Maintenance – Prolonging The Life of Brass and Woodwind Instruments

Although it is a time-consuming process, keeping your musical instruments clean is vital to ensure that they function optimally. After extended use, brass and woodwind instruments usually have acid build-up due to the humidity and moisture transferred from the player. If unremoved, this can damage the equipment.

Besides prolonging your instrument’s life and ensuring it produces quality sound, maintenance also saves you money. It is expensive to repair brass and woodwind instruments.

This article gives you a systematic guide on how to keep your equipment in pristine condition. 

Know Your Instrument

It is essential to understand the parts of the instrument you own. This is because each type has an issue that affects it more than others. For instance, saxophones and trumpets players often experience stuck mouthpieces. Those who use clarinets often have to deal with crow’s foot. 

Fortunately, most instruments come with user guides that includes a section on assembling the parts. While the information provided in these guides is helpful, it is advisable to consult a technician or an authorised dealer since they have more expertise.

Caring Tips

As mentioned above, cleaning your instrument is crucial – it prolongs its life, improves sound quality, and saves you money. Here are some valuable tips on how to keep your brass and woodwind instruments clean.


Many people neglect frequent cleaning of their brass instruments because they are made of metal. If you don’t take proper care of your equipment, it becomes vulnerable to structural damage that compromises its sound quality. 

The first step to keeping your instrument clean is storing it in a sturdy case when it’s not in use.  Avoid placing the case in hot environments, as excessive heat usually damages musical equipment. Also, store the case with the valves facing upwards instead of the bell.

Next, always wash your hands before using your instrument. The oil and dirt from your hands makes it murky and can damage its finish. Besides sanitising your hands, wipe the instrument with a polishing cloth to protect its finish.

When cleaning the interior parts, such as pistons, slide, and rotor bearings, use synthetic lubricants. Though petroleum lubricants can do the job, they are unstable in some environments because of their volatility. Always use a lubricant that the manufacturer recommends. 


In woodwind instruments, pads are the most vulnerable component to moisture. Experts recommend cleaning these pads after every playing session. The best way to do it is by lifting the key and using a special cleaning paper to wipe off the moisture and dirt. If the pad is too sticky, use powder paper. The powder helps in removing stubborn stains from the tonehole. 

Keep an eye on the cork grease you apply when cleaning your instrument. If you apply too much, it will trickle down the instrument’s body and damage the pads. Also, the grease can penetrate the cork and soften the glue that keeps it in place. 

How Often Should You Clean Your Instrument?

For brass instruments, you should clean the mouthpiece at least once weekly. Apply some in the lead pipe regularly to prevent stuck mouthpieces. Generally, it is advisable to do a thorough cleaning once a month or whenever the lead pipe starts producing an unpleasant odour. 

Every four weeks, disassemble your brass instrument and remove the accumulated dirt. You can do this in a bathtub because it has adequate space. Fill the tub using warm water and mild soap, but avoid detergents. Using a brush, wipe the dirt and rinse. After cleaning, dry the equipment by reassembling the components.

For woodwind instruments, clean them frequently, especially the pads. Ensure that you tidy them up after every use. The cork requires cleaning once weekly, but remember to regulate the amount of cork grease you apply, as too much can damage the instrument.

After some time, you might want to take your instrument for deep cleaning, known as an acid bath. It is a costly and intricate process, but it only needs to be done every five years. That said, it would be best if you take your equipment to an authorised technician at least once yearly for cleaning and general maintenance. 


Taking good care of your instrument is the only way to prolong its life. Clean it regularly, handle it appropriately, and store it in its case when not in use. By following the tips mentioned in this article, you won’t have to visit the repair shop or save money for a new instrument. 

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