Brass Instrument Cleaning


Greg Pate, Low Brass Specialist

An instrument needs to be clean in order for it to function properly. Valves and slides can be affected by a lack of maintenance and lead to the instrument being unplayable. A dirty instrument is not only difficult to play, but may also cause health issues.


Cleaning a brass instrument is a fairly simple process and should be done on a monthly basis and involves using soap and water.  This procedure is for trumpet, trombone, baritone, tuba and other similar instruments. Cleaning kits are available to help with this process. The kits will usually include brushes of various sizes to scrub out specific parts of the horn.


DO NOT use this cleaning method for woodwind instruments.


Step 1:

Disassemble the instrument. Remove all of the valves, valve caps, and tuning slides. The valves are usually numbered to ensure proper placement into the correct valve casing. Place small parts into a basket to keep track of them.  For trombones, take the outer slide off and remove the tuning slide from the bell.


Step 2:

Place the instrument and the parts into the bathtub with lukewarm water and mild dishwashing detergent. Let the body of the instrument and parts soak for about 15 to 20 minutes. Use the brushes to clean the tubes, valve ports and mouthpiece.


Step 3:

Rinse the instrument and let the parts dry. Wipe off as much water as possible with a soft cloth to prevent water spots. In the repair shop, we use an air compressor to blow most of the residual water from the horn. If you do not have that equipment, you can use the canned compressed air that would be used for cleaning your computer.


Step 4:

Apply slide grease to all of the tuning slides, oil on the valves and re-assemble the instrument. It is now ready to play again.


In addition to this, having your horn professionally cleaned annually will prevent most major issues such as, corrosion or “red rot”.


Woodwind instruments are treated very differently. Do not place the instrument in water. The pads on a woodwind instrument are made out of leather or felt and will be severely damaged.  Woodwind players (saxophone, clarinet, flute, oboe, etc.) will use a cotton or silk swab to remove moisture from the instrument after playing. The only part of a woodwind instrument that can be cleaned with water is the mouthpiece. Be sure to clean this part on a regular basis.


There will be another detailed post on woodwind instrument maintenance next week!


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