Over the years, I’ve come to realize that most trumpet players don’t clean their instruments unless a problem develops. I’ve seen quite a few trumpets that were almost totally clogged with crud. That’s the “technical term” for the greenish, grayish, brownish sludge that forms inside an instrument over time. You could look through the leadpipe and only see a tiny pinprick of light.
I also see a lot of searches for ways to fix your valves. First, understand that normal valve oils do not last long. If your trumpet sits unused for awhile, they are going to freeze up or at best, they will stick a lot. Hetman Valve Oil prevents that from happening since it does not evaporate. Sticking is caused by corrosion on the inside of the valve casing. You can use a non-abrasive brass polish on a cleaning rod and rag to polish the inside of the valve casings.
After polishing, you must be absolutely sure to get every last trace of the polish out of the trumpet. Do this by giving it a good bath afterward. Again, you must get all traces of the polish out of the trumpet before reassembling it. Leaving any inside the trumpet can damage the trumpet irreparably.
If it’s been awhile since you cleaned your trumpet, prepare yourself for what will come out of it. If it’s been awhile since you’ve cleaned your horn, your trumpet will play much better afterward.
Trumpets are fairly simple things. They are just brass tubing with valves and slides. A well-care-for trumpet of good quality will last 10-20 years with a lot of playing. A trumpet cared for poorly will be trash in a few months.
Although this article makes it sound like cleaning a trumpet is a long and involved process, once you’ve done it a couple times, it will only take you 15-20 minutes to complete, and it will make your instrument last much longer.
Unlike woodwind instruments (flutes, clarinets, saxophones, etc.), trumpets should be given baths to clean them. In fact, it’s the only good way to truly clean them. You could take them to a music repair shop for an “acid bath”, but that shouldn’t be necessary very often if given baths once a month or so. Once you get mineral deposits in the tubing, it will take an acid bath to remove them, but if you give the horn a bath often, your trumpet usually won’t get mineral deposits.
A care kit will usually have all the supplies you’ll need, but you will probably end up with a few things you don’t need. You’ll need a flexible cleaning brush or a cleaning snake, a valve casing brush, and a mouthpiece brush. You’ll also need silver polish or a silver polishing cloth if it’s silver plated, in addition to valve oil, and slide grease. I’ve always used liquid dishwashing soap in lukewarm water to clean my trumpets, but some manufacturers don’t recommend the soap. Check with your manufacturer to make sure you don’t void your warranty.
You’ll also need a high-quality valve oil and slide grease if you want to make your trumpet last. If you wait for the valves to stick before you oil them, it’s too late. Once the metal is dry, you are getting wear. I’ve become sort of fanatical about how my trumpet valves work. I’ve tried just about every available brand of oil on the market, and I’ve decided that synthetic oils are the only oils to use. They last longer, and they minimize wear on the valves. When synthetic oils first came on the market, I hated them. They were very slow. With the introduction of Hetman and a few other newer oils, that problem is largely a thing of the past.
You also need a heavy grease for the main tuning slide and second valve slide. If you don’t grease these slides, they will wear, and you’ll start to see your slide moving when you least expect it throwing you out of tune…usually at the most inopportune times. You could also get a stuck slide that the repair shop will need to pull. If you use a heavy grease, it will last until your next cleaning. If you get a stuck slide, don’t force it. Forcing it could badly damage your trumpet.
First, fill a bathtub with enough lukewarm water to cover your trumpet. Hot water can damage the finish, so only use lukewarm water. Disassemble your trumpet, but don’t remove the water keys (spit valves), remove any triggers if so equipped, or disassemble the valves. If you have a trigger on the first or third valve slides, you’ll need to remove the screw that hold the slide on, but don’t remove any of the other parts of the trigger. You don’t want to try to put a trigger or water key spring back on without the necessary tool. It’s a pain.
After it’s disassembled, place all of the parts except the valves into the water, and let them soak for a few minutes. After the soaking, run the snake through all of the tubing. Don’t force it through any of the tight bends. Just go as far as you can easily. Then run the valve casing brush through the valve casings a few times. Occasionally, you will need to give your valve casings a good scrubbing if there is any build-up. After that, run clean water through all the tubing until the water runs clear.
Next, using a soft cloth clean between all the outer tubing to remove any dirt or tarnish. You might need to use silver polish to remove the tarnish on a silver trumpet. Never use silver or brass polish on the outside of a lacquered or “brass” looking trumpet. There’s a clear lacquer protecting the finish, and polish can remove it. Next clean the inside of the bottom valve caps with a paper towel. A lot of the crud settles in these caps.
After all the tubing on the horn is clean, and the outer surface of the trumpet is clean, it’s time to pay attention to the valves. I use one end of the cleaning snake to clean the ports of the valves, and rinse them off with soap and water. Be careful inside the ports, You don’t want to damage the metal with the end of the brush.
After all that, it’s time to reassemble the horn, oil the valves and 1st and 3rd valve slides, and grease the main tuning slide and second valve slide. No, grease does not belong on the third valve slide. it will move too slowly. Oil is all you need. I know that seems like a long process, but it actually takes longer to type it than to do it, and your horn will last longer and play better afterward.