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).
Shown here from left to right: HW Brass Saver valve casing brush and snake, regular snake, and regular valve casing brush.
Once 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.
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:
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.
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. You don’t need a lot of grease for each slide… just enough for a thin coat. I like to put the grease on one side of the slide at a time, then then insert only that half of the slide into the trumpet and rotate it around a bit to spread the grease around. After you get the slide lubed to your satisfaction and fully inserted into the trumpet, it’s a good idea to use your towel to wipe off the excess grease that will inevitably squeeze out of the slide.
If you find that this leaves your first and third valve slides too stiff for normal use, you can mix a drop or two of valve oil with the grease on those slides, or use a lighter grease on those slides, such as Hetman Light Tuning Slide Oil
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.