Care and Feeding of your Band Instrument: Trombone

This post is the final installment of our “Care and Feeding of your Band Instrument” series. This series is geared toward informing the young wind player of some basic cleaning, care, and maintenance techniques to keep your instrument in good working order. Today’s lesson: the trombone.


The most important element to trombone maintenance is the slide. There are several slide lubricant options, but the important thing to remember is to keep it moving freely. Whenever you are playing, be aware of your surroundings so you don’t accidentally hit your slide on your chair or stand. The smallest dent or bend in the slide can make it not function properly, and this is an issue that needs to be taken to a professional repair person.

Necessary Care Supplies:
Slide lubricant (your teacher may recommend one of the following):
Slide oil
Slide cream and water spray
Formulated product (like Slide-O-Mix)
Slide grease (for tuning slide only)
Bore snake
Mouthpiece brush

Optional Care Supplies:
Polishing cloth

Water Key:
You should CONSTANTLY empty your water key (spit valve). This means every several minutes while you are playing, and especially before you return the trombone to its case. Simply press the water key to hold it open, and blow air through the instrument so moisture will leave through the valve (it might be handy to keep a paper towel to empty your valve onto so you don’t leave a puddle).

Main Slide:
It is extremely important to keep your main slide well lubricated – both for the condition of the instrument, and for ease of playing. Your slide will need to be lubricated FREQUENTLY, probably each time that you play. There are several different options:

  • Slide oil: the most straightforward option, and may be best for beginners. Simply extend your slide, apply slide oil to the inner slide, and move the slide in and out to distribute the oil.
  • Slide cream: slide cream requires water to work properly. Apply slide cream to the inner slide, and spray some clean water (from a spray bottle) to the slide before moving it to distribute. Some musicians like this method as it allows the slide to move very fast, and the cream does not need to be applied as often – only the water spray. The downside to the slide cream is that residue tends to build up on the slide faster than with oil, so you may need to clean your instrument more frequently.
  • Formulated products: there are many other products out there (one of the most popular is called Slide-O-Mix). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on any type of product.

Tuning Slide:
REGULARLY, move the tuning slide on the instrument. This will prevent it from “freezing” (getting stuck). OCCASIONALLY, you should grease your slide to clean it and keep it moving freely. Simply remove the slide (pay attention to which direction it faces so you can put it back correctly), apply a small amount of slide grease to the inner slide, and replace it. Wipe off any excess grease. (Note that this is a different type of grease than the one you use for your main slide)

OCCASIONALLY (every 6-8 weeks or so), you should clean the inside of your trombone. Mark Flegg has a great article on thoroughly cleaning your trumpet ( that can apply to the trombone as well. The good news is that your entire trombone can be submerged in water! Fill a bathtub with warm (not hot) water (you can also add a small amount of dish soap). Remove the main slide and tuning slide from the trombone and place them in the water. Let them soak for a few minutes, then use your bore snake to clean the insides (insert in one end and push through until you can pull the whole apparatus through the other end). Next submerge the body of the trombone in the water and do the same. Use whatever combination of snake and brushes you need to in order to clean the inside of all of the tubing. Rinse each part of the instrument with clean running water, and allow to air dry. Grease your slides with the appropriate materials, and reassemble.

Use your mouthpiece brush (cone-shaped) to gently clean your mouthpiece AS NEEDED. You can use a mouthpiece sanitizing/cleaning spray, or a small amount of dish soap and warm water. DO NOT put your mouthpiece in the dishwasher.

OCCASIONALLY (once a week or so), you may want to use a dry (untreated) polishing cloth to wipe any dirt and residue from the outside of your trombone. The oils from your fingers can cause the finish to deteriorate if not occasionally wiped off.

We hope that this has been informative for our young trombone players. If you have any other questions, we would be happy to answer them at Willis Music. Good luck!