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topic 59059

Removing Trombone Tarnish

A discussion started in 2005 but continuing through 2018


Q. I just got a used trombone from a pawn store, and I would like to find out how to get rid of some annoying tarnish that's all over the place. I am pretty sure that it is a lacquered one, not a silver plate. I am a gr.8 student who just joined the school band, and I want my instrument to have a good 1st impression.

Viet-phi [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
student - Burnaby, B.C., Canada

affil. link
Trombone Maintenance Kit


A. Simple tarnish is easy to remove, there are dozens of commercial polishes that can easily get rid of tarnish, in addition there are also several household things that will remove tarnish.

Ketchup, vinegar, toothpaste (polishes too!), most citrus fruits, and pretty much anything that is moderately acidic (including colas).

If you're looking for the cheap solution I'd say toothpaste and a damp rag, just rub it in and it will polish your instrument. It's a bit abrasive so it may possibly wear through your finish if it is plated.
Ketchup works due to the acid in tomatoes, rub it on the worst spots and let sit for a bit, wipe it off later and clean up with soap and water.

Now if you can go find a commercial polish I would suggest trying Tarn-X [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] or Nevr-Dull [affil. link to info/product on Amazon], I'm not sure that they are available in Canada, but both will work fine for most simple cleaning applications. I would suggest the Nevr-dull as it is a bit easier to use.

Good luck and merry Christmas.

Marc Banks
Blacksmith - Shiloh, North Carolina


A. If you have tarnish I would assume that the lacquer has worn off. If it was a silver finish you would have black looking tarnish. If it is more like a brown or dark brass it was probably lacquered brass. I would suggest you get a cleaning polish for brass (most will often work for silver) usually available at antique stores or metal refinishers.
These compounds are slightly abrasive and will require you to clean the instrument on a regular basis.

I presume you do not want to spend the money need for professional refinishing.

Good Luck, I hope you play better than I did at your age.

Gene Packman
- Great Neck, New York

November 17, 2012 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. My 8th grade band is having a Christmas concert at my school. Since our band is very small, I'm the only trombone-ist. And we are playing a piece featuring the trombone. I would like to have my trombone cleaned up a bit, but it has this cloudy spots that I think is tarnish. I kinda want this off. BTW I have a standard gold finish if that changes anything.

Michael B [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Bloomington, Indiana, USA

affil. link
Brass Lacquer

November 19, 2012

A. Hi Michael.

Cloudiness is probably lacquer that has become water stained. See if acetone or nail polish remover can remove the cloudiness, then buff it up with metal polish. You may or may not wish to re-lacquer it. Good luck. Lacquer removal and re-lacquering involve highly flammable solvents and must only be done with adult supervision, and outside of course.


Ted Mooney, finishing.com Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

September 22, 2018

Q. I'm currently in 8th grade and I play trombone. I usually keep up with the maintenance of my horn but since marching season started up again and I don't march trombone, I've been a little lax with the cleaning. I've heard that Brasso [affil. link to info/product on Amazon], Flitz [affil. link to info/product on Amazon], and Hagerty's Aresol works very well for their respective purposes, but I have a lacquer finish horn. It would help tremendously if anyone knew if these products would work on my type of horn, or have any different product suggestions.

Richelle S [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Pickens, South Carolina, United States

September 2018

A. Hi Richelle. Those things won't work on a lacquered horn unless the lacquer is so thin and worn that using them incidentally polishes it off.

Rather, you need to start with lacquer thinner, or at least acetone or nail polish remover to dissolve away the lacquer first. Although these products are not quite as flammable as things like gasoline or kerosene, they are flammable none-the-less ... which means it's a job for a parent or only a very mature and knowledgeable 8th grader ^ and should only be done outside, of course. Good luck.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

September 24, 2018

! I am continuously surprised by the continued suggestion of acetone as a solvent for amateur use.


The most hazardous property of acetone is its extreme flammability. At temperatures greater than acetone's flash point of -20 °C (-4 °F), air mixtures of between 2.5% and 12.8% acetone, by volume, may explode or cause a flash fire.

I have personal experience of acetone used to clean silk screens being ignited by a spark from a switch. It took me four extinguishers to contain the fire just before it reached the main 40 gallon container.

In addition it is a very poor solvent for cleaning purposes in that it evaporates so fast that it re-deposits much of what it was intended to remove.

Most nail polish remover contains water which reduces the hazard and the quantities used are small.

geoff smith
Geoff Smith
Hampshire, England

September 2018

thumbs up sign  Thanks for the warning, Geoff. Although I've long known that acetone is highly flammable, I wasn't aware that nail polish remover was diluted with water (apparently about about 20-40%) to somewhat combat that issue. I also have added reminders that the flammability means it should only be done outside.

The problem remains of what Richelle should do about her horn though :-)


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Aloha -- an idea worth spreading
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

September 24, 2018

It depends on what the lacquer is. Some are highly resistant to solvents. I would suggest trying a commercial paint stripper and wash off well. The brass can then be polished -- Brasso [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] has been around a long time and works well.
Then the decision is either try your skill at re-lacquering or re-polish as needed.
A spray of WD-40 [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] or a clear wax will give some protection and lubricate the slide.

geoff smith
Geoff Smith
Hampshire, England

lacquer pointer  gj nikolas banner

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