How to Clean a Trumpet: A Beginner’s Guide

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It’s important to clean your trumpet regularly, so that it stays in good condition. Not only does it keep it looking nice and shiny, but it prevents damage to the protective layer on the outside of the instrument, and keeps the inside dirt-free, and helps the valves and slides to move freely. But how do you do it properly and more importantly safely so you don’t damage it?

In this post we’ll look at how to thoroughly clean your trumpet inside and out, as well as some tips for regular maintenance to keep your instrument in top shape.

What You’ll Need

  • Two large bath towels
  • Rubber bath mat (optional)
  • Paper towels
  • A bathtub or large sink
  • Dish soap
  • Cleaning snake
  • Valve casing brush (optional)
  • Mouthpiece brush (optional)
  • Lint-free cloth
  • Valve oil
  • Slide grease

You can buy some of the specialist trumpet cleaning items separately, or you can get them as part of a trumpet cleaning kit like the one listed below:

Monster Trumpet/Cornet Care and Cleaning Kit | Valve Oil, Slide Grease, and More! Everything You Need to Take Care of and Clean...
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Monster Trumpet/Cornet Care and Cleaning Kit | Valve Oil, Slide Grease, and More! Everything You Need to Take Care of and Clean...
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Step by Step Instructions For Trumpet Cleaning

If you’ve got the items listed above, it’s time to start the cleaning process. Have a read through them all before starting so you can get to grips with what to do.

It’s also worth noting these instructions are for a trumpet in Bb but will work for all types of trumpets.

Step 1: Prepare and Fill the Bath

Step 1 is to get all the items listed above and to fill the bathtub or sink with enough lukewarm (not hot) water and a few drops of dish soap.

There should be enough water to completely cover your trumpet.

Step 2: Take your Trumpet Apart

After you’ve filled the bath it’s to remove the tuning slide and the three valve slides and wipe off any grease with a paper towel.

Unscrew the bottom valve caps from the valve casings and wipe them thoroughly with a paper towel too.

Finally, unscrew the top valve caps and remove the valves.

Make sure you take note of the number on each valve, and which way it is facing – this is important to remember when you put the trumpet back together.

Step 3: Soak your Trumpet in the Bath

Place the main body of the trumpet in bathtub or sink, together with the tuning slide, valve slides and bottom valve caps.

You might want to put down a towel or rubber bathmat to prevent any scratches to the trumpet.

But, do NOT put the valves in the bath, as the felts need to stay dry in order to work properly.

Step 4: Soak the Valves in a Glass

Put some lukewarm water and dish soap in a glass but not all the way to the top.

Put the valves in but the water should cover the main part of the valve, but leave the felt dry.

Step 5: Clean your Trumpet with the Snake

Pass your snake brush through the leadpipe, tuning slide, and the straight sections of the valve slides.

Don’t force the brush around any bends, as this can cause it to get stuck. Use the valve casing brush or snake to clean the valve casings.

If you have a mouthpiece brush you can also use this to clean the inside of your mouthpiece.

You might need to pass the brush through a few times to get a complete clean.

Step 6: Clean the valves

Use the snake brush or valve casing brush to thoroughly clean the valve ports (holes in the valves).

Carefully clean the outside of the valves, taking care not to scratch them, and then wash them with clean water.

Step 7: Rinse and dry

Empty the bathtub or sink, and then completely rinse all the parts of the trumpet with clean water.

Place all the pieces on a large towel, and dry them carefully with a lint-free cloth, or leave to air-dry.

Do not dry them directly with an ordinary towel.

Step 8: Grease and oil the slides

Once everything is dry, apply a thin layer of slide grease to the tuning slide and second valve slide.

Put a couple of drops valve oil on the first and third valve slides.

This is so these slides can move more freely, to adjust the intonation of the trumpet.

Then re-insert the slides into the instrument.

Step 9: Oil the valves

Apply a few drops of valve oil to each valve until it is coated in a thin layer of oil, and put them back into the trumpet.

You will need to check that the alignment of each valve is correct.

If you took note of the direction of each valve number before, you can simply do the same.

Otherwise, a bit of trial-and-error is necessary – if you blow through the trumpet and find that the air is being blocked, that is a sign that one of the valves is facing the wrong way.

Step 10: Clean with a cloth

If there are still some bits of dirt or tarnish on your trumpet, you can clean these by rubbing them with a lint-free cloth.

You can use a cotton swab to clean any hard-to-reach parts more effectively.

If you have a silver-plated instrument, you can use a silver polishing cloth to clean off any tarnish from the instrument more effectively.

You should never use polish on a lacquer instrument, as this can damage the lacquer.

Why you Need to Clean a Trumpet

Cleaning your trumpet regularly will help keep the instrument in top playing condition and prevent any build-up of dirt or corrosion.

When grim and dirt build up inside the trumpet, this mis-shape or corrode the tubing and make the instrument feel harder to play.

Corrosion on the outside of the instrument can wear down the protective layer of lacquer or silver plate, exposing the raw brass to the air.

This is liable to corrode more quickly, which can cause small holes in the tubing to develop.

When grime builds up in the slides or valves it can make them harder to move, making it more difficult (or impossible) to move them quickly.

Keeping your trumpet clean inside and out will prevent this from happening and ensure that your instrument plays better for longer!

How Often Should you Clean your Trumpet

You should give your trumpet a full clean every three months to prevent build-up of dirt and grime in the tubes, valves and slides.

However, other tasks need to be done more often.

You should wipe your trumpet down with a cloth and oil the valves every one or two days, and grease the slides every week or two.

What to Avoid

Be careful not to use hot water to soak your trumpet, as the lacquer coating on the instrument can be affected if it is too hot.

Make sure the valve felts stay dry when cleaning the valves.

You don’t need to remove the water keys when cleaning the trumpet as they are very difficult to put back on without specialist equipment!

Never use polish on a lacquer instrument, and be sure to use only the appropriate polish on a silver or brass instrument.

If you are unable to move a stuck valve or slide, you should never use excessive force or try to pull it out with any household tools.

Brass is very soft and can easily be dented or misshapen!

Take it to a repairer instead.

How to Best Maintain your Trumpet

Regular maintenance will help keep your trumpet in top playing shape and ensure that the full cleaning process doesn’t become too much of a task!

Here are some things you can do regularly to keep your instrument in good condition:

  • Oil the valves every one or two days to keep them moving freely.
  • Lubricate the tuning slide and three valve slides every week or two.
  • Wash your hands before picking up the trumpet to prevent dirt building up on the outside of the instrument, and wipe the trumpet over with a microfibre polishing cloth after you have finished playing.
  • Always rinse your mouth with water before playing and brush your teeth if you have just eaten.
  • Empty any moisture from your trumpet using the water keys after you practice, so there is no moisture left inside the instrument.

Conclusion

Brass players are fond of the saying, ‘Look after the trumpet, and the trumpet will look after you!’

It might seem like a lot of work, but once you have fully cleaned your trumpet a couple of times it gets much quicker and easier.

If you keep your instrument in good condition by regular maintenance and a bath every few months, it will produce a much better sound, be easier to play, last longer, and look shinier!

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Written by Peter Yarde Martin
Peter Yarde Martin is a freelance composer, musician and educator based in London. He studied music at Cambridge University and now works with many top professional ensembles and soloists in the UK and abroad.