How to clean brass and woodwind instruments


To clean your brass or woodwind is not only a matter of longevity for your musical instrument, but also a matter of personal hygiene as well. Here I will give you the advice on how to clean brass and woodwind instruments.

No polish, please

  • Don’t use metal polish or commercial cleaners on lacquered, brushed silver or silver-plated instruments — such as trumpets, saxophones or flutes; it could destroy the lacquer or cause corrosion in the exposed metal parts.
  • Instead, thoroughly wipe the instrument down with a clean cloth (or a silver cloth for silver-plated instruments) after you play it.
  • Sweat and moisture from your fingers can be acidic and can eventually mar the instrument or wear out the keys if they’re not removed.

Bathe your brass once a month

  • All brass instruments should be flushed out at least once a month with a bit of mild detergent in lukewarm water. (Don’t use hot water; it could damage the lacquer.)
  • Work the valves (or trombone slide) with the water in the instrument; then rinse with cold water and dry thoroughly.
  • Be sure to oil the valves or grease the slide before putting the instrument away.

Use a brush to clean tubing

  • Every three months or so, use a flexible instrument brush to clean slides and tubing before giving the instrument its bath.
  • Make sure you use the right brush for the job: a flexible brass instrument brush to clean out the tubing, a valve cleaning brush to clean out the valve casing and a mouthpiece brush to clean the mouthpiece.
  • Using the wrong brush can damage these fragile parts. The brushes are available online, as well as from stores that sell musical instruments.

Remove leftover moisture

  • When you’ve finished playing your French horn, trumpet or tuba, loosen the valve caps by giving them half a turn.
  • This allows any leftover moisture to seep out and avoids trapping it inside the instrument, where it can promote bacteria growth or corrode the screw threads.

Cleaning clarinets and flutes

  • If you play a clarinet or flute, always clean the bore of your instrument after playing it — give it several run-throughs with a pull-through or a cleaning rod.
  • When cleaning a flute, uncouple it at the joints.
  • After cleaning a clarinet, thoroughly dry its sockets and tenons.
  • These simple steps not only keep instruments in good working condition but also fight the growth of harmful bacteria and moulds.

Clean out your mouthpiece

  • A dirty mouthpiece can become a breeding ground for germs and bacteria that can harm you and affect your instrument’s tone.
  • Use a mouthpiece brush and warm water to remove grime and food debris.
  • You can clean a larger mouthpiece by pulling a twisted-up handkerchief or similar cloth through it.