Best Method to Lubricate Your Trombone Slide

Side view of a trombone being played

There will likely come a time when you begin to play your trombone, and the slide starts sticking. You might have just cleaned it, so it is probably not dirt making it stick. When this happens, your trombone slide needs to be lubricated. There are a couple of different things you can use to lubricate your trombone slide.

The best method to lubricate your trombone slide is to apply a few drops of trombone slide lubricant at the top of the inner slide tubes, and then work the outer slide back and forth to spread the lubricant. You can apply the lubricant to your trombone as you put it together or while playing the instrument. Re-apply as needed.

Which is the easier way to lubricate the slide —when putting the trombone together or when you have it put together? If you happen to be out of trombone slide lubricant and the music shop is closed, is there something else that you can use to lubricate your trombone slide? Read on to find the answers to these questions and to learn all about the best method to lubricate your trombone slide.

What Is the Best Trombone Slide Lubricant?

Yamaha trombone slide lubricantThe best lubricant for your trombone slide is one specifically engineered for trombone slides like the Yamaha Trombone Slide Lubricant that you can buy on Amazon for around $8. This lubricant, which is thicker than oil but more liquid than slide cream, can be applied as you are putting your trombone together or after your trombone is together. However, it is easiest to apply trombone lubricant to your trombone after it has already been put together. Instructions for doing so are below.

  1. Spray a little lubricant at the top of the inner slide tubes and allow it to travel down the slide.
  2. Work the slide back and forth to help spread the lubricant evenly along the slides. It will only take a few glides.
  3. The slide may be fast enough already, but use a spray bottle of water to give it a fine mist of water during playing if necessary. The fine mist of water reacts with the oil to make tiny beads that act like ball bearings allowing the slide to work quickly.

apply trombone slide lubricant to instrumentNote that any surplus lubricant will empty through the water key, so you do not need to worry about using too much or about build-up.

Using trombone slide lubricant is the easiest way to keep your trombone slide moving because you can use it while the instrument is entirely together. You are less likely to experience damage to the trombone with this method. Speaking of damage to the instrument, never use a trombone with dry slides – that will cause scratches.

Trombone slide lubricant is lightweight and spreads more effortless than slide cream. It also cleans off better than some of the other substitutes.

Trombone Slide Cream

superslick trombone creamBefore the specialized trombone lubricant was available for trombone slides, there was slide cream. Originally, many trombone players used facial cold cream. It may sound strange, but it worked. Nowadays, we have slide creams engineered for the trombone but the application is still the same.

Trombone slide cream, if applied correctly, will last a little longer than trombone lubricant. While Yamaha also makes a slide cream, I’d recommend the SuperSlick Trombone Cream instead.

To apply trombone slide cream:

  1. Take the outer slide off and set it aside so you can apply the cream to the inner slide. Be careful of the outer slide and place it somewhere safe where it will not fall and become dented or deformed.
  2. Take a small amount of cream on your fingertip—somewhere around the size of a pea is all you need.
  3. Start at the bottom of the inner slide at the stocking or thick part working the cream in, and then upward.
  4. Take your thumb and first two fingers to shape a triangle around the inner slide and quickly drag your fingers down the slide to remove any excess cream.
  5. Repeat those steps for the other inner slide tube with a fresh drop of cream.
  6. Once completed, put the outer slide back on and move it up and down a couple of times.
  7. Keep your spray bottle of water handy and apply a fine mist just before and during playing.
  8. Wipe off any extra cream. As a rule of thumb, if you can see the cream, you’ve applied too much.

This method requires lubricating the instrument before it is completely put together. The issue with that is, the slides can easily be damaged if they are dropped. So, if you use this method, always pay attention to where you are placing the slide so that it is not damaged while working on the other slide with lubricant.

Trombone Water Spray Bottle

To spray water onto your slide, any spray bottle that produces a fine spray will do the trick. However, you’ll want something that you can fit in your pocket and is convenient. While there are small spray bottles branded for trombone players, this 6-pack of travel fine-mist spray bottles on Amazon works just as well and is a much better deal.

What Can I Use Instead As Slide Grease?

valve oilYou may run out of trombone slide lubricant or cream and have no means of finding more. In a pinch, there are a few other things that you can use as a substitute for proper slide lubricant. If you use a grease instead of an oil, remember to have your spray bottle handy, so you can apply a fine mist of water.

Other greases or lubricants that you can be used for your trombone slide include:

  • Valve oil. Since valve oil is a thicker oil, it can work well but will need to be reapplied frequently if water spray is used.
  • Vaseline (petroleum jelly) is available in many generic brands, so this solution is inexpensive and works well.
  • Vegetable oil or olive oil will work and is not toxic. It might smell like oil at first, but the smell will go away quickly.
  • Fishing reel grease is a mixture of oils and additives, so pay attention to the ingredients if you have a history of allergic reactions to certain products. Also, watch for abrasive ingredients that could scratch your instrument.
  • Mineral oil is another non-toxic, non-abrasive option. It is a colorless, odorless mixture from a mineral source.
  • Cork grease is a bit heavier than other options but will work in an absolute pinch. Use a small amount and work it into the slide well, finished by a fine mist of water, after you slide the slides several times to work in the cork grease.
  • Lanolin is a wax that comes from certain wool-bearing animals like domesticated sheep that secrete wax from their sebaceous glands.

Some players have used clean motor oil as a substitute slide lubricant. This is not advisable because it could contain toxins or something that may cause an allergic reaction.

Keep in Mind When Using Substitutes

If you need to use an alternative in a pinch, the best bet is to use something that is non-abrasive, non-toxic, and cleans off easily before storing your instrument.

The viscosity of any substitute lubricant is another thing to consider. You want it thick enough to do the job but not so thick that it can cause issues when you do your regular cleaning and maintenance of your trombone. The thicker the lubricant, the greater the chance of it building up on your instrument, causing problems later on.

A thick substitute will cause the slide to stick during playing or plug the keys like the water key. It may possibly cause the slide to become stuck and immovable. If this should happen, please take your instrument to a shop to be fixed.

How Often Should You Grease Your Trombone Slide?

Playing tromboneYou will know when it is time to lubricate your trombone slide by the following clues:

  • Your slide is difficult to move.
  • Your slide begins to stick.
  • Your slide moves slowly.

Generally, you will want to grease your trombone slide with a proper lubricant every week or two, depending on how often you play your instrument.

How to Prevent Your Trombone from Sticking

Trombone slide lubricant and regular care and maintenance are the best methods of lubricating your trombone slide. You have to take proper care of your instrument in order to keep it from sticking.

No trombone will play perfectly without the following maintenance:

  • Proper cleaning
  • Regular lubrication
  • Proper storage

If you can stay on top of these things, your trombone slide should not stick.


Use a trombone slide lubricant or slide cream that has been engineered for trombones. If you need to use a substitute, make sure it is not abrasive or toxic and that it will easily clean off.

Whichever lubricant you use, follow the proper steps when applying and cleaning off the instrument, and you should have no problems. Do not forget to have your water spray bottle handy too. A fine mist during playing reacts with the lubricant to make the slide move much easier.

One last thing…does your trombone need a mustache? Yes, this is real…could be a great look on your trombone or for a friend! You just clip it onto your mouthpiece. For trombones, they come in 2 sizes: Large Shank or Small Shank.


An ardant fan of acoustic music, I played the clarinet in high school band and even competed in Disneyland. As the son of a music teacher, I know firsthand the importance of keeping instruments clean and maintained. I now enjoy sharing information with others and providing answers where I can.

Related Articles