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Cleaning a Trombone: How Often Should It Be Cleaned?

close up trombone photograph after cleaning a trombone

Keeping your instrument clean and in good working condition is an important part of being a musician, whether you are a beginner or a professional. Cleaning a trombone is easy to do yourself and should be done on a regular basis. How often should your trombone be cleaned and what methods should be used?

Cleaning a Trombone Before and After Playing

There are a few things you should be cleaning regularly on your trombone, especially before and after you play. Keeping up with these cleaning tasks will keep your trombone in great condition and may help you notice small repair issues before they become bigger problems.  

Before You Play

Start by getting a soft, lint-free cloth. Using an old T-shirt you no longer wear will work great, just be sure it is clean. You will also need a cleaning rod. Put the cloth on the end of the rod, covering the end completely to avoid scratching or denting, and insert it into the outer tubes, swabbing it several times until you feel the tube getting warm. Do both tubes this way. Once you’ve cleaned the inside, wipe down the inner side with a separate cloth. Before you reinsert the slide, apply slide oil to re-lubricate the area you cleaned. 

Oil the Rotary Valve

You will also need to apply rotor oil to the rotary valve through the slide receiver if you are using a tenorbass or bass trombone. 

Clean the Slide After Playing

When you are finished playing, you will need to do another round of cleaning. Start by opening the water key to let any moisture out from inside the slides. Using a polishing gauze wrapped around your cleaning rod, clean the inner and outer slides. Be sure nothing is left behind inside the tube and always brace the slide when cleaning, so you don’t accidentally bend the tubes. 

Clean the Exterior

Once you are finished playing, you should also clean the exterior of your trombone. This will remove any oil from your fingers, dirt, grime, or anything else that may be on the surface that could wear away at the finish if left for long periods of time. Cleaning a trombone exterior is simple. Use a polishing cloth and gently wipe the entire exterior surface. For lacquered trombones, you can also use a lacquer polish every once in a while to give it a nice shine. If your trombone is nickel-plated, you can use a metal polish to restore the metal’s luster. 

Cleaning The Mouthpiece

Don’t forget to clean your mouthpiece! To do this, simply use warm water and a mild liquid soap. Gently scrub with a mouthpiece brush and rinse clean. You can do this every few days or once a week, depending on how much you play. 

Cleaning a Trombone Monthly

While keeping your trombone clean before and after each time you play is key, you will also need to do a more thorough cleaning about once a month. Depending on how often you play, you may only need to deep clean your trombone every 3 months. Believe it or not, you should clean your trombone in the bathtub. 

Step 1: Take Your Trombone Apart

If this is your first time taking your trombone completely apart, be sure you are familiar with its anatomy so you can reassemble it properly when you are finished cleaning it. You could record yourself taking it apart so you can reference it later. You will end up with 5 major pieces including the bell, tuning slide, main outer slide, main inner slide, and mouthpiece. Trigger horns and bass trombones may also have additional attachments and tuning slides. As you take your trombone apart, place each piece on a towel or another soft surface to avoid dents or scratches.

Step 2: Soak Your Trombone Pieces in the Bathtub

Fill your bathtub with warm water and add some mild dish soap. If you have another large container, you can use that instead. Lay another towel on the bottom of the tub, so your trombone has a soft surface to rest on. Submerge each piece of your trombone in the water and allow them to soak for around 10 minutes. 

If you don’t have a bathtub: Some homes don’t have bathtubs and that’s okay! You can also rub warm water through the trombone pieces while cleaning it. 

Step 3: Start Cleaning Your Mouthpiece

While the main part of your trombone soaks, you can start by cleaning the mouthpiece. You can use the same method mentioned above and simply use warm water, mild soap, and a gentle brush. Never use any harsh cleaners such as bleach since these could strip the finish from the metal. Set it aside to dry when you’re finished.

Step 4: Start Cleaning Inner Surfaces

Begin cleaning the inner surfaces using a snake and a cleaning rod. Run the snake through the inside of the tubes to break up any stubborn deposits that were loosened by the warm water soak. The cleaning rod wrapped in a cloth can be used on straight pieces that may have more stubborn deposits. Then run clean water through the tubing to flush out leftover soap, remove it from the bathtub, and lay it back on the soft, dry surface. Repeat this for each of the separate trombone pieces.

Step 5: Start Cleaning Outer Surfaces

Now that the inside of each piece has been cleaned, you can clean the outside of the trombone. The main inner slide and tuning slide are going to be two areas to focus on. These surfaces can have a lot of build up from slide grease and oil over time. Use a soft, lint-free cloth to wipe the surfaces clean. If this isn’t enough, you can apply a small amount of mild soap to the cloth and wipe until clean. Using a brush over the tuning slide may also help remove any mineral buildup. Rinse the outer surfaces with clean water and hand dry them with a soft, clean cloth. 

Step 7: Allow Time to Dry

After cleaning a trombone, you will need to allow time for it to air dry. This will take at least 30 minutes. 

Step 8: Lubricate Your Trombone

Start by applying lubricant to the inner slide and stockings. Work on one end at a time. Once the lubrication is covering the area, spray the slide with some water. Now you can lubricate the tuning slide using slide grease. 

Step 9: Reassemble Your Trombone

Put your trombone together just as if you were going to play it. If you recorded yourself taking it apart, rewatch the video to ensure you are reassembling it properly. When putting your trombone back together, never try to force pieces into play. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Once everything is back together and working smoothly, try playing a bit to make sure it sounds correct as well. 

Does Instrument Repair Interest You?

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CIOMIT Full-Service Musical Instrument Repair Shop

If you find that while you are cleaning your trombone that something is broken or your instrument doesn’t play properly when put back together, give CIOMIT a call! We have a high-level repair facility where musical instruments are repaired and restored with the greatest amount of precision and care. We service nearly all instruments, including woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings. We stand behind our work and offer a 30-day guarantee if you are not satisfied. Visit the CIOMIT website to learn more or contact us today!

FAQ About Trombone Cleaning and Maintenance

  • 1. How often should I clean my trombone? Regular cleaning before and after each use is essential. A more thorough monthly cleaning is also recommended.
  • 2. What materials do I need for basic cleaning? You’ll need a soft cloth, cleaning rod, slide oil, rotor oil (for rotary valve), polishing gauze, and cleaning brushes.
  • 3. Can I clean the mouthpiece daily? Yes, cleaning the mouthpiece with warm water and mild soap every few days or once a week is ideal.
  • 4. How do I deep clean my trombone? Disassemble it into major pieces, soak in warm soapy water (or rub warm water through it), clean inner surfaces with a snake and cloth, clean outer surfaces, allow to art dry, lubricate, and reassemble.
  • 5. Can I use harsh cleaners on my trombone? No, avoid harsh cleaners like bleach as they can damage the finish. Stick to mild soap and water.
  • 6. Can I clean a nickel-plated trombone the same way? Yes, you can use the same cleaning process, but avoid abrasive materials that could damage the plating.
  • 7. How long should I let my trombone air dry? Allow at least 30 minutes for your trombone to air dry before lubricating and reassembling.
  • 8. What type of lubricant should I use? Use specialized slide oil for the inner slide and stockings, and slide grease for tuning slides and rotary valves.
  • 9. Is disassembling my trombone difficult? With proper knowledge of its anatomy, disassembling and reassembling your trombone is manageable. You can even record the process for reference.
  • 10. What should I do if something doesn’t seem right during reassembly? Don’t force pieces into place. If anything seems amiss, review your disassembly video or seek professional assistance.

Remember, proper cleaning and maintenance ensure your trombone’s longevity and optimal performance.