How To Polish A Trumpet

How to polish a trumpet

Keeping your trumpet clean and polished is not only important for ensuring it looks good, but also for keeping it sounding its best.

Cleaning also reduces tarnish and limits the number of germs and dust that are harvested in the mouthpiece and the body of the trumpet. 

Before we get started, here’s everything you’ll need to effectively, and thoroughly, clean and polish your trumpet: 

  • “Wire-snake" brush
  • A mouthpiece brush
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Valve oil
  • A lacquer polishing cloth or a silver polishing cloth (depending on your trumpet's finish)
  • Several towels
  • Non-bleach dish soap (Bleach can damage the instrument)
  • A washbasin, such as a bath-tub (recommended) or large sink

Step 1: disassemble the trumpet

First thing’s first, you’ll need to disassemble your trumpet and place the parts on a towel. A towel is recommended because this will cushion your parts and prevent them from getting scratched. You should also make sure you leave the towel out of harm’s way where it can get stepped on.  

Once disassembled, you should have the mouthpiece, the 1st valve piston, 2nd valve piston, 3rd valve piston, 1st valve slide, 2nd valve slide, 3rd valve slide, tuning slide, 3 valve caps, and the horn.

The trumpet may have several screws that hold the 3rd valve slide in place and a "grime gutter." If so, you can also set these aside along with the other parts. 

Step 2: clean the tuning slide

Find the tuning slide and run it under lukewarm water, adding a few drops of soap down the bore of the slide. Then take the wire-snake brush and scrub the bore, working up a lather.

You should avoid thrusting the wire-snake brush all the way through the slide, as you can risk wedging the brush in the slide's curvature. 

Instead, adopt a cleaning technique where you scrub the bore from both sides of the slide, working the brush in until it will not freely go further.

Then move onto scrubbing any exterior sliding surfaces (the brass surfaces of the trumpet), and be careful to remove any dust and residue. 

If your trumpet is of the "reverse lead" variety, its tuning slide will slide over the lead pipe, so you’ll find there is only one exterior sliding surface on its tuning slide.

If you wish, you can lightly scrub the exterior finished parts of the slide, however, it’s unlikely that you’ll find much residue on these parts and you may find it easier to simply wipe them with a polishing cloth. 

To finish, rinse the tuning slide, ensuring you wash away any soap residue. Lightly dry the slide with a towel or allow it to air dry on a separate towel. 

Step 3: clean the valve slides

Run the 1st valve slide underneath lukewarm water and apply several drops of soap down the bore of the slide. Scrub the bore with the wire-snake brush and work up a lather.

As with the previous step, do not thrust the brush all the way through the slide but rather scrub the bore from both sides of the slide, scrubbing with the wire-snake brush until it will not freely go further. 

Scrub all exterior sliding surfaces (the brass surfaces), removing any residue, and lightly scrub any exterior finished surfaces.

Rinse all of the soap off the slide and place it on the towel along with your freshly cleaned tuning slide. You can now follow this step for the 2nd and 3rd valve slides. 

Step 4: clean the valve caps

Select one of the valve caps and run it under the water, applying one drop of soap to the inner rim. Scrub inside and outside of the rim using the wire-snake brush, targeting any oil residue in the inner rim.  

Be careful not to use the mouthpiece brush for this task, as while it may seem convenient, the mouthpiece brush could transfer oil residue to the mouthpiece, which could then be transferred to your mouth when you go to play your instrument. 

When you are satisfied that the oil residue has been removed, rinse the cap and place it on the towel, then repeat this process with the other two valve caps. 

Step 5: clean the horn

Run the horn under lukewarm water, pouring a good amount of soap down the horn's bell. You’ll then want to scrub the bore of the bell with the wire-snake brush, working the brush into the bore until it does not go freely further.  

Then apply several drops of soap down the bore of the lead pipe, and work up a lather. One pipe at a time, apply several drops of soap down the bore and scrub the pipe with the wire-snake, however, be careful not to allow the wire-snake to penetrate the valve casing.  

Scrub all remaining exterior sliding surfaces of the horn. Now apply several drops of soap down each valve casing and use your index finger, rather than the brush, to rub out any residue. 

Rinse all bores, valve casings, and exterior surfaces with lukewarm water, before setting the cleaned parts aside. 

Step 6: clean the mouthpiece  

Run the mouthpiece under lukewarm water, adding several drops of soap down the bore of the mouthpiece.

This time use the mouthpiece brush to scrub the bore from both sides, being careful not to thrust the mouthpiece brush through the mouthpiece's bore, instead simply work the brush in until it will not freely go further.

Scrub all remaining surfaces of the mouthpiece, rinse it under water, and place it with the other cleaned parts.

Step 7: replace the slides

Before replacing the slides, apply petroleum jelly to all exterior sliding surfaces, both on the horn and the slides.

Replace the slides in the horn and wipe away any excess jelly. You can then replace the 3rd valve slide screws as well as the valve caps. 

Step 8: rinse and replace the valve pistons 

Run your first valve piston under lukewarm water and add several drops of soap to the piston. Next rub the soap around the exterior of the piston with your finger, removing any residue.

Again, using your index finger, attempt to rub out any residue in the air channels of the piston before rinsing it with water. Immediately after rinsing, apply plenty of valve oil and replace the piston in the correct valve casing.  

Repeat this step with the remaining two valve pistons.   

Step 9: polish your trumpet

The final step for providing your trumpet with that all-important shine: polishing! Polishing your trumpet not only makes it look good, but it also protects it from tarnish.  

You may wish to obtain silver or lacquer polish (apply as directed) for the best results, however, a simple polishing cloth will also suffice. 

Select the polishing cloth (either a lacquer polishing cloth or silver polishing cloth depending on your trumpet's finish) and rub all finished surfaces until you are satisfied. 

Note that if you polish the mouthpiece, be sure to re-wash the mouthpiece thoroughly, as polish is poison.