How to Clean a Horn Mouthpiece and Sanitize a Lead Pipe


When I regularly taught beginning horn students, a portion of the very first lessons were usually devoted to maintenance of the instrument. This included mouthpiece care.

Putting lips onto a mouthpiece and buzzing inside it in can create a lot of crud and build-up over time. This seems especially true if a player likes to eat and play, without brushing their teeth beforehand.

It is a relatively simple thing to clean a mouthpiece, but it is easily forgotten. In spite of my careful instruction, it always surprised me how dirty some students would let their mouthpieces get before getting around to cleaning them.

In extreme cases, the accumulated crud would more-or-less reduce the actual bore size of the mouthpiece.


Buy a mouthpiece brush

The only tool required to clean a mouthpiece is a mouthpiece brush. They are very affordable and are typically priced under five dollars. Most music stores in the U.S. carry them. Elsewhere, they are very easy to find online.

Mouthpiece brush

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Using a mouthpiece brush

Over a sink with running water, insert the brush into the larger end of the mouthpiece. It helps to twist and turn the brush while pushing it in and out.

Mouthpiece brush cleaning

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Pushing the brush through the mouthpiece

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Run the mouthpiece brush back and forth a few times to make sure all the residue gets scrubbed out. Rinse the mouthpiece under the running water. Soap is not necessary, but it certainly will not hurt anything.

But wait – – you are not done yet! 

Residue can also build up on the exterior surfaces of the mouthpiece. Give the outside and underside of the rim a good brushing.

Brushing the underside exterior of the rim

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Be sure to rinse the mouthpiece thoroughly with water and dry it with a lint-free cloth when the brushing is all done.

Graphite for the rim

To help prevent a screw rim from getting stuck try some powdered graphite or using a pencil to “draw” graphite into the screw rim’s grooves.

After treating the screw threads with graphite, assemble the rim and underpart. Twist and turn the rim a few times – clockwise and counter-clockwise – to help distribute the graphite evenly throughout the grooves.

When finished, lightly tighten the rim into place and rinse the entire mouthpiece in water to wash off excess graphite.

Dry the mouthpiece with a lint-free cloth and your rim will now be stick-free.

Sanitizing a lead pipe

Besides snaking out the lead pipe every 30-60 days, once a week or so I run a small amount of alcohol through the lead pipe in order to kill germs and bacteria.

A horn lead pipe is a dark and warm environment and it can provide the perfect breeding ground for germs and bacteria. Recent studies indicate that mold and bacteria in a horn lead pipe can build up and over time affect your health.

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The first step is to remove the main tuning slide.

Next, use an old mouthpiece – not your main mouthpiece – as a funnel and add 2-3 teaspoons of isopropyl alcohol as illustrated in the picture below. I have also heard through various sources that a certain brand and type of mouthwash – the original Listerine – can also do the trick.

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After adding the liquid, wait about one minute without moving the horn around.

If you have a water valve, drain some (or all) of the alcohol through that valve. Otherwise, maneuver the horn counter-clockwise so that the alcohol drains back through the old mouthpiece.

If alcohol is drained though the open tuning slide, it will breakdown the slide grease. For this reason, I drain the alcohol back through the mouthpiece.

After the draining, switch back to your normal mouthpiece and gently blow out the remaining fluid. Before re-inserting the main tuning slide, set the horn aside for a few minutes and allow the remaining alcohol to completely evaporate.

As a final touch, add a few drops of light valve oil directly into the lead pipe ferrule opening. Insert the mouthpiece and gently blow the oil through the pipe. This treatment can help to protect the lead pipe from future build-up.

Remember that a clean horn is a happy horn – keep your horn happy!


University of Horn Matters