Date: Tue, 10 Feb 1998 20:56:08 EST
Subject: Re:  Cleaning

        >I think it's about time I give my trumpet a good bath
        >but I really don't know how to clean it...

What follows is from the MusicChem (makers of Pro-Oil) web site. More perhaps that you wanted to know, but right on the money.

                Jim Donaldson
                Denver, Colorado


The Care of Piston Valve Brass Instruments


Brass musical instruments are continually subjected to the aerosols in the musician's breath. Over time this debris will build up inside the instrument until its performance is degraded. Valve action in particular is drastically effected when those aerosols attach themselves to the piston and valve casing. Human saliva is also damaging to these instruments. The salts and enzymes present in saliva promote Monel valve staining, attack internal solder joints, and cause dezinicification (red rot) in the crooks of the slides. On the outside of the instruments, sweat from the hands also causes dezinicification. Therefore, to ensure that the instrument performs properly and to retard corrosion, it is necessary to not only clean it regularly, but in an effective way. The following method of maintenance will ensure that the instrument can perform at its utmost. Although there are many techniques in use, this method is based on soapy water, a little effort, and a lot of common sense.

Cleaning Equipment

To clean inside the instrument you should use a quality snake which has a protective coating covering its length. The snakes' bristles should be
moderately stiff, but the ends should not have exposed metal tips. Wire brushes may get the task done quickly, but the added risk of scratching the instrument does not justify their use. The concern is that their routine use might scratch the instrument's interior enough to provide a better surface for mold to anchor between washings. Moreover, a weakened wall on an old instrument can be easily perforated. We therefore prefer to rely on the proven power of soapy water to loosen the debr rushing to remove the debris. To clean the valve casings you should use a valve casing brush that is soft enough to avoid marring the casing wall. Do not use scouring pads, metal brushes or any abrasives. The mouthpiece is cleaned with a mouthpiece brush, but a cotton or foam swab works well inside the cup.

As for the soap, Lemon Joy and Palmolive liquid dish soap work well. DO NOT use toothpaste, abrasive soaps, Brasso, Tarnex, chemicals or any soaps that make the water turn milky. Do not use soaps that leave behind an odor, or claim to contain a skin softening lotion. Cleaners such as Fantastic, Pinesol, and Mr. Clean are powerful cleaners, but they have solvents that might soften and blush some lacquer finishes. Some are also alkaline enough to increase any red rot already forming on the instrument.


Begin by removing all of the slides. Use soft paper toweling to remove all traces of tuning slide grease from the slides and the instrument. A little grease goes a long way in slowing down your valves, and this step will keep grease from transferring to the valves and casing during cleaning. Silicone based slide grease is uniquely tough to remove. If you have a silicone based slide grease on your slides, remove it with a paper towel saturated in mineral spirits. Place the slides somewhere safe for until the soapy water is ready.

The valves are also best cleaned separately. First, soak them in individual plastic cups containing enough lukewarm soapy water to just cover the top of the piston, but not the felts. Use your snake to gently clean the ports of each piston, and a soft soapy wash cloth to clean the outside of each piston. Again, let the soaking do most of the cleaning.

The most effective technique for cleaning the rest of the instrument is to work in a bathtub or large basin. Obviously do not use an automatic
dishwasher; it will not clean the instrument interior and it will permanently damage your instrument. Fill the tub with lukewarm water (not
hot) and mix in a healthy amount (about 10 mL) of your tub or basin to help prevent scratching the instrument during cleaning. Put the disassembled instrument, slides and mouthpiece (but not the valves) onto the towel in the bathtub and let the parts soak for about 30 minutes to loosen any debris. For larger instruments which may not fit completely under the water, pour soapy water down the bell. Use a soft cloth to wash the external parts of the instrument. Dip the snake's brush in some dish soap and gently run the snake inside every tube and slide. Do not try to force the snake all the way around the curves of the small slides.

Remove the valve caps on the bottom of the valve casing. Use your soft valve casing brush to GENTLY brush out the valve casing. Remember, this is a delicate part of your instrument, so be gentle. Use the same technique with the mouthpiece, but use a mouthpiece brush. If the instrument is exceptionally dirty, let it soak longer. Again, do not use abrasives, scouring pads or metal brushes; the soapy water will work if you are patient. Although in extreme cases some dilute acid will remove dried layers of debris, it is far better to let an experienced repair shop perform any acid treatment.

After you are satisfied that everything is clean, rinse all the parts well with lukewarm water until every trace of soap is gone. To prevent spotting, the outside of the instrument can be wiped dry. The external finish will scratch easily, so use the softest cloth you can find. A very worn, but clean, cotton Tee-shirt or old cotton pajamas work well for this. Blow out any water hanging up in the tubing, and lay the instrument out to dry overnight. It is very important that the pistons, the valve casings, and the ends of the slides be bone-dry before you begin to reassemble the instrument. Oil and grease work far better and last longer if applied to perfectly dry surfaces. Remember oil and water do not mix.

Begin reassembling your instrument by rubbing a thin bead of slide grease on the tips of the male ends of each tuning slide. By applying grease
this way any excess grease will be pushed out of the instrument instead of into the instrument where it can eventually effect valve action. Use a very light grease on the trigger slides, and a very heavy grease on the main tuning slide. Be sure to wipe any excess grease off the exterior surfaces of the instrument.

After all of the slides have been assembled, the valves need to be properly prepared. It is absolutely necessary to liberally coat BOTH the valve and the valve casing surfaces with valve oil (ten drops on each valve and ten drops on each casing) so that excess oil will transfer to the internal solder joints. In doing so it will protect them against dezinicification (red discoloration) and corrosion (blue-green discoloration) which are caused by exposing the naked metal to saliva. Use your fingers to forcefully rub the oil onto the entire piston surface. This rubbing action guarantees complete coverage of the valve, and helps protect Monel valves against spotting. Some musicians blow oil through the instrument. This is a good idea to protect the instrument interior, but does not replace proper oiling of the piston and valve casing as we described.

Finally, let us say that we know that this process might sound long and arduous, but after the first time, it will be fast and easy. The rewards,
however, will last a long time.
Copyright © 1996 MusiChem, Incorporated