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Studio of Andrew B. Spang
Reference Articles
Cleaning Trombone Hand Slides

All material below is Copyright © 1991-2002 by Andrew B. Spang. It may not be reproduced for profit without the author's express written consent. All Rights Reserved.

Last updated: August 24, 2002.



Your trombone slide must operate quickly and smoothly for you to be able to play properly. Proper maintenance and cleaning of your hand slide is of the utmost importance. You will need to clean your slide at least once a month depending on your eating and practicing habits. This article will guide you through the proper cleaning procedures.

To clean your slide properly, you will need the following:

  • a trombone snake (slide brush)
  • dish soap, preferrably with lemon oil
  • a can of penetrating oil, such as WD-40
  • a rag (old t-shirts work best)
  • a cleaning rod

Begin cleaning slide by filling your bathtub with about 4 inches of warm sudsy water. The temperature should be warm: not too hot. Pull the inner slide out of the outer slide and lay them seperately in the tub. You may let them soak a few minutes to let the lemon oil begin to break up deposits.

Then snake the outer and inner slides. Move the snake back and forth in 4"-6" movements to scrub the slides -- don't just push it through once and be done! Once you have scrubbed them completely, rinse them thoroughly.

Use the wide end of the snake if you have the option.
Next cut a piece of the rag approximately 4 inches by 4 inches. The best material we have found is cotton t-shirt material.

Note: if you cut too large a piece of fabric, it will get stuck in the slide and tear off. Too small a piece and it won't be able to clean properly. If you do manage to get the cloth stuck, have a professional remove it. This can easily be done with a sheet metal screw soldered on the end of a cleaning rod.

Thread the cloth through the eyepiece of the cleaning rod. Pull it about half-way through so that it makes a butterfly shape.
A cleaning rod is a fantastic investment for the serious trombone player. Most people think that if they snake their slide once in a while that it will remain clean. Most of the dirt we remove in the shop is with this method, not with the snake. At under $7, the trombone slide will pay for itself almost immediately in saved trips to your local repairman.
Next spray the rag with the penetrating oil (WD-40). Insert the rod into each of the outer slide sleeves and scrub the entire length. Check the cloth after several strokes: you may have to rearrange it so that a reasonably clean surface is contacting the slide. A dirty slide may take 2 or 3 seperate cloths to completely clean.
Spray the rag down with WD-40. Use a fair amout: the cloth should be moist, but not dripping.

At this point the slide should be clean! Apply your slide lubricant as desired and off you go!



If your slide still feels sticky or has a catch...
  • You may not have cleaned it enough. Believe it or not, repeating the above process or using several clean piece of cloth will remove most problems. Remeber, the space between the inner and outer slide is three one-thousandths of an inch: even slide cream can become caked and compacted in that tight space and cause problems.
  • Your slides may be misaligned. Check each inner slide tube one at a time: put it in with the other half hanging in air and check for binding points. If neither sticks by itself, the slide is misaligned.
  • Your slide may have a small ding or dent. Check each inner slide tube one at a time: put it in with the other half hanging in air and check for binding points. If only one has a binding point or catch, then there is probably a dent in the outer slide tube.

This article was written by Andrew B. Spang. Copyright © 1998 by Andrew B. Spang. Permission granted to reproduce or print single copies of this article for educational purposes only. May not be used for profit without the author's express written consent.