Whether you’ve inherited an older trumpet that needs some tender loving care or want to learn how to better care for a newer one, there are a few things to know about cleaning your trumpet to make it shine like new without ruining it.
So, how do you make your trumpet shine like new? Polish should not be used on a trumpet because it is abrasive and takes off the lacquer finish, leaving it vulnerable to damage. Instead, warm water should be used to clean the instrument. Silver polish should not be used on silver trumpets, but rather a silver jeweler’s rouge should be used instead.
Cleaning a trumpet doesn’t require much work but should be done regularly. Read on to learn more about how to polish and maintain your trumpet.
How to Clean an Old Trumpet
Old trumpets that have sat in disuse for several years can be a little trickier to clean than newer ones. While a beginner’s first instinct might be to grab the first metal polish they find in the cabinet and go to town, this can lead to severe cosmetic damage to your trumpet.
The reason is that the metal plating on the trumpet is protected by a lacquer finish that—if damaged—will expose the trumpet’s bare metal to tarnish and other environmental damage.
Here’s the correct procedure you should follow instead to clean an old trumpet properly.
To perform this procedure, you will need the following:
- A tub for soaking (either your bathtub or a tote)
- Warm (not hot) water
- Dish soap
- A cleaning snake or slide brush
- Valve brush
- A few microfiber cloths
- Valve oil
- Slide grease
- Jeweler’s rouge polishing cloth
Disassemble the Trumpet
Before any cleaning can be done, the trumpet must be completely taken apart, and the delicate valves must be set aside where they can’t be damaged. Extra care should be taken while removing the valves from the trumpet so that they aren’t accidentally pulled apart or knocked over during the process of removal and storage for cleaning.
Once the valves have been removed and set aside, disassembling the slides comes next. The slides should be removed from the trumpet bell in order from first to third. When these slides have been removed, remove the main (tuning) slide.
Note: Both slides and valves should be removed very gently during the disassembly process. Do not ever try to force a stuck valve if you come across a valve that won’t come out. In this case, refer your trumpet to an instrument shop for help to remove the stuck valve, as trying to force the valve out can permanently damage the instrument. Instrument shops have special tools that can remove stuck valves.
Cleaning the Trumpet
Once the trumpet has been disassembled, it is ready for cleaning. Rather than using metal polish, the pieces of the trumpet should be cleaned through submersion in warm water that has been mixed with a little dishwashing liquid. The metal can be gently rubbed with a washrag or cloth, but be careful not to scrub to avoid damaging the lacquer on the instrument.
It’s also essential to make sure that the water is warm, not steaming hot, as very hot water can also damage the finish on the trumpet.
- The slides should be submerged first. When the slides have had a few minutes to sit in the water and soak, remove them, and use a cleaning snake to brush out the insides of the slides. Rinse the slides off in running water to make sure that all soap residue has been removed, then wipe the slides down and set them aside on a thick towel to continue drying out.
- After the slides haves have been set aside, it’s time for the rest of the trumpet to be submerged. Run water through the bell from a faucet or spray attachment and run the cleaning snake gently through the trumpet’s tubing, being careful not to force the snake into tight turns.
- Once the trumpet has been soaked, rinse the trumpet to remove any soap. Dry the outside of the trumpet carefully and set it aside to air dry. Take the valve casing brush and carefully brush out the interior of the valve casings. Repeat this cleaning process several times to ensure all debris has been removed.
Cleaning Trumpet Valves
Once the rest of the trumpet has been cleaned and is set aside to dry, it’s time to clean the valves. Cleaning the valves should be done delicately, as these are the most fragile mechanisms on the trumpet, and damaging them can remove the trumpet’s ability to play.
Note: Do NOT submerge the trumpet valves in water. This is damaging to the felt shock-absorbing pads within the valves. If the valve pads become wet, they will no longer have shock absorbency and will have to be replaced.
Trumpet valves should be cleaned with a cleaning snake, being careful not to let the metal end of the snake scrape against the inside of the valve ports. This can cause inadvertent damage to the valves. Once cleaned, the valve ports should be rinsed in soapy water and then clean water before being set aside to dry.
Once the valves have dried, they need to be oiled along with the first and third trumpet slides. Then apply grease to the second valve slide and the main tuning slide.
Note: Do NOT add grease to the third valve slide.
After the slides and the valves have been sufficiently lubricated and the rest of the trumpet has dried, it should be ready for reassembly. Any remaining fingerprints or imperfections on the trumpet’s surface should be gently wiped away with a polishing cloth.
How to Clean a Silver Trumpet
Cleaning a silver trumpet is slightly different than cleaning a brass or gold trumpet. Many novice trumpet players might be tempted to grab the household silver polish to shine their trumpet, but this is one of the worst things you can do to your trumpet.
Like brass and gold trumpets, silver trumpets are protected by a thin lacquer coating, and using silver polish meant for silverware can scrub away this lacquer coating, leaving trumpets vulnerable to both scratches and tarnishing.
Instead, a jeweler’s rouge silver polishing cloth should be used. These clothes are saturated with a gentle polishing chemical (rouge) that can clean the surface of the trumpet without damaging it.
How Do You Remove Tarnish from a Trumpet
While it can be a bit more challenging to clean a trumpet that has already tarnished, it isn’t impossible. Here is a failsafe method for removing tarnish from your trumpet:
- Get a large plastic bin (large enough to hold the trumpet along with several gallons of warm water).
- Get some baking soda and melt several cups of baking soda in the warm water, stirring it to dissolve it completely.
- Wrap the trumpet loosely in aluminum foil and place the wrapped trumpet in the water, letting it sit for several minutes. Rotate the trumpet a few times to make sure that all parts of the horn are equally exposed to the water.
Once the trumpet has been cleaned of tarnish, it’s vital to protect the horn from further tarnish, as it will tarnish quickly again once it’s been cleaned if it doesn’t have a protective lacquer coating. Storing the trumpet in a silver storage bag and wiping it down after every use can help prevent tarnish from reappearing since exposure to both oxygen and the oils in human hands can oxidize and tarnish silver.
Clean Your Trumpet and Play It Often to Keep It Shiny
Keeping your trumpet looking like brand-new means that you need to clean it regularly and do it right. There’s no use having a shiny trumpet if you damage it in the process of trying to clean it. It’s also important to play your trumpet regularly and keep it in a dry temperature-controlled environment, as lack of use and poor storage conditions are two of the leading factors that cause trumpets to deteriorate beyond use.
If you want to avoid more intensive trumpet cleanings, just taking the time to wipe down your instrument carefully after every use can go a long way towards maintaining your instrument.
You can find all the supplies mentioned above, and more, on our Trumpets & Cornets Supplies page.