Wondering how to clean a trumpet? If you’ve been washing your mouthpiece occasionally but it’s been a month or two and you’ve been sick a couple of times…
It’s time to clean your trumpet.
NOTE: If there’s a concert tonight and you’re just thinking of this now – don’t do it. Leave well-enough alone and do it tomorrow. The last thing your band teacher needs is you coming in at 6:45 PM saying that you can’t get your valves to work.
How to Clean a Trumpet Quickly
Cleaning your trumpet will be quicker and easier if you regularly follow these 5 tips for daily trumpet care. An intermediate trumpet-cleaning step, and one that I often take, is to clean the mouthpiece, leadpipe and tuning slide only. I can do that in less than a minute in my laundry tub.
A quick rinse and brush of those 3 parts will clean up much of the stuff that might collect. If you’re fast you could incorporate it into your warm-up! If you do the 19/30’s just separate the project into 3 parts. (What’s the 19/30’s?)
How to Clean a Trumpet: The Full Monty
If it’s been several months and you think it’s time to learn how to clean a trumpet, then go for it.
Supplies for Cleaning a Trumpet
To clean your trumpet, you’ll need a:
- snake (special trumpet cleaning brush);
- sink, tub or basin big enough to submerge most of your horn;
- warm water;
- a few drops of dish soap;
- paper towel, and;
- lint-free cloth.
How to Clean A Trumpet: Detailed Instructions
Step 1: Disassemble and Soak Trumpet Parts
Fill the sink up with a few inches (several centimetres) of warm water and a few drops of dish soap.
Unscrew the top valve caps and pull out the valves first – one at a time. Before you put them in the sink look at the tabs to see if there are wider and narrower ones and check to see if there’s a number stamped on each valve. They aren’t interchangeable so keep track of which is which. Don’t take the valves apart into smaller bits.
Unscrew the bottom valve caps and place them in the sink. They should be interchangeable but don’t count on it. Keeping everything organized is important when learning how to clean a trumpet.
Pull all of the slides and put them in the sink. If your 3rd valve has a separate end slide try to get that apart as well. If that’s not obvious then you probably don’t have one, in which case don’t try very hard or you’ll break something.
Put what’s left in the water and go do something else – maybe learn some music theory! Give that warm water a while to soften up any crusty stuff that’s built up.
Step 2: Clean Valves, Slides, & Main Trumpet Body
The valves are the most sensitive part of the horn and I like to get them out of harm’s way first. If your snake has a sharp, rough end be very careful with this step. Any damage to these valves or their casings is like taking up smoking – you could dramatically shorten the life of your horn. The passages in the valves need a light brushing and that’s about it. Shake the water off the valves and gently dry them with a lint-free cloth. I use an old T-shirt with some polyester in it. The 100% cotton ones can leave more lint behind. Place those valves on something soft and dry, keeping them in order unless their numbers are obvious.
Use another piece of that same T-shirt if you’re going to clean the inside of the valve casings. I usually don’t bother unless a valve is giving me trouble. (None of my trumpets has ever needed this, but some students’ ones have.) If you have to clean the inside of the casings use a wooden dowel to push the cloth in. There is a metal tool for this job. I’ll take a photo of mine but it got used to stir paint a few times – don’t judge. If you have such a tool be sure to cover the end with cloth so that you don’t scratch the casing.
Brush out the slides, shake the water off of them and set them aside. The main tuning slide should have more lunch in it than the others unless you’ve been rinsing it. If the outside of your slides have gunk or old grease on them this is a good time to attend to that as well. The brush or T-shirt should do the job.
When learning how to clean a trumpet, you’ll notice the main part of the horn has a lot of openings at this stage. Remembering to be cautious around the valve casings gently brush out every orifice you can get to. All things being equal there should be more crud in the leadpipe than anywhere else so maybe do it a few times. If your water is gross give it some fresh stuff out of the tap. Look around the tight spots for old grease, lint etc and brush or wipe it off.
Step 3: Grease Valves, Oil Slides, & Reassemble Horn
It’s time to put the horn back together but don’t forget to clean the sink. It’s greasy and has gross things in it.
I like to grease the parts of the valve slides that are attached to the Valve cluster first, then go through the valve slides one by one and finally the tuning slide. Each surface gets a little grease and then gets put in the right place but not lined up. The idea is that you use the slide as a great applicator for its mating surface. There’ll eventually be a video on this step of how to clean a trumpet – it’s simpler that it sounds. The idea is to get a nice thin layer of grease all around the length of each slide. You’ll have a little excess here and there and that should get wiped off with something disposable like a paper towel.
It’s time to put the valves back in but not before they’re wet with oil. Hold the Trumpet over the sink or an old cloth because it will get oily. Drench the inside of a valve casing and then the corresponding valve with valve oil. Look inside the casing and at the valve because you want to have the tabs aligned as you carefully insert the valve. Odds are you won’t be 100% aligned so when the valve is in rotate it slightly back and forth until you hear it click into place. That’s the sound of the tab finding the slot. Repeat with the other 2 valves and put the bottom caps on.
You’re done learning how to clean your trumpet! If you haven’t cleaned your mouthpiece lately this would be a good time. (More on that here.) Clean it, put it in and play a few notes. If air won’t go through you’ve got the valves in wrong. Be gentle and methodical, you’ll git’er done.
How to Clean a Trumpet: Summary of Instructions
How to Clean a Trumpet
Total Time: 30 minutes
Disassemble and Soak Trumpet Parts
Fill the sink up with a few inches of warm water. Unscrew the top valve caps and pull out each valve. Place the valves in the sink, keeping track of which is which. Pull all of the slides and put them in the sink. Put the remaining parts of the trumpet into the sink to soak. Soak trumpet parts for approximately 15 minutes.
Clean Valves, Slides, & Main Trumpet Body
Lightly brush the passages in the valves. Shake the water off the valves and gently dry them with a lint-free cloth. Place those valves in order on a soft, dry cloth or paper towel. If the inside of the casings require cleaning, use a wooden dowel to push the cloth in. Brush out the slides, shake the water off of them and set them aside. This is the time to clean the outside of your slides if required. Carefully clean around the openings on the main part of the horn. Gently brush out every orifice around the valve casings. Spend some time cleaning out the leadpipe.
Grease Valves, Oil Slides, & Reassemble Horn
Grease the parts of the valve slides that are attached to the valve cluster. Then go through the valve slides one by one, and finally the tuning slide. The idea is to get a nice thin layer of grease all around the length of each slide. Wipe off excess grease with a paper towel. Before oiling the valves, hold the Trumpet over the sink or an old cloth. Drench the inside of a valve casing and then the corresponding valve with valve oil. To align the valve, rotate it slightly back and forth until you hear it click into place. Repeat with the other 2 valves and put the bottom caps on. Lastly, clean the mouthpiece and the sink. Don’t forget to play a few notes!
Professional Trumpet Cleaning
Every year or two I try to take my Trumpets in to see Kelly at the music store for a sonic bath. He’s got a fancy rig that uses two tone generators to break up crud inside horns. A very musical solution (yes, a terrible pun but I’m old) to getting at those hard to reach bits and pieces.
Visit the main Trumpet Maintenance page.