How to clean a tarnished trumpet (10 stupid-simple steps)

by ReverbLxnd in Trumpet

Brass tarnished easily. Here's a simple 10-step DIY guide to deep clean your tarnished trumpet on a very fixed budget. So you no longer need to take it to the music store for a chemical flush or ultranosic clean.

One question I always get from trumpet students is how to clean a trumpet, especially if they recently purchased a brand new trumpet and want to keep it in good working condition.

Now I realise that most students, as well as many of us, have a very fixed budget. The more economical the approach is, the more likely we are to use it.

Like the metals from which it’s made, brass tarnishes easily.

If you were to go to the music store, and do a chemical flush or an ultrasonic clean, that could easily run you anywhere from $60 to $100.

Let’s talk today about an economical (and eco-friendly) way to clean your trumpet. A home DIY chemical cleaning of sorts.

How to deep clean a trumpet with lemon juice

We’re first going to use lemon juice as our main cleaning agent.

Economically speaking, this type of home DIY chem. flush with lemon juice will only cost you about $20 — or whatever the price of buying the lemon juice is to you.

Let me walk you through the process step-by-step.

What you’ll need

First we need to take a look at the materials that we are going to use for this cleaning.

  1. A few bottles of lemon juice — that’ll be our main cleaning agent as I mentioned.
  2. A small glass — big enough to fit the valves.
  3. Some dish soap.
  4. A long snake. A lot of people will recommend that you use a snake. It is a long thing that plumbers use to up clogs in the drain.
  5. A swab. Because the snake does not totally clean up the lead pipe and some of the other pipes, I recommend a swab.
  6. A mouthpiece brush. You should use a mouthpiece brush once every two weeks or so to keep that mouthpiece clean.
  7. A cleaning rod. They are about $3 to $4. Most music stores have them.
  8. Rotor oil.
  9. Valve oil.
  10. Slide grease.
  11. Brass polish.
  12. Silver polish.
  13. A white cloth or small rug. You can get a box of clean rags at your local hardware store. Just a small strip will be fine enough.
  14. A tub (or something like a plastic filing cabinet that would fit the trumpet). Of course the larger the tub you have, the more lemon juice you need to purchase.
  15. A towel.

Step #1 — Disassemble your trumpet

The first step is to completely diassemble the trumpet and lay out all the parts.

Be sure to keep track of all the small parts because sometimes these can be easily lost through this process.

The first thing you want to do here is take your main slide out. Wipe off all the old grease and put it on the towel.

Do the same for the other slides. First take our your first valve slide by holding down the first valve and proceed from there.

Never take out the slides without pressing down the valves because you’ll eventually ruin the valves. You hear air popping sounds when you do this, which is not a good thing.

The third valve slide for some trumpets might be held by some slide stops. So you’ll need to listen the screws first. Not every trumpet has this, so it’s not a big deal.

Sometimes for some of your trumpets these will be stuck. Don’t take our pliers or anything like that. Instead, here’s how to get your trumpet slides unstuck. Use that guide to get the slides unstuck.

After all the slides are out, take off the bottom valve caps.

Again, no pliers, take your trumpet to a music store if you cannot get this unstuck before you wreck your instrument.

When you pull out the valves in the next step, look to see where the number is on the valve. There is a number 1, 2 or 3 for each valve. Valve number 1 is the one closest to the mouthpiece.

Some trumpet valves don’t have a number, make a note of which valve belongs where.

Also look to see which direction the valve is facing, mine faces towards the mouthpiece. I know all my valves face towards the mouthpiece.

Step #2 — Soak your trumpet valves

The first thing we’ll do is take those three valves and place them in a glass half full of lemon juice.

We only need to soak the bottom half of the valve because that’s the only portion that really comes into contact with the valve casing.

We’ll set those aside and let them soak for the duration of this process.

Something to keep in mind about the top of the valve is that there’s a black ring at the top of the valve cap and just below that there’s a brown felt pad.

You want to be very careful to keep those dry throughout these process and, just in general, because if they are constantly getting wet and then dry, they will deteriorate rather rapidly. Over the course of years you want to replace those pads anyway but if you keep them dry they’ll last you much longer.

Step #3 — Soak your trumpet

Take the trumpet and all the parts and put them inside the tub, and then fill that tub with lemon juice until your trumpet is completely submerged.

If you want to you can dilute the lemon juice 1:1 so you don’t have to buy quite as many bottles, but to get the best results, do a complete 100 per cent lemon juice cleanse.

Let it sit for about an hour.

Step #4 — Work the snake through the tubing

After it has sat for an hour, work the snake through all of the tubing on the trumpet, through all of that dirt and grime and getting it all loose.

After doing this, I then recommend that you let it sit for at least another hour…

…and then come back and doing the same thing through all of the slides and all of the tubing to make sure you get every little last bit of dirt and grime out.

Step #5 — Wash off the lemon juice with dish soap

After we are done using the snake for the second time and cleaning out all of tubing on the trumpet, take the trumpet and all the parts out of the lemon solution, dran the solution out of the tub.

Next, put the trumpet and all of the parts minus the valves back into the tub. This time we’ll add dish soap and this will help clear out all the lemon juice from the trumpet.

For this step, we’ll fill that tub again with water and let that soak, for perhaps an hour. You can take the snake through the tubing and slides if you want to properly clean them out.

Step #6 — Silver polish your trumpet

After the trumpet is done soaking in the water and dish soap, you can take it out and begin using your silver polish.

Of course, follow the directions that are indicated on your silver polish.

In my case, what I’ve done is put all the slides back in (not the valves), so that I can polish all of the silver portions of the trumpet.

Step #7 — Dry your trumpet

Once your polishing is done and you have rinsed your trumpet both inside and outside, you can begin drying your trumpet.

So you take a cloth and dry the outside of the trumpet, and then to clean the inside of the valves, you take your lint free cloth and pull it through the loop at the top of your cleaning rod.

You can then wrap that cloth around tha cloth around and puch it at the bottom and top of your valve casings to get it nice and dry.

Step #8 — Grease the slides

Next you move over to greasing the slides with the slide grease.

On the first and third valve slides, I like to use rotor oil — french horn rotor oil. That helps them move nice and quick. But you do not absolutely have to.

Sometimes I even add a drop of valve oil to thin that out even more do they move even more quickly.

Step #9 — Rinse the valves

Next, we move to the valves.

After soaking them, you them want to rinse them off with water, dry them off, and then you can begin oiling them.

I wrote a guide on how to oil sticky, sluggish trumpet valves a while back. The procedure is pretty much exactly the same. Check that out to get this done properly so you can get your valves moving quickly up and down.

Step #10 — Clean your mouthpiece

Lastly, here I’m using a mouthpiece brush on my mouthpiece just to clean that out.

Step #11 — Assemble and tune your trumpet

Again, I have a guide on how to assemble your trumpet step-by-step. The prodecure is exactly the same, so give that a read.

And I wrote a guide on how to tune a trumpet. So also have a look at that once you are done assembling to make sure everthing is working as it should.

Have fun assembling and tuning up your trumpet and your house will smell lemony fresh for the rest of the day.

How often should you deep clean out your trumpet?

You want to clean out your trumpet, if you can, at least once a month.


I've been a musician and brought in my stuff for mixing and mastering, I've been my own producer where I wrote, recorded, mixed and sold my own stuff. Now, I'm *mostly* an audio engineer, where I only record and mix for clients. I'm currently based in Berlin, Germany, where I operate ReverbLand out of. Got a question? DM me on Instagram or Twitter @reverblxnd everywhere, or shoot me an email I'd love to hear from you.

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