Remove Tarnish from A Trombone and Make It Look New Again

man playing old trombone, viewed from front

Just like all instruments, trombones need to be maintained. Since trombones are brass instruments, they are susceptible to corrosion and look neglected before long. Tarnish is one of the biggest enemies of brass, but thankfully it’s easy to remove tarnish from your trombone and make it look just as good as new!

To remove tarnish from your trombone:

  1. Get an acidic brass polish from the store, or alternatively use lime juice, vinegar, or even ketchup.
  2. Apply the polishing agent and wait several minutes.
  3. Wipe down the trombone gently with a damp cloth.
  4. Repeat if some tarnish remains.

There are several different techniques that can be used as well as several factors that need to be taken into account before starting the cleaning process. Whether you choose to do it at home with household acids or purchase a tarnish remover from the store, there are some caveats and other circumstances you should be aware of. We’ll discuss all of this and more below.

How to Prep Your Trombone for Polishing

brass trombone cloesup on bellBefore polishing your trombone, there are a few steps you need to take. First, you need to check and make sure that the material is brass; if it isn’t brass, certain chemicals in brass cleaning agents can end up damaging your instrument. Once you have established the material of your trombone, the second thing to look at is whether it is lacquered or not.

Lacquered instruments are covered in a shiny lacquer that makes the cleaning process quick and easy. To check for this coating simply rub the instrument down with a clean dry cloth. If the instrument returns to its shiny original self, the trombone has a lacquer finish and will require no additional cleaning beyond the wipe-down.

If the tarnish remains even after some diligent wiping, then your trombone does not have a finishing lacquer coat to help preserve its sheen.

In that case, you need to prep your instrument first and then proceed to polish it. With a damp cloth and a gentle sudsy cleaner (Windex or other window cleaner works), thoroughly clean the exterior of the trombone. This removes any excess dirt and grime that has built up and preps the instrument for polishing.

Even though most trombones are made of brass, don’t just assume yours is. It’s important to check or else you could risk damaging the instrument. If it is brass, make sure it’s not lacquered—otherwise you are just going to waste time and money trying to use brass polish.

If neither of the above apply, then a good cleaning of your trombone is all the preparation you need to begin polishing.

How Do You Polish a Trombone?

Now that the instrument is clean, we can move on to the next step — polishing your trombone. You can either decide to use household items that have a high acidic content such as ketchup or lime, or you can use a polishing product from your local hardware store.

Our recommendation is to get a proper brass polisher from the store. However, that will simply save you some time—if you are on a budget and are willing to do a couple more polishing passes, then household acids will work fine.

Although the polishing methods are similar, there are still a couple of differences to be aware of.

Using Household Hacks to Polish a Trombone

whole lime and half limeIf you can’t afford a packaged brass polish, don’t worry. You almost certainly have one of the common household acids you can use instead:

  • Ketchup: the high acidity makes ketchup a great polishing agent for brass.
  • Citrus fruits: similar to tomatoes, the high acidic content works as a polish. Limes are the most acidic so use them if you can.
  • Nearly all vinegars are acidic enough to get the job done as well.

To polish the trombone, just apply your “product” of choice and let sit for a couple of minutes before using a damp cloth to polish. Focus on the spots with the worst tarnishing and polish in circular motions.

Depending on the level of tarnish, it may take a couple passes with household acids before all the tarnishing is removed.

Using Store-Bought Polishing Agent on Your Trombone

Some prefer a less messy process or simply would rather work with trusted and tested formulas. You’ll likely find several different brass polishes on the shelf; pick the least intense of them. Trombones usually don’t need very powerful industrial polishers, so save the money.

Once you’ve got your polish, here’s how to polish your trombone up again:

  • You will need your cleaning agent and a rag for this method.
  • Apply the cleaning agent and follow directions for the set time and how to remove it.
  • After polishing the instrument, wipe it off with the cloth making sure to remove all the product.

While the home items are more economical since they are already at your disposal, you are limited to their admittedly lower power. The store-bought cleaning products would cost more, but may also require less work. It is up to you to decide what is best for you.

What Is the Best Thing to Polish Brass With?

jar of Wright's Copper CreamIn general, the best thing to polish brass with is going to be a commercial brass polish. Some are made for brass appliances or fittings, but they will work just as well on brass of all types.

When it comes to polishing brass instruments there are several polish options to choose from. Although there is a vast variety of styles, formulas, and techniques, one is not necessarily better than the other. Each type of polishing agent was made to serve a specific purpose.

While some are a great option for daily use, there are others for tougher stains and even options for instruments that have a lacquer finish.

For example, a silver polish cloth that is embedded with dry polish is the perfect option to clean lacquered trombones. This polishing method is used to keep finished instruments looking as good as new without damaging the surface.

For brass trombones that don’t have a finish, here’s a few of the top brands of polish to choose from:

With these cleaners, you can polish your trombone until you can see your smile looking back at you! Just remember to follow the instructions on the back of the polish you buy.

Final Thoughts

man holding trombone, side viewWhile polishing your trombone sounds like a headache, it’s actually one of the simpler maintenance tasks (and cheapest).

Here’s a little cheat sheet to help you remember how to remove tarnish from your trombone:

  1. Determine if your trombone has a lacquer finish or not
  2. Decide whether to use a homemade polish (lime juice, vinegar, ketchup) or to purchase a commercial brass polish. Homemade polishes are cheaper but may not work as well. Store bought polishes work fantastic but can cost more money.
  3. Apply the polish, wait a few minutes (as instructed on the polish container, if using a commercial polish) and then simply wipe off with a damp cloth!

Just remember that it’s very important to remove all of the polish once you are done. This goes doubly for commercial polishes.

If this article was useful, make sure to check out our articles for cleaning other instruments!


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.

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