The essential guide to cleaning your brass instrument

From the baritone to the tuba; the trumpet to the trombone. We’ve got you covered

Brass instruments are as recognisable to the eye as they are to your ear. Whether it’s the funky improvisation of jazz, the catchy riffs of the blues, or even the lingering tones of the British colliery band, this is a family of versatile instruments that can produce endless styles of music.

The trumpet itself is a popular choice for beginners, owing much to its portable size and wide-ranging back catalogue of music to get stuck into, but also for its visual appeal. This much is true for the rest of the striking brass family, but a task for anyone looking to invest in one – or anyone who has been a long-suffering owner – is to keep them looking and sounding sharp. Here, we run through the essential hints and tips to help you stay on top of maintenance and keep you away from the repair shop.

If you rely on your instrument to earn a living, or if you’re concerned about damage occurring to what can be a significant investment then it’s worth taking a look into music insurance. At musicGuard, we can protect your instrument against theft, vandalism and will even extend our cover to include any trips abroad. To find out more about our policy features, take a look here.    

Cleaning equipment

First thing’s first. Before you get started stripping your trumpet or your tuba down to its bare bones in order to give it a deep clean, you’re going to need to have the right equipment at hand in order to get the job done properly.

By cleaning equipment, we don’t mean a bottle of polish and a pack of tissues – tissues can get stuck inside the instrument quite easily so definitely avoid this. Instead, there are some specific tools that are going to make your life much, much easier – but don’t worry, they come fairly cheap.

What you may need:

· Tuning slide grease

You can find bottles of tuning slide grease for about £5, although more expensive brands are available. You’ll find that there tends to be quite a lot of build-up of general dirt on the slides when you remove them. This is as a result of the old grease not being thoroughly cleaned off before applying a fresh layer.

· Spitballs

Spitballs are round sponges that can do a surprisingly good job of cleaning the inside of your pipes. Feed them into the top and either blow or push them out through the bell of the instrument. Repeat this a couple of times for a deep clean, but once before and after playing should suffice.

· Valve brush

You’ll want to brush the insides of your valves if you’re either a trumpet or a cornet player. Specific valve brushes are available online or in any decent music shop, but in truth, any short brush with wide bristles will do the same job.

· Valve oil

There are a huge amount of valve oil brands on the market and truthfully, the best choice for you will come down to your own personal preference. There are two main types of valve oil; synthetic and petroleum-based. Synthetic oils tend to be regarded as lasting longer than the traditional petroleum oils, and it’s not uncommon for musicians to use a mix of both. Either way, a bottle itself shouldn’t set you back more than £10 and you’ll probably need to apply it a few times a week if you’re a regular player.

· Cleaning snakes

A cleaning snake is a long, thin piece of wire with brushes attached to either end. These are essential bits of kit for the smaller members of the brass family, such as trumpets or cornets.

How often should you clean brass instruments?

How often you go about cleaning your instrument really depends on how often it gets used. If you’re a recent convert to the world of brass and are busy learning how to play, or whether you’re a highly-competent musician who has regular rehearsals, then you should be setting time aside to clean your kit every week.

The weekly clean can seem like a chore, but as with anything, in the long-run you’ll be glad you did it. Unfortunately, instruments in the brass family are susceptible to growing all sorts of nasty bacteria if they aren’t properly washed. A 2010 study discovered that frequent musicians have suffered from lung infections as a result of mould found growing in their instruments. Now, that shouldn’t put you off wanting to continue making music and is easily avoidable. Not every clean needs to be a deep-clean and often just a regular scrub around the mouthpiece and general maintenance will be enough to remove any dirt in hard to reach places.

Having said that, you can get your instrument serviced annually – much like you would a car – by taking it along to one of the many brass repair shops in the UK. There, the experts have access to a number of chemicals which can deliver an impeccable finish and leave your instrument looking as good as when you first walked out of the shop.

What to do (and what not to do) when cleaning a brass instrument

Here we’ll let you in on a few tips of what to do and what not to do, so you and your instrument can live a healthy, stress-free life and - most importantly - keep you from any costly trips to the repair shop.


· Don’t eat sugar before using your instrument

Lay off the sweets! Sugary fingers can make the valves on your instrument stick. So if you if you really do deserve a treat before you head into a rehearsal, make sure you give your hands a good wipe.

· Don’t use super glue to fix your instrument

Brass is malleable, so it’s easy for solder joints to break and slides to become unaligned. In the event of this happening, don’t panic. A repair shop can restore your instrument back to its former glories, but their job becomes much harder – and thus much more expensive for you - with any DIY work involving super glue.

· Don’t use abrasive materials to clean your instrument

Things like wire wool and sandpaper might seem like a good idea to remove any stains on your instrument, but they can lead to all manner of problems. For a start, any abrasive cleaning supplies can spoil the aesthetic of the brass finish, but worst of all can also lead to tiny holes forming in the metal itself.


· Use your case when you’re on the move

If you’re travelling with your instrument to concerts or rehearsals this may sound like a no-brainer, but with how easily damaged brass can be it’s worth keeping it protected whenever it’s moved. For shorter journeys, or even just to move from one room to another, pop your instrument into its equipment case and avoid any unwanted damage.

· Think about music insurance for your instrument

If you’re still concerned with your instrument coming into harm and the thought of costly repair bills, it may be worth getting some insurance. With musicGuard, our policy features protect all members of the brass family and covers all levels of musicians.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a novice or a concert professional, our insurance can make sure you’re covered should the worst happen. Take a look at what we could offer you here and get a quote from us today.