prevent brass instrument tarnish

Prevent Brass Instrument Tarnish With Zerust Anti-Tarnish Capsules

There is something about brass that produces a great, rich timbre – perfect for musical instruments. Brass is a non-ferrous metal, meaning it contains no iron and therefore cannot rust. However, it is comprised of zinc and copper, which can tarnish and corrode over time when exposed to oxygen and moisture. A good brass instrument can last 100 years or more – but only if it’s properly cared for. The best way to prevent brass instrument tarnish is to keep the instrument clean and use Zerust VCI anti-tarnish capsules. (VCI stands for vapor corrosion inhibitor.)

Tarnish will cause brass instruments to appear duller, and could even result in degradation of certain components that could diminish the robustness of sound. The resale value of a tarnished musical instrument is often greatly reduced. Damage to the finish can be accelerated with exposure to the oil and dirt on hands and faces. That’s why many musicians are so fastidious about washing their hands before handling.

Although Zerust has historically served more mechanics than musicians, we have had several instrumentalists write to us in recent years to tell us how our anti-tarnish vapor capsules have helped them to protect their prized instruments from tarnish, rust and corrosion.

Proper Storage of Brass Instruments

Music shops and maestros will advise regular cleaning as the key to maintaining a brass instrument’s shiny, golden surface and assuring it stays in good working order. A thorough cleaning once-a-month, if not after every use, can help slow or prevent brass instrument tarnish. However, cleaning alone won’t stop tarnish entirely if the instrument is exposed to oxygen and humidity. Prepping your tuba, horn or saxophone before it goes into storage is important, but it needs to be stored properly. (And yes, we know saxophones are technically a woodwind instrument, but most are actually made of brass.)

As noted in the book Brass Instruments: Purchasing, Maintenance, Troubleshooting and More by Sally Wagner and David Fedderly, proper storage of brass instruments involves:

  • Storing in a case specifically designed for that instrument.
  • Avoiding extreme temperatures (including leaving your instrument in the car overnight).
  • Cleaning the instrument and allowing it to fully dry before re-assembling for storage. Some musicians choose to grease the slides and oil the valves before putting the instrument in the case, while others keep their instrument lubricant-free.
  • Make sure there are no rubber or elastic bands or latex inside the storage case, as these contain sulfur that will quickly tarnish brass instruments.

Why Zerust Anti-Tarnish Capsules Advised for Brass Instrument Storage

As noted in The Manual of Musical Instrument Conservation by Steward Pollens, some storage, display and carrying carrying cases (namely, those made of wood, plywood, particleboard, masonite, cardboard, fabrics, paints and adhesives) can contain corrosive fumes with the potential to tarnish instruments made of brass, as well as nickel silver and silver. Airtight bag storage generally isn’t advised either because condensation can form inside the bag if the climate control fails, increasing the potential for tarnishing.

Zerust anti-tarnish capsules can help assure your instrument will be tarnish-free when you retrieve it from storage. The capsules are inexpensive, non-toxic, easy-to-use and offer up to one year of protection if placed in an enclosed storage case or space. They have an adhesive backing so they can be easily affixed to the inside of cases, containers, drawers, safes and cabinets, and can prevent brass instrument rust within a two-foot radius of an enclosed area. A larger instrument may require more than one.

It’s important to take this extra step to prevent brass instrument tarnish especially with yellow brass and gold brass instruments. These contain more zinc than copper, unlike rose brass, which is about 90 percent copper, 10 percent zinc. Zinc is known to corrode and tarnish much faster, but is important to the sound quality of the instrument. That’s why yellow brass instruments are known for having a bright tonality, whereas gold brass instruments produce broader/deeper sounds and the resonance of rose brass instruments are softer.

In addition to brass, VCI anti-tarnish capsules can be used to protect instruments or instrument components made of other non-ferrous metals, such as silver, bronze, nickle silver and chrome.

Contact Zerust for information on anti-tarnish capsules and other vapor corrosion inhibitor products for musical instruments by emailing us or calling (330) 405-1965.

Additional Resources:

The Manual of Musical Instrument Conservation, July 9, 2015, By Steward Pollens, Cambridge University Press

More Blogs:

Prevent Steel Corrosion of Valuable Metal Parts With VCI Poly Bags, Jan. 29, 2019, Zerust Anti-Tarnish Blog