An Introduction to Instrument Cleaning 

Keeping it Clean

How do you clean a musical instrument? How do you disinfect an instrument? Colds and illnesses are constantly being passed around our schools and musical ensembles. Did you know that improperly cleaning your instrument can cause deterioration of the inside and lead to frequent trips to the repair shop?

We may know that our instruments need periodic cleaning, but how often should we clean them? And how can we clean our instruments without damaging them? We broke down the answers by instrument type so you can make sure you are giving your instrument the specific care it needs to perform its best.

Avoid using Household Cleaners on your Instrument. Household cleaning products can cause harm to the body, pads and inner workings of your instrument if used improperly.


All Instruments:

The Case

Since cases are designed to protect, you can clean the outside like most surfaces in your home if needed. The inside of your case can be vacuumed, and leaving a case open in the sunlight for a little while can remove any not-so-pleasant smells without chemicals. A light spray of Lysol or Febreeze can be used if needed, but be careful not to overdo it. Leave the case open after spraying to ensure it dries completely before putting your instrument away.

Keep the inside clean and clear of items like small knickknacks, toys, and coins. They can move around and become lodged in your instrument, requiring a trip to the repair shop. Our repair technicians have pulled all sorts of things out of instruments: nerf darts, keychains, legos, money, and even an entire water bottle from a Tuba.


Brass Instruments

The Mouthpiece

You can clean the mouthpiece of any brass instrument with water, and brush it out with a mouthpiece brush. If the mouthpiece needs a deeper clean, you can soak it in a mixture of warm water and soap. Be sure to dry thoroughly. This can be done as often as needed. A dirty mouthpiece can impact the playability and sound of your instrument, and let’s be honest, is gross!


The Instrument

Did you know that you can give your instrument a bath? Brass instrument baths are a highly debated topic, as some professionals recommend them and some don’t. If done incorrectly they can cause more problems than they fix, and you’ll need to have your instrument professionally repaired.

A few things to keep in mind: You have to be able to put your instrument back together the right way once you take it apart to clean it. If you or your student isn’t sure which direction the valves should go or how to remove a slide, it’s best to leave baths to the professionals and have your instrument professional cleaned.

 You’ll Need: Dish liquid (ex. Dawn, Palmolive, Joy), Paper Towels, Q-Tip Swabs, Valve Oil, Slide Grease, Snake Brush, Mouthpiece Brush, and Valve Casing Brush.

  1. Remove valves, and bottom valve caps
  2. Fill sink, dish pan, or tub with lukewarm, lightly soapy water
  3. Immerse trumpet, caps, mouthpiece, and slides in soapy water for 20 minutes
  4. Run snake brush through all tubes
  5. Scrub mouthpiece with mouthpiece brush
  6. Clean out the ports on the bottom half of the valves with a mouthpiece brush
  7. Rinse all soap and debris from the trumpet and parts. Ensure all soap residue has been washed off before drying
  8. Dry, dry, dry! Dry everything completely inside and out, including the tubing, slides, valve casings and mouthpiece. Mineral deposits from water are bad news for your instrument. You can use paper towels or a hair dryer for all the crevices
  9. Use Q-tips to thoroughly clean valve caps
  10. Apply fresh slide grease to slides and return to trumpet, wiping off any excess grease
  11. Oil valves
  12. Clean any grease or oil from around the sink, dishpan, or tub

A few tips:

  • This isn’t for beginners! Valves and slides must be replaced correctly or the instrument will not play
  • Be sure to remove valves and do not put them in water, as they contain felts that should not get wet
  • This is a great activity for School Vacation week
  • Don’t skip steps 10 and 11! Your instrument needs oil/grease to play properly
  • Purchase a Care Kit to get all of the tools you need packaged together


The Finish

Any brass instrument can be cleaned with a soft cotton cloth to keep your finish looking shiny. Lacquer and silver plated cleaning cloths are also available, and have polish in them already.

Check out our Brass Maintenance Video Series on Youtube!

Saxophone and Clarinet

The Mouthpiece

Mouthpiece maintenance is key to keeping your instrument working properly. If your mouthpiece is plastic or rubber, you can wash it out in lukewarm water with a mild soap. Hot (or cold) water can damage the plastic or rubber, so lukewarm/room temperature water is best. Be careful about getting the cork on your clarinet mouthpiece too wet, as this can cause the cork to disintegrate over time. We recommend a mouthpiece brush to clean out the mouthpiece. After playing, be sure to swab out moisture from the mouthpiece with a small cleaning swab or mouthpiece brush!



Old reeds can harbor a lot of bacteria, food particles, and even mold. Remove your reed from the instrument after playing each time. Make sure to gently wipe off the moisture from your reeds after playing, using your cleaning swab. If a reed is starting to look black, toss it, as this can be a sign of mold! Be sure to always put away your reeds after playing and don’t leave them in conditions of extreme heat or humidity. Use the plastic housing your reed(s) came in, or purchase a Reedguard or Case to keep them clean and safe.


All Woodwinds

The Instrument

Always swab out the inside of your woodwind instrument after playing with a cleaning swab. Moisture left inside can cause pads and other parts of the instrument to deteriorate. One quick swab extends the life and playing ability of your instrument, preventing you from making frequent trips to the repair shop. DFMC does not recommend using fluffy ‘pad-savers’ - if you do, make sure you do not store it inside of your instrument. This will hold moisture IN, instead of wicking it out. Cloth or sponge center swabs are easy to use and store in your case. Make sure to wash or replace them regularly!

Having a slice of pizza before orchestra practice or going out to dinner before a concert? Make sure you brush your teeth before playing! If you are not able to brush your teeth, chew sugar free gum or rinse your mouth out with water. Your instrument will thank you.


The Outside

Use a polishing cloth to clean the outer surfaces of your instrument. Flutes can be polished with a soft cloth to a shiny finish. If you notice any tarnish, gently wipe it down with the polish cloth or you can purchase anti-tarnish strips to keep it spotless for long periods of storage.

Watch our Woodwind Maintenance Series on Youtube


While cleaning your instrument regularly can’t prevent you from making any trips to the repair shop, it can push off a trip to the repair shop and keep your instrument sounding fantastic for years to come.

Keeping your instrument clean is well worth the effort. Make keeping yourself and your instrument healthy a priority by following these cleaning tips and you’ll be glad that you did!


Follow DFMusicCo on Youtube for Maintenance videos, cleaning tips and more!


Enjoyed this post? You may also like …

How to Care for Your Woodwind Corks

How do you Take Care of Your Reed?