COVID-19 and Cleaning Your Brass Instruments
Why should you disinfect your brass instruments?
In general, to avoid spreading diseases and to keep ourselves and students from getting reinfected. It’s smart to take extra measures to ensure we’re keeping ourselves as safe as we can. With that in mind, as musicians and educators, keeping our musical instruments clean and disinfected needs to become second nature.
Brass and woodwind instruments are most at risk because of the contact with the mouth and the expelling of breath. There are some parts of brass instruments that need additional attention, such as mouthpieces, flute head joints, bocals, sax necks, and hinges. And in general, string, percussion, and piano wouldn’t normally require more than hand-washing before each use.
But the coronavirus changes all that because of how long it can live on a non-porous surface and its incubation period.
Don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly. Avoid touching your face!
All experts advise you to thoroughly wash your hands (20 seconds at minimum) with soap and hot water. Do this before you pick up your instrument. And in fact, washing your hands several times every day is what the CDC recommends, along with not touching your face. Still other experts suggest having hand sanitizers (minimum 60% isopropyl alcohol) readily available to use if hand-washing right away isn’t possible.
Our hands will touch a face, lips, or mouth. It’s amazing how often we do it without thinking — and then we touch a surface such as the keys on a sax, the piano keyboard, the fingerboard of a string instrument, the head of a drum, a xylophone mallet, a bow. Such surfaces can also be breathed or coughed upon. The coronavirus can land on them when that happens. Thus, those instruments should also be disinfected. The University of Las Vegas offers some good, detailed advice, regarding disinfecting musical instruments, although it doesn’t (yet) specifically address the challenges presented by the coronavirus.
Here's a great video that shows what happens in a typical classroom:
What disinfectants should I use or NOT use?
This is a list from the EPA that shows what disinfectants can be used for killing the coronavirus in the average home. The CDC also provides guidelines for disinfecting that can be very helpful.
However, there are a number of things on the EPA’s and CDC’s lists that can’t be used with musical instruments because those chemicals could harm them. For instance, any bleach or alcohol will harm wood instruments and could severely damage the lacquer on brass instruments.
Below are some products that we have uncovered in our research. This is not an endorsement; we strongly recommend you do your own research to verify whether or not it’s the right product for you to use:
How to disinfect a brass musical instrument
What you do and use will depend on your instrument. But there are common start-up steps:
- Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.
- Always wear disposable, sterile protective gloves. If disposable isn’t an option, make sure the gloves you use for cleaning for the coronavirus ARE ONLY USED for that purpose. Throw them away in a sealed bag.
- Make sure you’re in a clean, well-ventilated room.
- Clean your instrument of visible dirt — wet a cloth with warm water and ring it out so it’s almost dry. Rub your instrument to remove any visible signs of dirt and gunk.
- To do a deeper clean and disinfect: follow the directions appropriate to your instrument. Brass and woodwinds will require mouthpieces and other pieces to be disassembled and cleaned separately and even snaked using an appropriate disinfectant. (Most pianos’ keyboards can be disinfected with alcohol wipes. String instruments are the most fragile because of their physical composition and varnishes.)
Sharing instruments - just don’t
For economic reasons, it’s not always practical for students to have their own instruments and sharing is the answer. As a music professional, you know how challenging that is in the bacterial environment of a school (you’re best friends with the school nurse after all). We strongly recommend you take extra precautions with the coronavirus pandemic. Neither mouthpieces nor reeds should ever be shared. And while mouthpieces can be cleaned, reeds should be thrown away and replaced.
A word about professional cleaning / maintenance
Professional cleaning is almost always the best solution because they’re experts and know what they’re doing and do it well. Your favorite musical dealer may be able to do this or should be able to recommend a resource that can. Many schools have set aside budget for an annual cleanse and disinfect during the summer. If your school hasn’t, it’s something to consider for future budgets.