Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How to...clean up heavily tarnished silver

above: Conn 24J Tuba body, covered in tarnish

Sometimes we come across Tubas or Sousaphones that have been left in a closet or attic for many years and developed a heavy coat of tarnish. Above is a Conn 24J that I am currently working on. It is best to have the Tuba perfectly clean and free of tarnish before attempting any work. There are a few different ways to remove tarnish. Here is one way that I do it. It is a little messy and smelly, but it works pretty well and leaves you with a pretty horn. Here is what you will need:

  • Tarn-X (available at most grocery stores in the cleaning aisle)
  • Baking Soda
  • A soft brush, like a toothbrush only bigger. NO METAL!
  • Rubber or vinyl gloves
  • 1 kitchen sponge
  • 1 bowl for the Tarn-X
The first step is to find a safe area to do this in. You do not want to further scratch the horn or damage it. The rubber gloves should provide some traction, but wet metal is slippery so be careful. Do this outside or an area that is well ventilated. The Tarn-X works great but is SMELLY. Make sure to wear gloves so your hands don't smell like the Tarn-X after you are done. 

above: Before pictures of 24J valve section.

Pour enough Tarn-X into the bowl to soak the sponge. Ring out the excess in the bowl. Scrub the horn with the Tarn-X. You should immediately notice the tarnish beginning to go away, but the finish will not yet be great. Repeat soaking the sponge and scrubbing away the tarnish until no more black remains. 

Next, rinse the horn and make sure the surface is wet. Then, mix some baking soda with water in your bowl to make a baking soda paste. Scrub the surface of your horn with the baking soda paste until you have a clean, silver finish. 

After this step, make sure to thoroughly rinse the horn of all baking soda, inside and out. None can be left on or inside the horn. This is VERY important.

If done correctly, your horn should look like this:

Using this process, you use no polish and put no risk to the silver plating and in my opinion you also make it look pretty darn good.


  1. That looks great! But what if I wanted to make my tarnished Gold sousaphone, silver like this tuba pictured here?

  2. I have to do this to an old Conn sousaphone tomorrow. Looks like I've got my work cut out for me!