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Trumpets & Rust? – 7 Things Every Player Should Know

Trumpets will tarnish and brown if not properly taken care of, polished, washed, and cared for.

A well-loved trumpet will still tarnish because of the metallic alloy that it is made from. Good trumpet players know how to properly care for their instrument using safe and easy methods!

That’s why we’ve listed those methods and everything you need to know here:

Here’s Why Trumpets Rust:

Trumpets are almost always made from brass. Because brass is an alloy of copper and zinc that grows dark or brown after long exposure to oxygen, oils from your skin, saliva, and constant use of your trumpet will cause it to tarnish.

1. What is it Called When a Trumpet Rusts?

Trumpets do not rust in the way that you think they would.

Instead, the brass tarnishes. Because brass is an alloy of zinc and copper, exposure to oxygen for a long period of time will eventually tarnish it, turning it brown or black.

Along with oxygen, the oils from your skin or the moisture from saliva can cause your trumpet to tarnish prematurely if you aren’t caring for it properly.

Almost all modern trumpets have a lacquered coating on the outside of the brass to prevent quick tarnishing of the material. However, if the tarnish gets underneath the lacquer, that must be removed before the tarnish can be polished off.

With the proper tools and chemicals, it is possible to remove tarnish from most trumpets, no matter how old they are.

2. How to Remove Tarnish from Trumpet

Tarnish shows up after a year or two, depending on the lacquer shield quality of your trumpet as well as the materials that your trumpet consists of.

However, if you see tarnish on your trumpet, there are things that you can do.

Removing tarnish from a trumpet comes down to finding the right chemicals or home remedy to dissolve the dark spots your trumpet may have accumulated:

Chemical Tarnish Remover:

Because tarnish results from the chemical reaction between brass and oxygen, it is very common to use off-the-shelf cleaners and compounds that are sold in grocery stores to act as another chemical reaction and remove the tarnish.

Often, trumpet players will utilize products like Brasso, a non-corrosive liquid polisher for brass, copper, chrome, and other materials.

Be careful what chemicals you use and when you put them on your trumpet. When there is no tarnish present, it is recommended that you wash your trumpet with warm water as a preventative against tarnish.

If you use polish on your trumpet before any tarnish has appeared, you could be stripping away the protective layer of lacquer from the factory and speed up the possible tarnish later.

Home Remedy Tarnish Remover:

Many DIY sites and home remedy blogs like The Spruce recommend using home remedies and mixtures to take the tarnish off of brass items and trumpets.

For example, if you don’t like the idea of using chemicals, you can use a mixture of baking soda and  white vinegar to remove the tarnish from your brass trumpet. This creates a paste that you can rub on brass objects with your hands, a soft cloth, or a toothbrush in order to remove tarnish.

Once you’ve done so, let it sit for 30 minutes before you rinse it off. Then buff it with a dry cloth.

This is like using lemons to polish up copper. The acidity of the mixture or citrus fruit works against the original chemical reaction of oxidation and brings the shine back out.

Don’t forget to use a soft cloth when you utilize this method, as a rough brush or cloth can scrape up your trumpet.

3. What Causes a Trumpet to Turn Brown?

Trumpets turn brown when they tarnish.

If your trumpet is silver-plated, it is a little more difficult to remove the darkening tarnish as compared to a purely brass trumpet. Even if you are polishing, protecting, or caring for your silver-plated trumpet, it is possible it will still darken.

This is because the oxidation of silver creates a more stubborn mark or tarnish. Perspiration, especially, will dampen the silver and speed up the process of tarnishing, so if you play your silver trumpet every day, expect it to darken.

You can still absolutely polish off the tarnish proper silver polish and a soft cloth, but too much polish and meticulous cleaning can slowly strip away the silver plating.

4. Can You Use Brasso on a Trumpet?

Brasso is advertised as a great tool to use on brass objects.

However, many users have mentioned that Brasso is both too abrasive as well as toxic to use on an instrument that you will be placing your mouth onto.

According to users on the Trumpet Herald forum, Brasso is not a great option for lacquered trumpets or silver-plated trumpets, as it can strip off those protective layers and damage your horn.

Furthermore, the National Trust, a membership organization for the preservation of historical objects in England, recommends against using it as it can be abrasive and wear away at metal over time.

If you have a vintage trumpet or one that is very old and has a high value, it is recommended that you don’t use Brasso.

5. How Do You Get a Trumpet to Shine?

As we mentioned before, it is highly recommended that you begin with soap and warm water to create a great shine before you start using chemicals on your horn.

Now, before you begin, it is important that you choose a soap that doesn’t leave behind watermarks or small bubble stains, as that will defeat our purpose here. Some users have recommended Dawn Ajax dish soaps.

When cleaning your trumpet, you must disassemble the entire thing first. Then you will want to submerge the slides in warm, slightly soapy water.

Definitely don’t scrub your trumpet, but rather rub or slide a soft microfiber cloth over it. Rinse everything with running water, and then begin on the rest of the trumpet.

Repeat the process.

Note: DO NOT submerge your valves. This might negatively affect the valve caps or buttons.

When cleaning the valves, look into buying a valve brush – this will save you the headache of trying to get into all those small spaces. Try not to oil or clean the spring or valve guide when you do this.

Finally, once everything has been properly cleaned, you’ll want to use valve oil and slide grease to finish it off.

If you do have water spots, use a microfiber cloth or polishing cloth to remove them and really make them shine.

6. Which Tools Are Best for Polishing a Trumpet?

Silver-plated trumpets could benefit from infrequent silver polishing.

This is because frequent polishing can actually strip the silver plating slowly over time, opening it up to more damage and tarnish in the future. Instead, it would be best if you only polished once in a while – every few months or even once a year, depending on the frequency of use of your trumpet.

However, if you have a lacquered brass trumpet, polishing it at all can remove that protective layer of lacquer. This is why we recommend a nice warm soak and soapy water with proper valve cleaning.

For silver polishing, forum users on Trumpet Herald recommend 3-M Tarnish Shield and Wright’s Silver Cream.

It is highly recommended that you get a good idea of the materials that your trumpet is made from before buying any kind of polish, as you don’t want to strip away layers or cause it damage.

7. How Do You Clean the Mouthpiece?

Just like a full-body trumpet bath, you should clean your mouthpiece with a warm soapy bath.

This should be done more frequently than the regular bath of your trumpet if you can manage it – probably on a monthly basis.

When cleaning, make sure to wash it gently and dry it thoroughly. If you have to scrub, make sure you are careful to prevent scraping it up by using a soft cloth or old toothbrush.

It is essential to clean this part as it can prevent illness and promote hygiene. Even if you are the only one using your trumpet, cleaning the mouthpiece frequently is a must.


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