Valve Maintenance

by Jon Noxon

As a brass player, one of the most annoying things in the world is a sticky valve, so we immediately jump for our handy dandy valve oil to solve the problem. This, however, won’t work. A sticky valve means a dirty valve, and all the oil in the world won’t make it stop sticking. The valve needs to be cleaned.


Cleaning is done with warm water (not hot!), a little bit of dish soap, and a valve casing brush. Fill up a sink with some warm water, then add the dish soap. Put the dirty valve in the water and scrub it well with your hand. To get the dirt out of the holes in the valve use the casing brush, and your valve is now clean. Let it air dry, or if you’re impatient like me you can dry it gently with a paper towel.

Now you may go back to that handy valve oil. Add about 3-4 drops of it to the part of the valve that comes in contact with the wall of the casing – this is the only part of the valve that needs to be oiled. You do not have to oil the spring or the inside of the casing. If the valve is in the wrong casing the instrument will be unplayable. This is why I recommend only taking out one valve at a time.

Also be sure that the notch on the valve slides into the track in the casing. Always play test the instrument to be sure that everything is working properly. If you can’t blow through the instruments at all it means that one of the valves is in the wrong place and needs to be switched, or the notch is not in the groove.

How often should you oil your valves? It depends on the amount of playing you do. I tend to oil my valves 2-3 times per week, sometimes less. I also play every day. If you don’t play that often, you might need to oil them every time you practice or even every other time. When you do oil them, oil all of them even if the others feel like they don’t need it: chances are they’re going to need it tomorrow, and this way you can stay ahead of your valve maintenance.

And make sure you oil your valves before every concert, audition, or any important rehearsal – even if none of the vavles are sticking, it can happen at the worst possible time and ruin your entire performance!

-Jon Noxon, JC Staff, 3/15/15

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