Brass instruments are fairly consistent instruments with minimal maintenance requirements (especially compared to woodwind and string instruments).
But you still need to keep up with the basic cleaning and care to keep your horn working well.
The trombone is no exception, and in fact, it needs the most regular care as a sticky main slide will cause you huge headaches while playing.
I also see a lot of wrong information out there, so I decided to write this guide on how to clean a trombone the right way.
What You’ll Need To Clean A Trombone
- Slide oil
- Slide grease
- Cleaning Snake*
- Drying Cloth*
- Mouthpiece brush*
- Mild dish soap**
*All of this is included in trombone cleaning kits, such as this one found on Amazon.
**No added scents or other things like that. A plain de-greaser will do the job.
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Daily And Weekly Trombone Cleaning Steps
Deep cleans don’t need to happen too often. Once per month, every few months, or once per year will do the trick, depending on how much you play and if you eat and drink before or while playing (don’t do it!).
This is especially true if you manage to keep up with your horn’s daily and weekly care needs.
The less you keep up with this, the more issues you’ll have and the more you need to deep clean the brass instrument.
In some cases, you’ll make it so bad you need to send it to a music store for professional cleaning and repair (which can get costly!).
Related Reading: Check out the best trombone solos ever made (with videos!).
Apply trombone oil to your main slide. Use a spray bottle of water to spritz the slide every now and again while you’re playing.
Rinse your mouth out with water before you play to remove the crud in your teeth.
Drink only water while playing.
Make sure you empty your spit out the spit valve or water key when you’re done playing.
Grease the tuning slide (or both tuning slides if you have an F attachment). Remove it completely and grease it down.
Wipe off the excess grease when you put the tuning slide back in.
Wipe off your main slide with a microfiber cloth or cleaning cloth.
Then, reapply trombone oil or Trombotine.
Use a mouthpiece brush on your mouthpiece and rinse it out.
How To Deep Clean A Trombone: Step By Step
For your major cleaning, here are the steps.
Again, if you play really often AND eat and drink junk around the horn, you’ll want to do this once per month.
If you do your weekly and daily cleans, you can get away with it every 3-6 months or even a year!
#1 Fill A Bathtub With Lukewarm Water
Go to your bathtub and fill it up with warm to lukewarm water. Don’t use hot water or cold water.
A bathtub is needed because the trombone parts are so long.
But if you have a tub that will fit them, go for it! Just make sure it’s well-cleaned of any debris it may have had inside it.
#2 Add Dish Soap
Add 3 quarter-sized drops of mild dish soap to the water and swish it around a bit. If you see a few bubbles, you’ll know you did it right.
Too much, and you’ll end up with the soap stuck on the slides, requiring extra rinsing.
Too little, and the soap won’t break down the crud stuck inside your horn.
I’ve found this amount usually works just right for most trombones, trumpets, and french horns.
Warning! Don’t use hand soap for this. Hand soap often has a moisturizer or lotion in it. This is bad for your horn!
#3 Dissemble Trombone
Take the trombone apart. Remove the bell if it’s attached, and take out the tuning slide (or slides if you have an F attachment).
Take your main slide and separate the inner and outer slides.
Take great care not to knock them or bend them. You don’t want to mess with these, or your slide motion will be delayed.
Get your mouthpiece ready too! You may as well clean it.
#4 Let It Soak (10-15 Minutes)
Put the parts gently into the water and let them soak.
The soap and water will break up the crud for easier removal later.
Every couple of minutes, move the parts around and swish the water with your hand.
This will help the water break off the buildup.
#5 Rinse Bell And Dry
Take the bell out and rinse it off with cold water.
When it’s fully rinsed, use your cloth to wipe down everything you can reach inside and outside the bell. We don’t want to put it away dry.
Put it on a towel or blanket to finish air drying.
#6 Snake Body And Slide
Take the tuning slides out of the water.
Take your snake and run it through the slides until the snake comes out clean.
Repeat this process with the main slides or body of the trombone.
Do this with both the inner and outer slides.
#7 Rinse Body And Slide And Dry
After snaking and getting the crud out, rinse the slides with cold water. Use your cloth to wipe down the outside and dry it off the best you can.
If you have a way to safely hang the slides by the U bow of the slide, this may help the water drain out better.
But ONLY do this if you’re SURE the part won’t fall and get damaged.
Otherwise, just leave it to air dry a bit for a few minutes.
#8 Clean The Mouthpiece
While those parts are drying, let’s clean the mouthpiece.
Take your mouthpiece brush and run it through the mouthpiece a few times.
Then, rinse it off with cold water.
#9 Reapply Oil And Grease
Take your tuning slides and put trombone grease on them.
Take a dime-sized amount and rub it all over the slide.
If you think it’s not coated, put another dime on there.
Put the slide back in the bell and wipe off any excess grease.
Now, apply Trombotine to your main inner slide.
Use the same process, but you’ll need overall more of it because this slide is bigger.
Put the inner slide back in the outer slide and move it around. Wipe off excess Trombotine if there is any.
Add slide oil if needed, but it should be OK at this point.
Warning! Slide grease is sticky enough to stop a slide from moving on its own but lubricated enough to allow it to move when you want it to. This is for the tuning slide (the one on the bell).
Slide oil is for making the main slide move quickly and freely (the one you move to play notes).
Trombotine is like slide oil, but it works best if applied to a freshly cleaned slide.
#10 Reassemble And Play
Put all the parts together and play your trombone a bit.
This will give you a chance to retune your trombone (check out our guide at the link) and add more grease or oil as needed.
#11 Put Away
After playing and adjusting, put your trombone away. You’ve now cleaned your brass instrument!