How to clean your Brass Instrument

A Cleaning guide for your Valved Brass Instrument

what-brass-players-want-tuba-slideHere is a simple maintenance guide that will help you take care of your brass instrument so that it will not break down when you need it most or make things more difficult than they should be.  This is a full clean and doesn’t need to be done very often – probably about twice a year or so depending on how much you play.

Things to get ready:

  • Your instrument
  • Bath
  • A bath towel and a soft cloth
  • Wire snake
  • Paper towels
  • Valve oil
  • Vaseline/petroleum jelly and/or slide grease

Step 1: Preparation

  • Make sure you read any information that was provided with your instrument
  • Get the equipment that you require, and prepare a warm (definitely NOT hot) bath of water.  It should be deep enough to cover the instrument.

Step 2: Dismantling

  • Take great care when dismantling the instrument and make sure that you know how things go back together!
  • Take out the slides and put them somewhere safe where you know that no one will stand on them or they will not get in the way.  (Whilst you do this, push down the valves so that you avoid getting that popping sound to save you damaging the valves).
  • Take out the valves, and put them somewhere safe where you know that they will not get stood on as above.  Remember that there may be springs at the bottom of the valve which are loose – don’t lose them.  The valves usually have a number on them stating if they are 1, 2 or 3 underneath the rubber rings/felts.  See picture below:

what-brass-players-want-tuba-valve                                  what-brass-players-want-tuba-valve-spring-valve-caps

  • You have to make sure they go back in the same place later on!
  • Remember to take the caps off the bottom of the valve casing

Step 3: Cleaning – Part I

  • Now your instrument should be in bits and ready to go into the bath.  Lay the instrument into the bath carefully
  • Do not add any detergent or soap as these contain salts that may lead to red rot forming on the joints on the inside of the instrument.  Just water should be able to clean off any marks or yucky bits
  • Use your snake and cleaning cloth to clean off the outside and insides of the instrument.  Never force anything through the instrument – if it wont go, it is probably not supposed to!
  • Take care to clean the lead pipe carefully
  • Be careful when you need to lift the instrument up as it will be full of water and quite a bit heavier
  • Make sure you lift the instruments head over heel so that you empty out all of the water
  • Lay or stand the instrument on a towel.  Make sure you know it will be safe and that it can be left for some time to dry.

Step 3 – Cleaning – Part II

  • Return to your slides.  Clean each of them with a cloth and the snake.
  • Make sure you push the snake right through the slide and try to remove as much of the dirt and grease as possible
  • Return to your valves and clean each of them separately
  • Take off the cap, the felt and any other rubber rings (as well as the spring if necessary), and lay them out carefully for each valve.
  • If you play a trumpet, tenor horn or baritone the spring may be enclosed in the top section of the valve.  This section does not need to be dismantled!
  • Keep the same parts for each valve and resist the temptation to mix them up
  • Wash them with water and use some soft paper towel to wipe off any residue or dirt.  Do not use your snake through the holes in the valves as you may damage them
  • Leave these to dry with your slides
  • Stand or lay your instrument on a towel, along with your valves (with all the parts for each valve kept together) and slides

Step 4: Drying time

  • Allow the instrument to dry over night
  • Make sure that it is somewhere that it will be safe and not stood on, tripped over or mauled by a family pet.

Step 5: Reassembly


  • Make sure that the instrument is completely dry before you start the reassembly
  • Put some Vaseline (slide grease – not the sort you would use on a trombone!)  on the slides.  Be careful to smooth it out across the whole slide area and do not use too much.  Put each slide back in the correct place, wiping off any of the additional grease if necessary.  Make sure each slide moves back and forth freely without grating
  • Clean your hands
  • Reassemble the valves
  • Put about 10-12 drops of valve oil on each valve and smooth it across the whole valve with you little finger
  • Return each valve (and spring if necessary) to the correct place and make sure that they move up and down freely
  • Return the caps to the bottom of the valve casings
  • Wash your hands carefully – valve oil is poisonous!

Make sure you keep the vales in the same order you took them out. Each valve is different, and there are hundreds of combinations for where each valve ISN’T supposed to go, but only one spot where it belongs.


  • These instructions are for piston valve instruments only, not rotary valves or a slide.
  • Brass instruments can dent and scratch very easily, so do these things gently and carefully
  • If your slides are stuck, please make sure you get them professionally pulled out. It’s not that expensive to have done and would save a very expensive repair bill if you end up breaking them
  • Make sure that you put all of the valves in the correct place as this is an easy mistake that could take a while to sort out
  • If the valves are stuck, please make sure you do not force them or hit them with anything.  The valves can break easily and breaking them can cause you a hefty repair bill
  • When screwing the valve caps and bottoms back on, be careful to ensure that you do not not cross-thread them.  When putting them back, a small amount of vaseline/petroleum jelly on the thread can stop them ceasing up and make them easier to take off in the future


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