How to Clean Brass Instruments with Ultrasonic Cleaners

Brass Musical Instruments: Restored with Ultrasonic Cleaners

Brass musical instrument owners whether individuals, professional organizations such as orchestras, school, university or performance bands, want to keep the brass sparkling and shining. Maintaining brass musical instrument sparkle and shine is fast and easy with an ultrasonic cleaner and a regular music instrument cleaning program.  This post describe how ultrasonic energy speeds brass cleaning to restore and maintain sparkle and shine. 

Ultrasonic Brass Instrument Cleaning where Hands Can’t Reach

Anyone who experienced the time consuming task of restoring the shine to their brass musical instruments will take pleasure in the efficacy of ultrasonic cleaning vs. brushes, calcium remover,  vinegar, water and other techniques found when Googling the topic.

The efficacy of an ultrasonic cleaner is due to the fact that cleaning action – called cavitation – reaches every area wetted when brass instruments are immersed in an ultrasonic cleaning solution that is temperature controlled so that it will not damage the lacquer.

And for those whose interest is restoring the gleam of old brass instruments, nothing surpasses ultrasonic energy in removing years of tarnish and dirt.

How to Ultrasonically Clean Brass Section Instruments

Keep them sparkling with an ultrasonic cleaner
Keep them sparkling with an ultrasonic cleaner

An ultrasonic cleaner is comprised of a tank to hold the cleaning solution, generators to power ultrasonic transducers mounted on the bottom of the tank and a control panel to manage the cleaning time and cleaning solution temperature. 

Tank dimensions and cleaning solution capacities vary.

Those for large brass musical instruments will hold approximately 60 to 100 gallons depending on models.  Professional music instrument cleaning services are most likely to use these large-capacity tanks.

Table-top units are available for smaller instruments and parts such as keys and mouthpieces.

When powered up, the transducers create microscopic bubbles in the cleaning solution that implode on contact with brass family instrument surfaces.  These implosions safely blast and carry away dirt, calcium and dried lubricants while returning the finish to a like-new condition inside and out.   

At the conclusion of the process – typically 5 minutes or fewer – instruments are removed, rinsed, dried, and lubricated as needed. This compares to conventional manual cleaning that can take up to an hour, and is not as thorough as ultrasonic cleaning. 

Ultrasonic Musical Instruments Cleaning and Restoration Steps

If your organization is planning the purchase of an ultrasonic cleaner we suggest that your unit should be equipped with what is called a “Sweep” function.  This provides more homogenous distribution of the cavitation action to help avoid potential damage to highly polished finishes due to “standing waves.”

A sweep mode also avoids what are called “dead zones” or areas of low or no ultrasonic cleaning energy. 

Step 1:

Fill the ultrasonic cleaning tank half way with  and add a biodegradable cleaner concentrate recommend for brass instruments.  We suggest Elma tec clean A2 diluted to 3 to 5% based on the capacity of your cleaning tank.  This formula is recommended for ferrous and non-ferrous metals, precious metals and glass.  It is especially useful to brighten brass and copper.

Another option is Elma tec clean S1 to remove corrosion and lime deposits, water damage, grease, oil, and oxide layers from tarnished brass and copper.  Its recommended dilution is to 1 to 5% with water.  This should be added based on the capacity of your cleaning tank.

Continue adding water to the tank to the fill line.

Mix the solution by activating the cleaner without a load.  Activate the degas mode if the cleaner is so equipped to quickly remove trapped air that slows the ultrasonic cleaning process.  Otherwise run the cleaner until air bubbles no longer rise to the surface.  Depending on solution volume this can take awhile.

Set the ultrasonic cleaner thermostat to the temperature recommended for the cleaning solution formula selected. 

Step 2:

Disassemble your instrument and place pads aside.  Place disassembled metal parts in the cleaner’s wire mesh basket.  Parts should not be in contact with each other and never rest on the bottom or against the sides of the tank.  Small parts can be cleaned in finer mesh baskets placed on the cleaner’s wire mesh basket.

Immerse the baskets in the solution, activate the sweep function and set the timer for 5 minutes.  Experience will let you determine the optimum cleaning time.

Step 3:

Remove, inspect (and re-clean if necessary), rinse, blow dry, lubricate and reassemble.

Brass Instrument Ultrasonic Cleaner Maintenance

As the cleaning solution becomes dirty cleaning effectiveness will diminish.

Drain the tank and dispose of the biodegradable solution according to local regulations.   Take the time to clean the tank following the manufacturer’s recommendations.  Then fill the tank with fresh solution, degas it and you’re ready for the next cleaning operations.

Contact the scientists at Tovatech for recommendations on ultrasonic cleaning equipment and cleaning solutions for brass musical instruments.

About Rachel Kohn

So how did an MIT Ph.D. end up selling refrigerators? When I figured out that a lot more scientists buy lab refrigerators than innovative leading-edge instruments. I hope that my many years of lab experience will help you find the right equipment for your work. Before co-founding Tovatech I worked in business development and project management at Smiths Detection, Photon-X, Cardinal Health, and Hoechst Celanese. And before that I spent 12 years as an R&D chemist at Hoechst Celanese and Aventis working on advanced drug delivery systems, polymer films and membranes, optical disks, and polysaccharides. Some day, eventually, I’ll make enough money to develop an innovative technology that will change the world. Read More