How to clean your band instrument!


In the future, I will be doing a video or podcast with pictures for instrument cleaning. Please email me if you ever have any questions. There are videos out there on You Tube and other places that are not so good because they assume you know some things. I have tried to describe the process with you in mind - the elementary/middle school student. Remember: If in doubt....ask. Once you decide to do something that you're not sure about, it may be too late. In the meantime, here are some instructions for instrument cleaning including things NOT to do: 

Flute - The flute does not require a lot of extensive cleaning. Mainly, keep the headjoint clean both inside and outside and it will not only sound good, but will keep you healthy due to germ control. The flute comes with a cleaning rod and you can make a cleaning cloth or buy one. to make one, get an old, thin cotton t-shirt and cut a square out of it about 8 inches by 8 inches or less. The material has to be thin and has to be cotton or else it can get stuck or scratch the inside of the flute. You can use a handkerchief or bandana as well, just make sure the material is thin and light weight. Take a corner of your cloth, insert it into the hole of the cleaning rod and pull just a little so it makes kind of a flag for waving. On the head and foot joints, push the rod and cloth straight in and (this is important!!) twist as you pull it out. This will not only help clean it, but it won't get stuck. When it comes out, make sure the cloth isn't twisted before you clean the other parts. On the body (the long part), clean half and then the other half. Don't try to stick the rod all the way through or it might get stuck. When you're done, you can fold up the cloth and lay it on top of the flute in the case. Test to see if the case closes easily. If not, you might not be able to keep it in the case (you don't want to squish the keys of your flute). Some cases have extra pockets for cloths. As far as the outside, using the same cloth or a different cloth, all you need to do is breathe on the spots you want to clean like you're trying to fog up a window, and then gently rub with your cotton/soft cloth. You want to make sure that you especially clean the lip plate with the cloth often as this is where germs will collect because you blow into the hole. NEVER use water or any other product on the inside or outside (tarnish removers, etc.) of your flute. These things will damage the finish and maybe even the pads or moving parts. One other tidbit about the flute. If you are finding that it's hard to put the three parts together (always TWIST, never just push), check to see if there is some black powdery buildup on the tenons (the parts that connect). Take a paper towel and wipe around the end of the headjoint where it fits into the body, then on the end of the body that attaches to the foot. Also wipe inside the other end of the body that the footjoint goes into and the inside lip of the foot. If you see some black smudges on the paper towel, this is most likely the problem and you should now be able to put together the flute easier.

Clarinet - The important thing to keep in mind when cleaning the clarinet is to clean it IN PARTS. There should be a swab that comes with a clarinet which is a small woolen pad that measures about 5 inches by 5 inches and is attached to a string. When taking apart the instrument, lay each part in the case and then start cleaning each part by dropping the end of the string (which usually has a little metal end) through whichever part you're cleaning and then pull it straight through. Put that part away and go on to the next part. The one part you have to be careful of is the upper joint. If you look inside that part, you'll see that that there is a piece inside that is a few inches down from the top of the joint. Sometimes the swab will get caught on this so be careful that it's not bunched up when you drop it in. The other parts are just straight through. Always make sure that the corks on the tenons (where the parts fit together) and the mouthpiece are well greased. If they start to dry out they may begin to crack and will need to be replaced. ALWAYS twist the parts together when putting the clarinet together or taking it apart. That's the reason why the corks go sideways. I often see students trying to push the parts together and this will damage the instrument eventually. Roll up your swab tightly and put it back in the case. As to the mouthpiece, this is the one part that does not get cleaned with the swab. Go to a sink and hold the mouthpiece upside down with the cork end opening under the faucet. The water should be pretty warm, but not too hot. Try not to get the cork around the bottom end of the mouthpiece wet, but you can just dry it with a towel when you're done. Take the mouthpiece away from the water and, while still wet, roll up a tissue so it's long and thin and pass one end of tissue through the mouthpiece and pull it through. Repeat this process until clean. You can also just rub a tissue on the side you play into if it looks particularly gunky in there and then rinse and pass the tissue through. Also remember to clean the tip of the mouthpiece where your teeth go (called the beak). Stuff will build up there, too. There is also a mouthpiece brush you can purchase for a few dollars at a music store if you'd like to clean it that way. Just be careful not to scratch the inside of the mouthpiece. As to the keys and the outside of the clarinet (fingerprints, etc.), just get a soft cloth from home like a handkerchief or buy a polishing cloth at a music store and using your breath like you were going to fog up a mirror, breathe on the parts you want to clean and wipe gently.

Oboe - See the instructions for the clarinet. It's very similar with the difference being in swabs. Oboes should have two swabs - a small one for the upper joint and a large one for the lower joint and bell. Make sure to use the correct one for the correct part! The reed cork should be greased (as should all corks on parts that fit together) so that it fits into the hole at the end (called the staple). It's also important to make sure oboes stay at room temperature and not in cold places (outside, in a car, basement, etc.). Keeping it at room temperature is much better for the oboe. Always TWIST to put parts together - don't push straight on. This will damage the instrument over time. 

Saxophone - Most saxophones now come with a cleaning swab. This is a piece of yellow chamois cloth on the end of a long string (the string usually has a metal tipped end). Because the body of the saxophone is one piece, without the neck on, drop the string into the end where you would attach the neck until the string gets to the bottom. Then turn the saxophone over so that the end of the string comes out of the bell end. Then just pull the cleaning swab straight through. Repeat as many times as you'd like until you feel enough moisture has been removed from inside. If you want to clean the neck, you can get a neck cleaner at a music store for about $10, but it's not really necessary. Finally, the mouthpiece and be cleaned by bringing it to a sink and holding the mouthpiece upside down with the round end that pushes onto the neck under the faucet. The water should be pretty warm, but not too hot. Take the mouthpiece away from the water and, while still wet, roll up a tissue so it's long and thin and pass one end of tissue through the mouthpiece and pull it through. Repeat this process until clean. You can also just rub a tissue on the side you play into if it looks particularly gunky in there and then rinse and pass the tissue through. Also remember to clean the tip of the mouthpiece where your teeth go (called the beak). Stuff will build up there, too. There is also a mouthpiece brush you can purchase for a few dollars at a music store if you'd like to clean it that way. Just be careful not to scratch the inside of the mouthpiece. For the outside of the saxophone, many instruments now come with cleaning clothes to wipe the keys or clean fingerprints off the body. Just breathe on the metal like you're fogging up a window and then wipe gently with the cloth. Music stores will sell special finish cleaning cloths for about $10, which is worth it and you can use it forever. You can use a soft handkerchief as well (make sure it won't scratch the finish before rubbing). Make sure that the cork on the neck is greased well. If you put on your mouthpiece and it doesn't squeak while twisting it on (NEVER push straight on), then it's greased enough. 

Trumpet - Brass instruments are not all that difficult to clean and I would recommend NOT doing it very often. That's right - don't clean it very much. The body of the trumpet should be cleaned maybe once a year, however the mouthpiece does need to be cleaned more often. Start by going to a music store and buy the following: a mouthpiece brush (about $3), a cleaning snake (for the body of the trumpet - about $7), and a container of slide grease (about $2). This would be a good time to stock up on valve oil, too! The mouthpiece can simply be cleaned by sticking the brush through a few times and rinsing with warm water. Every now and then, you can boil your mouthpiece to completely sanitize it. This is the only part of your instrument that can be boiled! Just put a pot of water on the stove with the mouthpiece in it and boil it for about 10 minutes. CAREFUL! It will stay hot for awhile, so just dump out the hot water with the mouthpiece still in the pot and run cold water over it until it can be handled. Then set it aside to dry. That's it for the mouthpiece. The most important thing you can do for your trumpet is to oil the valves and keep the slides greased. Pull out each slide ONE AT A TIME (there are 4 - the little one on the second valve, the slide with the ring on it going to the third valve, the tuning slide which is the one attached to the pipe that the mouthpiece goes into, and the slide on the end closest to you below the mouthpiece going to the third valve) and rub a little bit of slide grease on the tubes that slide into the trumpet. Stick only one end of the tube back in and push and pull a few times to spread out the grease. Then do the other end of the slide in the same way. As long as you keep your valves oiled (always do one valve at a time without using a lot of oil - just oil them often) and your slides greased, your trumpet will be happy. If and when you decide to clean the body of the trumpet, run a bath of warm water deep enough to submerge the trumpet. While that's filling up, you must remove each of the valves (make sure you know which one is which - most valves are numbered 1, 2, or 3 and have to be put back correctly or the trumpet will not work), the mouthpiece, and all 4 slides. You can run either the mouthpiece brush inside each slide and rinse or you can use the snake. Again, don't forget to grease the slides when done (greasing should be done 3 or 4 times a year as needed). You don't want to get your slides stuck. Don't try too hard to pull them out because if they're stuck, they're most likely not coming out. Ask for help! The trumpet may need an acid cleaning at a music repair shop, which costs about $25 but the trumpet will be SUPER clean. After removing all of those things, the trumpet should be pretty bare and can be submerged in the water. Leave it in for about 15 minutes and then run the snake through any of the tubing you can several times. When this has been done, put it back in the water for 10 minutes to soak and so that the stuff loosened by the brush can rinse out. When you take it out after this, hold it straight up and down so almost all of the water drains out and lay it on a towel to dry out. You can use a soft cotton cloth or a polishing cloth (purchased from a music store) to to dry off the outside and just make sure to get as much water out as you can. The drips left over will come out later after you've put it all back together and you empty the spit valve. Reassemble starting with the slides, then the valves. Make sure the slides and valves go back in the correct spots and the valves click to lock in place. For the outside (removing finger prints and other smudges), buy a polishing cloth at a music store or use a soft cotton cloth that won't scratch. I usually tell students to cut a piece out of an old t-shirt and use your breath to "fog up" the metal and lightly rub to polish it. NEVER use cleaning products or chemicals even if it says they're safe - you don't need to!

Baritone Horn - Follow the process for trumpet above. Most people don't use a snake for the baritone and don't put it in the bath tub. That’s the best way to clean it though! Mostly, it's about oiling the valves and greasing the slides. 

Trombone - The trombone follows a similar process to the trumpet (mouthpiece boiling, mouthpiece brush, snake in the tub, slide grease for the tuning slide on the top, slide cream for your slide, and polishing cloth for the outside) with a few differences. Unlike the trumpet, you can put the whole trombone in water, but you really should remove the outer part of the slide before cleaning. Just run your snake through it (this is the slide casing I'm talking about, NOT the actual slide where you put the slide cream) and rinse a few times quickly with warm water. The water key cork (spit valve) should not be submerged in water because it will shorten its life. Actually, you can really just clean this part of the instrument without cleaning the rest of the trombone in the water. What you're doing here is getting the dried slide cream out of the slide so that it will slide better. To clean the slide cream off the actual slide itself, take a paper towel and wipe each side down several times so that all of the old cream comes off. Then apply the new cream and using only one rail of the slide, run it in and out of the slide casing 10 or 20 times so that the cream gets spread out. Then do the other rail before putting it back together. Too much slide cream will actually make things worse, so just a thin layer is good. Make sure to pull off the top slide (tuning slide) of the trombone and using slide grease (not slide cream) on it. This slide should be greased a few times a year. Your playing slide should get wiped down often and the new cream applied. The other thing that you really need is a small spray bottle about  4 or 5 inches tall. Fill it with water and spray it on the slide often as it will keep the slide cream slick! 

French Horn - I am not an expert at French horn cleaning and don't pretend to be. The most important thing about horns as it is for trumpets is to keep the valves oiled and the slides greased. For oiling, you should remove the slide for each valve (one at a time is best), turn the horn over, and squirt valve oil into hole where the slide was so that it will lubricate the valve. Do this often for each valve so that it will turn easily. Buy some slide grease from a music store and grease your slides a few times a year or as needed. As long as your slides move easily, your horn will be happy because you can oil your valves easily. Be careful of the rotary valve strings. DO NOT mess with them or unscrew the screws that adjust the slack in them. They do break from time to time and you should let me know or contact a music store. I can re-string them. I wouldn't try to clean the inside of the horn, but you can either buy a polishing cloth for the outside or use a soft, non-scratching cotton cloth (like a piece of an old t-shirt). A polishing cloth purchased from a music store will last forever.