How to Remove Tarnish from Brass Instruments

Man Holding Brass Trumpet

Brass instruments, with their rich tones and captivating melodies, are a joy to play and listen to. However, over time, the lovely shine of these instruments can be marred by tarnish. 

Tarnish doesn’t just affect the appearance of your brass instrument; it can also impact its sound quality. 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps of effectively removing tarnish from brass instruments, ensuring they remain in top shape.

Let’s get started.

What Causes Tarnish

Tarnish is the result of a natural chemical reaction between brass and its environment. The exposure to moisture, air, and even fingerprints leads to the formation of a thin layer of tarnish, which can dull the instrument’s luster. This can be particularly concerning for musicians, as tarnish can also alter the instrument’s sound.

Gathering Supplies

Before diving into the tarnish removal process, it’s essential to gather the necessary supplies. You can opt for household items like lemon juice, baking soda, vinegar, and salt, or choose specialized brass cleaning products available in music stores.

Preparation and Safety

Working in a well-ventilated area is crucial when dealing with cleaning agents. It’s recommended to wear gloves to protect your hands from chemicals especially when using commercial brass cleaners. Safety should always come first.

Initial Cleaning

Begin by dusting off your brass instrument to remove loose debris. A soft cloth works well for this step. Follow up with a gentle wipe using a mixture of mild soap and water. This initial cleaning helps prepare the surface for more intensive tarnish removal.

Lemon Juice and Baking Soda Paste

A natural and effective tarnish remover can be created by mixing lemon juice and baking soda. The resulting paste is applied to the tarnished areas, and gentle rubbing with a cloth helps lift the tarnish. This method is especially useful for less severe tarnishing.

Vinegar and Salt Method

Mixing vinegar and salt creates a potent cleaning solution. Apply this solution to the tarnished spots and let it sit for a few minutes. Afterward, gently rub the tarnish away. Be cautious not to leave the solution on for too long, as it can damage the brass.

Commercial Brass Cleaners

Commercial brass cleaners are specifically formulated to remove tarnish while protecting the instrument’s finish. When selecting a cleaner, make sure it’s suitable for your type of brass/metal, coating, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Polishing and Buffing

After tarnish removal, it’s time to restore the instrument’s shine. Use a soft, lint-free cloth to polish the brass. Gentle circular motions help buff the instrument to a brilliant gleam.

Dealing with Stubborn Tarnish

For stubborn tarnish, it’s crucial to avoid abrasive methods that could scratch the instrument’s surface. Instead, consider seeking professional help to prevent irreversible damage.

Preventive Measures

To minimize tarnish formation, handle your brass instrument with clean hands, and wipe it down after each use. Store it in a dry place, and consider using a case or cover to shield it from environmental factors.

Regular Maintenance

Establishing a routine for cleaning and maintenance can prolong the life of your brass instrument’s shine. Quick touch-up methods can keep tarnish at bay between more thorough cleanings.

Seeking Professional Help

If your brass instrument requires intensive cleaning, or if you’re unsure about handling the tarnish removal yourself, consider taking it to a professional instrument technician. Their expertise ensures a safe and effective cleaning process.

Maintaining Aesthetics and Value

Beyond the visual appeal, keeping your brass instrument tarnish-free contributes to its long-term value. Well-maintained instruments often command higher prices if you decide to sell or upgrade.


With these tried-and-true methods, you can bid farewell to tarnish and restore the brilliance of your brass instrument. 

Regular maintenance and proper care will not only keep your instrument looking stunning but also ensure that its melodious tones continue to resonate beautifully.

For more brass cleaning DIY tips, read How to Clean Brass with Toothpaste


  1. Can I use regular household cleaners on my brass instrument? It’s best to avoid harsh household cleaners, as they can damage the brass. Stick to products designed for brass instruments.
  2. How often should I clean my brass instrument? Regular wiping after each use and a deeper clean every few months will help maintain its shine.
  3. Is tarnish removal a DIY job? For mild tarnish, DIY methods work well. However, severe tarnish or valuable instruments are better left to professionals.
  4. Can tarnish affect the sound of my instrument? Yes, tarnish can alter the instrument’s sound by disrupting vibrations. Keeping it clean ensures optimal performance.
  5. Are there preventive measures for tarnish? Absolutely. Handling the instrument with clean hands, storing it properly, and cleaning it regularly can prevent tarnish buildup.


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