How to Clean Your Trumpet

Cleaning your trumpet is a basic part of routine maintenance. If you want your instrument to sound its best and last a long time, you need to clean it regularly. I generally recommend that my students clean their horns out once every 6-8 weeks. You should plan to spend around 30 minutes or more the first few times you clean your trumpet. As you get used to the routine, it will take you less time. I can usually do the job in about 15 minutes including set-up and clean-up.

Although I don’t give instructions for it here, you should also clean your mouthpiece out with a Mouthpiece Brush. You should do this more often than cleaning out the entire horn. Once a week is a good rule of thumb.

Before you begin, it’s a good idea to prepare your workspace and assemble all the tools you’ll need for the job:

  • Sink or tub filled with moderately warm water — not too hot to touch, not too cold to be uncomfortable (I use a kitchen sink, but a bathtub or laundry tub works too… basically you need a space large enough to fit your entire trumpet and get it mostly under water). I usually add a small amount of dish soap (hand dish-washing soap, not dishwasher detergent, which can damage the plating)
  • Snake, for cleaning slides and leadpipe tubing.
  • Valve casing brush, for cleaning the valve casings (I prefer the H.W. Brass Saver Trumpet Cleaning Brushes for this)
  • Lubricants (slide grease, valve oil).

Cleaning Tools

Shown here from left to right: HW Brass Saver valve casing brush and snake, regular snake, and regular valve casing brush.

Valve RemovalOnce you’ve got everything in place, it’s time to disassemble your trumpet. Start by removing the valves and setting them aside in a safe place (for me, this means out of reach of cats, who think it’s a lot of fun to knock them over and watch my entertaining reaction).

Next, remove all the slides. In the picture below you can see my C trumpet with the valves and slides removed. You can see the first, second and third valve slides, as well as the main tuning slide. Note that if your trumpet is a Bach Stradavarius Bb, the third valve slide can be separated into two parts.

BE CAREFUL WHEN REMOVING YOUR SLIDES! If they’re stuck, don’t force them out, or use pliers or other tools. It’s really easy to pull the tubing apart in places you didn’t intend to (ie: at the solder joints) and spoil an otherwise good day. If you can’t pull the slide out with medium level effort, finish cleaning your trumpet and take it to a professional repair person to have the slides pulled.

Watch out for small parts that are easy to lose while you’re taking the trumpet apart, and set them aside in a safe place. These parts can include third valve slide stopper nuts and screws, bottom valve caps, clip-on pencil holders, etc.

Disassembled Trumpet

Now that your trumpet is in pieces, it’s time to start cleaning. I like to start with the slides first, soaking them in the water for a minute, then pulling the snake or brass saver brush through the tubing:

Slide Cleaning

After snaking out each of the slides, carefully rinse them with fresh water to remove all soap residue, then dry and set them on the towel.

Next, place the main body of your trumpet into the water. Make sure the tubing fills with water and let it soak for a couple minutes. Then, clean out the various tubes. I like to use the snake on the leadpipe, an the thin end of the Brass Saver valve casing brush on the smaller tubes that enter the valve casings. Finally, I use the big end of the valve casing brush on the valve casings.

Valve Casing

After you finish cleaning all the tubing, you can drain the water from your sink and carefully rinse the trumpet body. I find the spray nozzle on my kitchen sink works great for this, but be carefull not to splash water all over the room!

Gently dry the trumpet and set it on a towel along with the slides. It can be helpful at this point to arrange the slides near the spots where they belong, especially if you’re new to the trumpet and aren’t totally sure where they go.

Before reinserting the slides, you’ll need to put some slide grease on them. I typically use two types of slide grease on my horns: For the main tuning slide I use Hetman Tuning Slide Gel, and for the first and third valve slides I useĀ Hetman Light Slide (Lubricant #4)

When you finish re-assembling the trumpet, it’s time to clean the valves. I like to use just a little dish soap and warm running water for this. It’s very important that you NOT get the top part of the valve wet! This is the part with the felt pads on it. If those felt pads get wet, they can compress and cause your valves to become misaligned. The only part of the valve that needs to be cleaned is the bottom section with the ports (those are the holes that line up with the various slides on the trumpet).

Make sure you carefully rinse of all soapy residue from the valves. DO NOT DRY YOUR VALVES! Drying the valves can end up leaving small traces of lint on the surface of the valve which can make them stick or slow down later on. Put a few drops of oil on each valve and carefully place them in their proper place (for more information on this, see the article “How to Oil Your Valves” elsewhere on this site).

At this point your trumpet should in great shape for your next practice session! Don’t forget to clean everything up behind you, and check the sink or tub for leftover trumpet slime.

20 Responses to How to Clean Your Trumpet

  1. Drew says:

    Hey Mark. Good post. Head’s up, though: At the end of the article, you’ve got an improper tag. –>

  2. GreggV says:

    I’m wondering if you ever pour rubbing alcohol (surgical spirits for those in the UK) through the horn to sterilise any bacteria that might be in there?

    • markflegg says:

      I’ve never done that, though I imagine it would work. Probably an even better solution would be to get Spitballs
      (seriously, that’s what they’re called) and use those. They’re entertaining, too!

  3. Dave V. says:

    The valves are all stuck I’ve tried putting oil
    how do I remove and clean.
    I undid the bonnet nut at top still no movement.
    What should I do?

    • markflegg says:

      If they’re completely stuck, your best bet is to take it in to a good repair shop and have them take care of it. There are a number of things that can cause a valve to completely seize… it’s not something that can be diagnosed over the web. The good news is that trumpet repairs are, for the most part, very reasonable. Good luck!!

      • Len Allman says:

        Try letting it soak in the soapy solution overnight. Then try removing the pistons the next day.

        If they still don’t move and you can remove the valve slides, squirt in some WD-40 and let that soak for an hour or longer. Turning the horn over and applying WD-40 in the bottom of the casing to soak can also work. It may take several applications/days but that should do it. After a few days, if you’re brave/desperately poor (or both), try gently, slowly tapping a snare drum stick through the bottom of the valve casing. CAUTION is the watch word here. If stick stuck, apply more WD-40 and soak at least 24 hours. Repeat as needed. Good luck and keep smilin’.

        • Alyssa The Trumpet says:

          I wouldn’t recommend that it could rush the springs in the valves and make it a lot worse I’d still recommend the repair shop or to save money get a clean washcloth and pliers. Then that the washcloth and place it. Then put the pliers on the washcloth (which should be placed some were on the actually valve not the valve casing) and twist to make no scratch but it might get the valve out. If it doesn’t work then the repair ship is the best option :3

  4. Ken says:

    Thanks Mark, helpful article!

  5. Ally says:

    I have this oil buildup on my trumpet and I don’t know how to get rid of it. The vavles, the one you press when you play, hasn’t been cleaned for ages and I know I have myself to blame. The oil that was once there has turned into green spots in the holes and I can’t get rid of them. I’ve used a trumpet brush but it doesn’t come of.

    What do I do??! : /

    • markflegg says:

      I would try using Simple Green on it and see if that does the trick. If it doesn’t, you probably need to take it to a good repair shop.

      Be very careful when cleaning valves. Do not use anything abrasive.. you don’t want to scratch the surface!!

  6. Jasmin Morua says:

    how can you clean/shine the outside of the trumpet?

    • Jasmin Morua says:

      If its silver..?

      • markflegg says:

        Hi Jasmin,

        I’m guessing you’re talking about tarnish build-up, which makes the silver turn black over time. I’m a big fan of Hagerty Silver Polish, but really any good, NON-ABRASIVE silver polish will work. A couple things to keep in mind:

        • Be sure to clean the trumpet fully before polishing the silver. If there are any contaminants on the silver (like fingerprints), the silver polish may not remove the tarnish in those spots.
        • Don’t rub too hard while polishing. Silver plate is fairly thin, so you don’t want to wear it down more than necessary!
  7. Mhairi says:

    I was just wondering, if you don’t have any of the HW Brass Saver valve casing brush and snake, regular snake, and regular valve casing brush, are there any (homemade) alternatives you can offer? Plus, is fairy liquid ok, or will that ruin the plating?

    • markflegg says:

      Mhairi,

      I don’t know of any home-made alternatives, sorry! I’ve never heard of fairy liquid, so I don’t know what it would do to silver plating. When in doubt, use caution!

    • Blake says:

      A soft bristle toothbrush with a soft head on the backside can be used as a valve brush.

  8. alex says:

    Hey, i was wondering if I can use trumbone size spit balls to clean my trumpet.

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