How To Clean A Trumpet

How to clean a trumpet

The trumpet is a brass instrument most commonly heard in classical and jazz music. There is a range of different types of trumpets to choose from, from the small piccolo trumpet to a bass trumpet, which is pitched at a lower octave.

Instruments similar to a trumpet have been used for a number of years, particularly in battle or when hunting. The first-ever trumpets can even be traced back thousands of years in our past.

However, these ‘trumpets’ were pretty simple and primitive. The sound would have been controlled by the user moving their lips. 

Trumpets have been made from a variety of different materials over the years. As an old version of a trumpet has been found on every single continent, the style can vary dramatically. Some historic trumpets have been made from wood, bamboo, bark, clay, human bone, and metal.

It’s widely believed among experts that trumpets would have been used in religious ceremonies and sorcery. The Ancient Greeks liked to use trumpets for marches during wartime, whereas almost all European royalty had trumpet bands that played military music.

By 1500 BC, trumpets were being crafted to high standards across the world in Africa, Europe, and Asia from sheets of silver and bronze. It wasn’t until the seventeenth century that trumpets were included in most musical ensembles.

However, this trumpet was still nothing like the trumpet we know and love today. These were natural trumpets that can only produce natural harmonics, so the trumpet wasn’t quite a fully functioning instrument at this time.

Since the rise of the trumpets’ popularity in the early 20th century, its sharp and piercing tone can be recognized in some of our favorite songs today.

Despite its beautiful sound, the trumpet is a peculiar shape which can make it difficult to clean. Over time, saliva, dirt, and bacteria can build up inside the different elements of your trumpet. 

It can be tricky to know where to start, so in this article, we will guide you through the most effective method of cleaning a trumpet. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A wire snake brush
  • A mouthpiece brush
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Valve oil
  • Polishing cloth
  • Gentle dish soap
  • Towels

Step 1 - Disassemble the trumpet

Before you begin cleaning, disassemble your trumpet, and place the different parts on a towel.

If you’ve done this correctly, you should be left with a mouthpiece, three separate valve pistons, three separate valve slides, a tuning slide, three valve caps, and the horn itself.

If you’ve had to remove any screws to disassemble your trumpet, place these safely on the towel to prevent misplacing them.

Step 2 - Clean the tuning slide

Grab your tuning slide from the towel and begin to swill it out with warm water. Take your gentle dish soap and squeeze a couple of drops down the bore of the slide. Using your wire brush, you’ll need to scrub the bore until the soap lathers.

Be careful not to insert your wire-snake too far into the bore, as it can get stuck. You’ll also need to clean the exterior sliding surfaces, scrubbing until all visible dirt is removed. To finish, rinse off the tuning slide, leaving no suds behind. Either dry with a clean towel or leave to air dry. 

Step 3 - Clean the valve slides

Taking one valve slide at a time, swill them out using warm water. Much like in our previous step, squeeze a couple of drops of gentle dish soap down the bore of the slide. Yet again, grab the handy wire-snake and scrub vigorously.

Don’t force the brush all the way down the slide if you can feel any resistance. Instead, slowly work it inside until it won’t go in freely any further.

Forcing a brush through the slide could damage your trumpet. Repeat this step until all three valve slides are clean and set them on a clean towel to air dry.

Step 4 - Clean the valve caps

Take one of your three valve caps and swill it out with warm water. Take your gentle dish soap and squeeze only one very small drop into the inner rim. Using your wire brush, scrub the caps thoroughly to remove any visible grime and dirt buildup.

It’s a good idea to use a different brush for this part, as you don’t want oil residue from your mouthpiece to transfer on to your mouth when playing.

Once you’re happy with the cleanliness of your valve cap, pop it back onto the clean towel to air dry. Repeat this step with the two remaining valve caps.   

Step 5 - Clean the horn  

Swill out your horn using lukewarm water, ensuring that the water has reached all pipes and valve casings. Using a generous amount of dish soap, take your wire brush and scrub the bore of the bell, the lead pipe, and all other remaining pipes.

However, it’s imperative that the wire-snake does not penetrate the valve casing. This is because the tough bristles on a wire brush can cause scratching. Use your index finger to gently rub away any residue from interior valve casings.

Rinse all of the parts with warm water and leave to dry on a clean towel. Repeat this method with the mouthpiece, but use a separate wire brush to prevent contamination. 

Step 6 - Replace the sides

Take your petroleum jelly and apply some to the horn. Due to its lubricant properties, petroleum jelly can protect the metal of your trumpet without allowing the slides to still. If you’d rather not use petroleum jelly, valve oil is another great option too.

When reassembling your trumpet, be sure not to forget about any screws you may have had to remove during cleaning. Replace the valve caps before moving on to the next step. 

Step 7 - Polish your trumpet

Now that your trumpet is sparkling clean, you may want to exaggerate this by giving it a good polish. As well as providing shine, the polish can protect your trumpet from tarnishing.

Using a polish that’s suitable for instruments and a high-quality polishing cloth, rub down all visible surfaces until you’ve achieved your desired shine. However, if you polish the mouthpiece be aware that you’ll have to rinse it again. Polish isn’t safe for human consumption.