Brass Instrument Cleaning Procedure

At the beginning of the season, and about every three months after that, your instrument and its tuning slides should enjoy a good bath! This will keep your instrument smelling fresh, looking clean, and operating properly. Giving your instrument a bath, however, is not as easy as jumping in the shower. Your instrument’s parts and finish are quite sensitive and can become permanently damaged if proper bathing procedures are not followed.

  1. Remove valves and bottom valve caps. Put these off to the side.

  2. Place a large bath towel in the bottom of your tub, seal off the drain, then fill the tub with 4 – 10 inches of cool water (depending upon the size of your instrument). As the tub fills, squirt a few drops of mild dish soap into the water and agitate the water with your hand to create suds.

  3. Once the water is 4 – 10 inches high, remove all tuning slides and place them into the cool water. Also, place the body of the instrument into the cool water.

  4. As the slides and instrument body soak, take your snake and run it through all tubing openings. To get sludge off of the exposed part of the slides, place one or two drops of mild dish soap onto a wet cotton washcloth. Gently rub the dirty part of the slides.

  5. WARNING! Under no circumstances should you use any cleaning solutions or polishes. They may destroy your instrument’s finish. Also, never submerge your instrument in hot water. Hot water will melt the lacquer and destroy the instrument’s finish.

  6. Drain the tub while rinsing the slides and instrument body in cool water.

  7. Shake excess water from the slides and instrument body, and then dry these parts with a soft, clean cotton towel. Allow these parts to air dry.

  8. While the slides and instrument body are drying, you can clean your valves in the sink. Caution! Do not take the valve mechanism apart and be sure that the sink’s drain is closed. Once you have towel dried each valve, place several drops of oil on each piston and reinsert the valves into the valve casing. Make sure that the number engraved on the piston faces forward. Gently turn the valve until you hear the valve guide lock into place. Screw on the bottom valve caps.

  9. Finally, use your fingertip to smear a thin film of slide grease onto each slide. Reinsert each slide, moving them in and out to spread the grease.

Your instrument is now squeaky clean! All wrong notes have been washed away.


IMPORTANT! Because the concert French Horn has secured rotary valves, you should never give the rest of your instrument a complete bath (only removable slides). This is best left to a qualified repair technician.

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