written by Michael Pagel, Metro Music Maker instructor
Does your trombone slide feel like it’s covered in gritty sand? Does it make a horrible grinding noise when the slide is moved? Do you have trouble moving the slide quickly and accurately? Is there a funky smell coming out of the bell when you play? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to give your trombone a thorough cleaning.
Before you begin, there are a few items you will need in order to ensure your trombone is cleaned safely and thoroughly: three large bath towels and a trombone cleaning kit. The cleaning or maintenance kit usually includes a “snake” cleaner, mouthpiece brush, microfiber cloth, tuning slide grease, trombone slide grease and a spray bottle. These items may be purchased separately or as a kit. I prefer the Alfred Music Publishing care kit, as it includes everything you need plus Superslick Slide Grease, which I prefer. Other widely used trombone slide greases include Trombotine, Slide-o-Mix, and Yamaha slide oil.
Once you have your three towels and all of your cleaning supplies, you are ready to begin the cleaning process:
- Lay one of your three towels flat on the bottom of a bathtub. Fill the bathtub about halfway full with lukewarm water, or at least as deep as your trombone bell is wide. Do not add any soap, and use only lukewarm water.
- Remove the bell section of your trombone from your case. Carefully pull the tuning slide at the crook of the bell section (at the top) all the way out. Gently submerge both pieces of the bell section in the bathtub, laying them on top of the towel. Be careful not to hit any part of the bell or tuning slide on the bathtub. Be as gentle as possible.
- Now remove the slide portion of the trombone, and separate the inner slide from the outer slide. Lay each half of the slide section in the tub next to the bell pieces. Again, be very careful not to hit the slide on the bathtub. Any dent in the slide will make it harder to move and will have to be removed by a professional.
- Lay the mouthpiece in the tub next to the other pieces.
- Allow the trombone pieces to soak in the bathtub for at least 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes has elapsed, remove the bell section of the trombone and run the snake cleaner through the tube and out of the bell. Do this multiple times to make sure all the gunk is removed. Dry the bell portion with the other towel and gently place on the third towel.
- Remove the tuning slide from the bathtub and run the snake cleaner through a few times. Dry this piece with your towel and set it on your third towel.
- Now remove the inner part of the slide section of the trombone from the bathtub. Carefully run the snake cleaner through both sides of the inner slide. Do this multiple times to remove all the gunk. Dry and carefully place the inner slide on your third towel.
- Repeat the process with the outer slide, but after snaking both sides of the outer slide, rinse it in the bathtub water a few times as well to make sure everything is clean. Dry the outside of the outer slide and place on the third towel.
- Lastly, clean the shank of the mouthpiece using the mouthpiece brush, rinsing in the bathtub water if necessary. Lay the mouthpiece on the third towel.
Now that your trombone is nice and clean, it is ready to be reassembled and properly lubricated:
- Start by greasing the tuning slide with tuning slide grease (not trombone slide grease) on both sides, and reassemble the tuning slide to the bell section.
- Next reassemble the outer and the inner trombone slide pieces. Apply a small amount of trombone slide grease to the bottom of both sides of the inner slide. Rub the grease with one finger over the bottom three inches of the slide. Work the grease into the rest of the slide using the outer slide. Finally, spritz some water from your spray bottle onto the inner slide.
- Polish each part of the outer slide and bell section with your microfiber cloth from your cleaning kit.
- If you plan on testing out your newly cleaned trombone, assemble the bell section to the slide section and begin practicing, otherwise put the pieces back in their case.
That’s it! Your trombone is now squeaky clean! The deep cleaning process does not need to be performed that often. I usually clean my trombone once every few months, or sooner if my slide builds up any kind of residue. The slide should be lubricated once it stops moving freely and easily when sprayed with water. I usually lucubrate my slide every few days or more often if it is being played more than usual. Remember: always be careful with your trombone, but be especially careful when cleaning it! Have fun, and happy cleaning!