And if you have used CDC feathers for your flies, then you will know that oily feel. 

Troutline Universal CDC Dressing can be used on PVC fly lines.  They advise:

  • clean the line with water and soap if you have time, then dry it for a few minutes.
  • after the line is cleaned, apply a small quantity and rub it gently to spread the grease as uniform as possible.
  • do not overload with grease.
  • you can fish the line right away.
  • if the line is old and the plastic coating is cracked, then apply the grease more often.

Emu Oil

Rendered from the Australian Emu, this is another alternative to tallow or CDC oil.

How should my fly line feel when it’s clean?

According to Brian Flechsig from Mad River Outfitters, a fly line should feel like BUTTER!  

Your line should speed through the rod guides providing you with a more accurate and streamlined cast, meaning your will catch more fish.

In this video, Brian Flechsig at Mad River Outfitters offers a detailed step-by-step guide on how to clean your fly line and why you should do so!

How to extend the life of my fly lines

Avoid these products to extend the life of your fly line. 

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • All products containing DEET and aerosols

These will reduce the life of a fly line made from PVC by making them crack and dry out prematurely.  

Heat will also accelerate the deplasticizing process so avoid leaving your fly lines on the dashboard of the truck of your car.  

Storing your fly lines and reels in neoprene or cloth bags will help keep them in good condition, extending their life.  

How often should my fly line be replaced?

It’s not about how often; it’s about the condition of the line. If the line has small cracks, or feels brittle, then it’s likely it needs replacing.  However, a thorough clean and redressing of the line may add another season of use before you need to replace it.  

Always try cleaning the line before deciding to fork out for a new one. Also stretch your fly line to straighten your line regularly as below.

Many fly fishers have bought expensive new lines when a simple clean would have saved them hundreds of dollars.

You’ll be surprised how well you can cast with a clean line.

How do you straighten fly lines?

If your line comes off your reel in a swirl of loops, then it’s time to stretch your line to get it straight again.  Removing the memory from your fly line will improve your casting as well as how the line lands on the water.  

There are two options for straightening your fly line. 

You can take the entire line off the reel, attach the end to a tree or post (or get a friend to hold it) and stretch the line between you. 

Or you can strip the line from the reel, grasping a length between your hands and repeatedly pulling each length taut.

Your line can also develop a twist, which can happen when putting a new line on a reel or after a great fight with a fish. 

In this case, strip all your line from the reel and allow to float downstream, or lay it out on the grass and gently bring it back onto the reel taking care to let it relax as you wind.