As a fellow low brass player, I know how important it is to keep your brass instrument well-maintained.
But this is all doubly true for the trombone, as the slide is picky and critical to playing this horn.
As a music teacher, I can’t tell you how many people ignore the impact that a dirty mouthpiece will have on the trombone’s function overall.
This is why I wanted to write this short guide on how to clean a trombone mouthpiece.
To clean a trombone mouthpiece, you need to soak it for 15 minutes in warm (not hot water) with a drop of dish soap. Then, you need to brush it out with a mouthpiece brush to get the crud out from inside the shank. Finally, give it a quick rinse with cold water and let it air dry before putting it away.
The devil’s in the details, and I’ll talk about what you need to keep your mouthpiece in good working order and prevent extra damage to your trombone.
Table of Contents
What You’ll Need: Cleaning A Trombone Mouthpiece
- Warm water
- Container for soaking the mouthpiece
- Dish soap (not hand soap)
- Mouthpiece brush (linked to Amazon)
You probably have most of these items already at home, so don’t feel like you have to go out an buy special ones.
One thing you shouldn’t skimp on is the mouthpiece brush and overall trombone cleaning kit.
It really is the best tool for the job, and you’ll. be able to keep it for years before having to get a new one.
Improve your playing instantly by upgrading your mouthpiece!
Check out our review of the best trombone mouthpieces for every situation.
Step By Step: How To Clean A Trombone Mouthpiece
#1 Warm Water And Dish Soap
Take your container and fill it with warm water (not hot).
Put a dime-sized amount of mild dish soap in. Swish the water to dissolve the soap.
Note: If you wash your mouthpiece as part of giving the entire trombone a bath, you’ll want to use more dish soap than this. This is just for the mouthpiece.
Dish soap is much preferred over hand soap. Dish soap is designed to help break down excess grease and crud, unlike hand soap which is a sanitizer and moisturizer.
Your mouthpiece doesn’t need to be moisturized. It’s made of metal!
#2 Soak The Mouthpiece
Put your mouthpiece in the water and let it soak for 10-15 minutes. Add more warm water as needed to keep the temperature up.
If you feel so inclined, switch the mouthpiece in the water every couple of minutes to help break some crud loose naturally.
But if you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to.
Note: Soaking in lukewarm water and soapy water is one of the first steps for any brass instrument cleaning process.
#3 Brush The Mouthpiece
Take the mouthpiece out of the water and grab your mouthpiece brush.
Turn the mouthpiece away from you so you’re staring into the end of the shank (where you don’t buzz).
Put the narrow end of the mouthpiece brush into this end and twist it as you push it through.
Some brushes will go all the way through the mouthpiece so that you can pull it out of the other end.
Some get stuck because the end is so big.
Either way is fine for our purpose.
If it goes through, run it through several times until the brush stops coming out with new crud.
If it doesn’t go through, twist it while moving up and down the length of the mouthpiece shank. You may need to flip the mouthpiece over and stick the narrow end in the other side to break free some of this debris.
#4 Soak Again (If Needed)
Quickly rinse the mouthpiece with water and then look at it.
Do you see more debris? More crud?
If so, dump out your water container and start over with another soak. Sometimes a really dirty mouthpiece needs a couple of soaks.
When the mouthpiece is clear, move on to the next step.
#5 Rinse Off
Turn on your cold water and rinse the mouthpiece thoroughly.
If you have an instrument snake (such as the one that comes with the kit linked earlier in the article), now would be a good time to run it through the mouthpiece.
If not, don’t worry. It’s likely clean enough at this point.
#6 Air Dry
Put the mouthpiece on a cloth and let it air dry. No need to wipe it all down.
The air will do the job.
If your musical instrument comes with a silver polishing cloth, it won’t hurt to use it, but it’s not needed here.
Give it a solid five minutes to make sure the moisture level is down. If you put it away in your case right away, there’s a chance mold may grow on it. Gross!
#7 Do It Again In A Week
Your mouthpiece is now clean! Hurray!
Now, repeat this process once per week or once per month at minimum.
Mouthpieces are the first place where any debris in your mouth from eating or drinking gets stuck.
It’ll also block your sound if it’s really bad.
Worse is when the protective coating gets eaten away over time, and green verdigris builds up.
This can make you sick and ruin your horn.
A simple weekly or monthly clean will do the job and prevent most issues.
Prevention Tips For Keeping A Mouthpiece Clean
- Rinse your mouth out with water before playing. Better yet, brush your teeth and then rinse with water.
- Don’t eat food before playing. NEVER eat while playing.
- Drink only water while playing.
- Store your mouthpiece in a protective rubber/plastic case (link to my favorite brand on Amazon).
- Don’t use a wire brush for cleaning!
- Clean the mouthpiece regularly. Give it a rinse every couple of days.
How Do You Clean Your Trombone Mouthpiece Without A Brush?
Fill a container with warm water and a drop of dish soap. Let the mouthpiece soak in it for 10-15 minutes. After soaking, take a toothpick or other hard object that won’t break or leave fibers behind and scrap the inner shank of the mouthpiece. Rinse well.
What Happens If You Don’t Clean Your Trombone Mouthpiece?
“My band teacher told me to clean it once a week or once a month. But I don’t really need to, right?”
For your short-term playing and long-term health, yes, you do!
In the short-term, the build-up will start to gather in the mouthpiece. This can block your airflow and limit your sound, making you sound wimpy.
The worst case I ever saw was the trumpet mouthpiece out when I was giving a clinic (ironically, the clinic was about brass instrument care). The young girl’s mouthpiece hadn’t been cleaned for the three generations of players to use it.
The buildup was so bad it covered a solid 65% of her aperture (the hole where the air comes through). After cleaning, her sound opened up, and now she’s sitting first chair!
This crud can also get knocked loose and blow into your trombone. This can cause all sorts of problems with your horn, including:
- Tuning slides sticking
- Main slide feeling gummy
- Changes in tuning
- Eating through the inside of your trombone’s brass
But if this doesn’t convince you, please take note of this:
You’re literally breathing and putting your mouth on all of this gross stuff. You’re inhaling diseases.
A clean horn and mouthpiece don’t have this problem, but you can develop serious infections and even life-long conditions from this.
Please clean your mouthpiece. It takes 15 minutes once per month.
Save your playing and your health!
Further Reading: Check out the best trombone players with video of them playing!