Recently, we’ve had quite a few customers asking what they can do at home to keep their horns clean. One trick that comes as a surprise to most brass musicians is to oil your valves after playing your horn. Of course, it is important to oil your valves before you play so as to keep pistons and rotors moving smoothly and quickly. But the little-known secret of oiling after play helps to coat the instrument in oils protecting the inner-workings of your horn from corrosion. After a session of playing, empty all spit from the instrument and put a few drops of oil on pistons, rotors, and even down the mouthpipe. This should help coat and protect the instrument before going back into its case. This is especially beneficial if you plan to leave your instrument for an extended period of time without playing. Oiling before being put in the case will help to prevent taking out your horn weeks later to find frozen valves and slides.
The next thing you can do to keep your instrument in top shape is to use a snake tool to remove dirt and other gross objects from your instrument. Most snakes have a brush or sponge-like object at the end of a bendable tube, for getting around corners and bends in your instruments tubing. One thing you want to be certain to do before using a snake tool is to remove your valves from the instruments before snaking. We recently encountered a situation where a customer left the valves in while snaking and the brush section became lodged inside a valve piston. In order to remove the foreign object, the trumpet had to be dissembled. It was not pretty.
Another simple and easy trick you can do at home is to give your horn a bath. Fill your bathtub up with warm water (not hot!) and use a little bit of dish soap. We prefer the blue dawn dish soap. Use your snake or other cleaning equipment to wash out the inside of the instrument. This will remove any bio-film (the food, plaque and other gross stuff left behind while playing). Cleaning your horn in the bathtub will not remove any corrosion, that will have to be removed through chemical cleaning treatments. But this method should help remove any undesirable crud inside your horn. After the bath, be sure to dry out your horn and oil it up before putting it back in the case.
The mouthpipe of a trumpet is generally the first place we begin to see red-rot occurring. This makes sense as it is the closest component of the instrument to the source of moisture (your mouth). After playing, try using a leadpipe swab to remove moisture and other liquids built up in your mouthpipe. These tools are similar to the swabs you may see a clarinet player or other woodwind friends using to clean out their instruments. They generally feature a soft cloth, sometimes made of silk attached to a weighted string. Pull out your tuning slide, drop the weight down the leadpipe and pull the cloth through. continue the process until the mouthpipe is sufficiently dry.
Through proper care, you can keep your brass instruments sounding great and playing awesome for many decades. As always if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us.