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Your Ultimate Guide to Valve Oil for Brass Instruments

Low maintenance is just one of the great aspects of playing a brass instrument! Apply oil when your valves are sticky, grease if the slides are moving slowly, give it a bath every couple of months, and you’re good to go. However, there are a few things you need to be aware of when selecting an oil for your valves.

Only use valve oil intended for brass instruments.

Using the right valve oil is important for maintaining our uncomplicated routine. Don’t get sucked into thinking bike oil, WD40, or cooking oil will do the job. These alternatives are either not food safe (remember, you will be breathing them in!), and cooking oil can become rancid.

Most music shops will stock a range of valve oil at a number of price points. One bottle will probably last you years, so it is worth buying a quality product.

Petroleum-based valve oils

Petroleum based vs Synthetic

The cheaper valve oil options tend to be petroleum-based. This doesn’t mean it is poor quality, but it tends to evaporate faster than synthetic oil, is more strongly scented and can leave a residue behind on your valves. 

Synthetic oil comes at a higher price point. But it does tend to last longer, doesn’t have much of a smell, and doesn’t leave much residue behind. 

You will find professional players who swear by both of these options, so it can really be a matter of seeing which oil works better for your instrument.

Synthetic valve oils

Types of synthetic oils

If you do use synthetic oils, there are varying levels of thickness available. Generally, thinner oils work well on brand new instruments, as the valve clearance is tight. Thick oils are good for vintage instruments with a large valve clearance. If your instrument doesn’t fit into either of these categories, try using regular oil.

Switching between petroleum and synthetic oils

If you are switching between using petroleum and synthetic oil, make sure you clean the old oil off your pistons and inside the casings. When these two oils combine, they can slow the valve action. Don’t panic if this happens, though! Just give everything a good clean before reapplying.

Well, that's it! Keep these tips in mind when purchasing your next bottle of valve oil and enjoy your low maintenance instrument.