A tuba is quite large, and can be quite a challenge to clean thoroughly on both inside and outside. I need some good advice on how to do this properly without harming the mechanisms.


3 Answers 3


This is for a piston-valve tuba, by the way, not a rotary valve. Also keep in mind to do this all very gently, tubas scratch easily.

You'll want to take it completely apart (valves out too, and remember how it goes together) and set in a bath tub full of warm/hot water. Then, add some soap (mild, non-abrasive) and rub it gently with a cloth to get off grime (If it was particularly dirty inside, you could try a toilet scrubber(new) and gently clean out the bell (or use a cloth preferably if your arm is small enough), and use the snake to clean out the finer tubing. Make sure to clean the snake often so you just don't spreak the grime). Once it has been scrubbed, drain the tub and then rotate it head-over-heel a few times to get all of the water out and set it on a bath towel to dry. While that is drying, place the slides in the soapy water and rub them gently with a paper towel / cloth, then dry them off and set them somewhere safe. To clean the valves,take off the felt and rubber bumpers and wash them in SOAP-FREE water, and don't use the snake to clean out the holes in the valves. When all parts are COMPLETELY dry, you can begin assembling your tuba. Reassemble the valves(IN THE SAME ORDER THEY CAME OUT), making sure to put on plenty of valve oil, and grease up the slides before you put them in also. (put on the grease with a paper towel, you're not supposed to contact the slide because it can deteriorate the metal)

Another tip, the valves should be cleaned about every month or two, but missing a cleaning here or there won't hurt too bad.

  • 3
    Warning: I totally screwed the lacquer of a trumpet with warm water! Surely the size of the instrument does not matter here.
    – Gauthier
    Sep 12, 2011 at 8:24
  • 3
    Clarification of @Gauthier's comment: Lacquer is not water-soluble; it will however crack or peel in hot water, mostly because the metal underneath it expands with the temperature while the lacquer generally does not. So, when bathing a brass instrument, you should generally use lukewarm water for both the wash and rinse; that will generally avoid any problems with the metal swelling or shrinking rapidly.
    – KeithS
    Mar 13, 2012 at 2:39
  • I'm supposing this applies to all piston-valve instruments...
    – Luke_0
    Mar 13, 2012 at 13:46

For a rotary-valve tuba, the process is slightly different because the rotary valves cannot be removed from their housings (unlike piston valves). However, the basic idea is the same:

  1. Draw a lukewarm bath of water into the tub. Add a mild hand soap to aid cleaning; DO NOT use dish detergent (you'll never get it back out of the rotaries no matter how much you rinse)
  2. While the tub is filling, remove any felt, leather, cork or other not-waterproof pieces from the instrument and place them aside; also, remove all the tuning slides, to allow water to get into those pipes easier.
  3. Immerse the tuba completely into the water, and let it soak for a few minutes.
  4. Using a snake, brush out the lead pipe, the valve pipes, and the passages through the rotary valves (brush through the rotary valve from both sides of the valve tubing, with the key depressed); these are the places that get the most crud built up over time.
  5. Make sure to soak and brush out the tuning slides themselves as well (but don't soak any tuning slide with a "water key"; you can degrade the cork).
  6. With a washcloth (nothing too abrasive), scrub inside the bell.
  7. Remove the tuba from the bath, and rotate it end over end several times to make sure all the water drains out of all the loops in the piping.
  8. Towel-dry everything you can get to, and let it air-dry for a few hours. Work the valves every so often to work as much water out of the action as possible.
  9. Re-grease all the tuning slides, and add some valve oil to the valve tubes while fluttering the keys, to let the oil contact the surfaces of the valves.
  10. Reassemble the instrument, reinserting all tuning slides.

More often than bathing your tuba, you should boil the mouthpiece. This is more like a biweekly thing if you play a lot, especially if you don't have the chance to brush your teeth or at least rinse your mouth before beginning to play. This process is simple; bring a pot of water deep enough to fully submerge the mouthpiece up to a boil, and using a pair of tongs or some similar apparatus, lower the mouthpiece into the boiling water. Boil for about 5 minutes, to loosen the gunk and grime, then remove it and run it under lukewarm water until the mouthpiece is cool enough to handle. Then, run through the throat and backbore with a mouthpiece brush. Rinse, then repeat if desired, as necessary to clean out all the gunk, before letting the mouthpiece air-dry completely.

  • About boiling the mouth piece; I have a plastic type mouth piece. Is it OK for the plastic to boil? I guess the plastic these mouth pieces are quite robust, but I just ask...
    – awe
    Mar 13, 2012 at 12:14
  • I wouldn't leave it too long in the boiling water if it's plastic. Most of the ones I've used have been silver-plated copper/brass.
    – KeithS
    Mar 13, 2012 at 14:01
  • Buy a metal mouthpiece. Also, in relation to rotary valves, see my answer re: ultrasonic cleaning. They'll remove the rotary valves and clean them separately because they're a little more delicate.
    – John Doe
    Jan 22, 2018 at 4:07

Alternatively, find a music store with an ultrasonic cleaner; the one I worked at would do tubas for around $175. We recommended that, in addition to cleaning it yourself every 4-6 weeks, ultrasonically cleaning once a year.

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