As a trumpet player of around 20 years and a trumpet teacher of around 10 years, cleaning the trumpet has always been a chore and it’s even more difficult to explain simply!
So the purpose of this article is answer my own students’ question: “how do you clean the trumpet”?
I’m here to simply illustrate an easy and effective approach to cleaning the trumpet with the infamous BATH. But there’s no need to fret – it is quite simple and may only take around 30-minutes (or faster for experienced trumpet players!).
Why this approach? I’m glad you asked – the origins are vague because I was taught how to do this when I was in middle school. Through the years I’ve seen and heard people talk about all the different, unnecessarily creative ways to clean the trumpet. Yet regardless, I’ve not changed my technique much in the last 20 years since I’ve not had a problem or a need to change it!
So, get ready.
How to Clean the Trumpet in Five Steps:
- Detox (Clean)
What you will need:
- One bathtub
- One sink
- Trumpet Cleaning Snake
(see my recommendation)
- Mouthpiece Brush (see my recommendation)
- Valve Casing Brush (see my recommendation)
- Valve Oil (see my recommendation)
- Trumpet Slide Grease (see my recommendation)
- Two towels for drying
- One soft washcloth
- [a name for your trumpet]
In the market for these extra cleaning tools?
Consider buying all three in a bundle price, which may save on money (as compared to buying separately).
Don’t go too cheap on the quality of material. If the plastic is cheap and rigid, it has the possibility of scratching the inner tubing of the trumpet which after years can build up to be a potential, irreversible problem that could be prevented by spending just a few more dollars. Invest in the future of your trumpet!
My recommendations for those wanting options:
- Low Priced Bundle (click here)
- Average Priced Bundle (click here)
- High Priced Yamaha Bundle (click here)
Time to clean the trumpet! Set aside at least 30-minutes and don’t let dogs help out too much. Their fur can find its way into the inner workings of the trumpet when you’re drying, greasing, or oiling. Especially when putting it back together! (It was a hard lesson learned after my dog, Mishka, tried to help).
The first step is to take apart the trumpet!
This includes taking out the slides connected to the first, second, and third valves as well as all three valves and the valves caps underneath. Anything that moves, take apart! You’ll notice my model, Bach Strad 37, has another slide part to the third valve slide (instead of another spit valve). Keep things like this in mind! Slides could be hiding!
DO NOT TAKE APART THE VALVES THEMSELVES.
After you take out each valve, there is no need to take them apart any further. The valves themselves can stay intact – so no need to try to take out the spring within it.
Any little parts like screws or rubber stops should be placed in a safe place to prevent them from being lost. Don’t take any risks!
Fill up a bathtub with lukewarm water until its an inch or so taller than the diameter of the trumpet bell. Then submerge the trumpet and all its parts, including any mouthpieces you may have, into the water. BUT, leave the valves out of the bath.
Fill up a sink with lukewarm water until the level is no higher than the spring in the valves (see picture below). Then place the valves in the water of the sink without letting them tip over.
You don’t want the felt on the valves to soak in water too long as it leaves it prone to ripping. I usually struggle by trying to balance them in the sink (see picture below), but I’m sure there’s plenty of easier ways to allow them NOT to fall into the water.
INSTEAD, you may also fill a small tupperware with lukewarm water – which is probably best since there’s a flat bottom (much easier to balance the valves).
Leave the trumpet and all its parts to soak for 10-minutes.
During this time, I usually reassure the trumpet by saying, “there you go [INSERT TRUMPET NAME HERE], you’ll feel better soon.”
I also make sure I have two towels for drying and a washcloth for cleaning. Make sure you have valve oil ready and slide grease as well! Maybe take a photo of the process and share with your friends (like I did in the above photo) – they need to be doing the same every 3 to 6 months! Treat yo’ baby right.
3. Detox (Clean)
I recommend cleaning the trumpet underwater to ensure the “gray matter” doesn’t fling out onto the walls of the bathtub.
With the trumpet snake, glide the brush ends through each slide of the trumpet body to ensure nothing is left inside. Try to pull out all the gunk by approaching different sides and different angles.
I would recommend not using soap.
Soap can leave a film on the surface of the metal, both inside and out. And really, it’s a risk not worth the potentially “cleaner” trumpet, because it’s brass. It doesn’t need soap to keep it clean.
If you want to keep it clean longer, DON’T PLAY AFTER YOU EAT (#trumpetmanners). This is a much better solution than trying dish soap (*shutters*).
Take the valve brush (the thicker brush) and run in through each valve with a twisting motion (see above photo). It’s important to clean this because your valves are very much dependent on the cleanliness of your valve casings! I’d recommend doing this underwater, too, to keep the nasty-stuff in the water and not on your face (or elsewhere).
Make sure to run the mouthpiece brush through both sides of the mouthpiece with a twist, push, and pull (see photo below). Please make sure you clean BOTH SIDES of the mouthpiece – our mouths go on this part, so a clean and happy mouthpiece is directly correlated to a happy trumpet player.
Take the washcloth, submerge it underwater, and wash the outside of the trumpet (see photo below).
Each lacquer might be different (gold vs. silver), but don’t attempt in buying “silver polish” of any sort unless it’s “trumpet specified.” If you REALLY want your trumpet to be as good as new, leave it to professional instrument repairmen who dip the entire instrument in a chemical solution (don’t try this at home).
You do not want to strip the outside lacquer of the trumpet. You merely want to remove any dust or grime which should all come off easily. If not, try not to scrub too hard.
Don’t force anything or use too much pressure when scrubbing! Brass bends!
If there’s a really bad blemish that can’t be removed without force, it might be time to take your trumpet in for an “acid bath” where professionals clean the entirety of the instrument with trumpet-safe chemicals.
NO NEED TO UNSCREW OR FURTHER TAKE APART EACH VALVE.
I usually take the mouthpiece cleaner (after I’ve used it on the mouthpiece) and run it through each hole of each valve while underwater. It is important not to leave any residue on these thin edges because any little spec of dirt can prevent fluid motion of the piston mechanics.
Once you take the trumpet and its parts out of the water, dry them off right after to prevent water spots. I suggest taking one part out at a time. This is where you can make [INSERT TRPT NAME HERE] look extra gorgeous by rubbing off dirt and preventing evidence it had a bath (or dried water spots).
Make sure, though, that you use a soft towel or blanket to dry it off. If there is any print or rough patches, you may accidentally scratch the lacquer! So ensure you have proper soft cloth.
Each slide, the mouthpiece, the valves, everything can be dried off and then laid down on the second towel to air dry a bit. Allow a few minutes for the trumpet to air dry since water can dilute the oil and grease in the next step.
Before you put everything back together, make sure you use trumpet approved slide grease on each slide of the trumpet. In this last step, there is really only one rule to follow:
ANYTHING THAT MOVES NEEDS OIL OR GREASE.
Here are the things that need grease (basically all the slides):
- Tuning slide (biggest slide)
- 1st valve slide (smaller)
- 2nd valve slide (smallest)
- 3rd valve slide (small compared to tuning slide)
- All three valve caps (underneath the valve casings)
- Outside of all three valve holes (the screw threads)
Here are the things that need oil:
- The silver part of all three valves
- No need to oil the springs within the valves, just the metal part with the holes
More often than not, trumpet players only use the slide grease on slides, which is, of course, a good start, but don’t forget about all the other parts of the trumpet that move. Everything on the trumpet that moves can use a little grease, apart from the valves themselves.
If you find that the 3rd valve slide is difficult to push out (for when tuning low C# or D), you can dilute the grease a bit by putting a bit of valve oil. This can also be used for the tuning slide, if need be. But start with a little oil at a time.
Don’t OVER oil the slides because the grease needs to stay the main lubricant.
Now that everything is greased up, move on to the valves!
Don’t underestimate how much the valves might need oil, because right after a bath, the valves will be especially dry. Ideally, we should have a whole bucket full to dip the valves in! But most only have a bottle to squeeze.
Soak the silver bottom half of each valve thoroughly to ensure nothing catches and the valve it slippery enough.
When you’re finished bathing your trumpet, make sure to CLEAN the aftermath!
The bath can be quite a great experience for your young trumpet, but the bathtub will suffer if not cleaned immediately afterward. The mold and residue left in the water from the cleaning process can stain the tub if left too long.
Also, make sure to clean any dirt and grime off the brushes as well – keep it clean for the next time you need to give you trumpet a bath.
But after the tub is clean, the towels are thrown in the dirty clothes, and the trumpet is put back together, you’re done!
Test things out by playing on the trumpet now – you should notice a marked difference. More ease is air flow and possibly even less back pressure. It is always my favorite moment after giving my own trumpet a bath!
I hope this article has helped and you feel comfortable giving your trumpet a bath now! It can be complicated at first, but give it time and this process will become much easier and familiar. You’ll have to, if you continue trumpet for the rest of your life like me!
Plan on cleaning your trumpet at least every 3 months and at most every 6 months, especially if you’re playing on it 3 to 7 times a week!
Best of luck with cleaning your trumpet! If you have questions, feel free to contact me through my personal contact info (given in person), through my website’s contact form, or by commenting below.
Thanks for reading!