Coconut Oil for Trombone Slide?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by S.Octet, Jul 26, 2016.

  1. S.Octet

    S.Octet New Member


    Has anybody ever used coconut oil for their trombone slide? I know that vegetable/cooking oil is said to be bad to use, since it attracts bacteria; however coconut oil is supposed to be antibacterial and antifungal.

    What are your thoughts?

  2. Ianroberts

    Ianroberts Well-Known Member

    Surely just buy the normal stuff ! I've heard vaseline is highly recommended by the professionals though.

  3. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    Coconut oil goes solid at about room temperature so not a great idea especially at Christmas. Also it is a biological oil so it will eventually go bad. The proper stuff isn't that expensive.

    Yes Ian, vaseline is excellent, I add a bit of sand and the slide really starts to zip!

    Please do not try it though unless you are very good at detecting sarcasm.
  4. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    S Octet - a few thoughts, in no particular order.

    Viscosity (basically how easily it flows) is a pretty simple thing to check. Whatever oil you use must be thick enough to keep the two metal surfaces apart, whether sliding or stationary, but thin enough to keep friction to a minimum - such as when you're playing quavers with large intervals! That is, after all, how lubricants do their job.

    It must also be able to maintain near enough the same characteristics whether you're playing in blazing sunshine in mid-July (well, it has been known in England), or at an outside Christmas Carol concert in late December, in King Wenceslas weather!

    A good lubricant also 'wets' the metal surfaces easily, rather than settling into separate blobs, and film strength is just as important; this is the property of being able to keep a continuous film between the metal surfaces with no gaps, even under severe pressure and extreme temperatures. One of the best of the lot in that respect is castor oil - that's where the Castrol brand name originated - which is why it was used for many years in racing engines, even after first rate mineral oils were developed. I don't think any lubricating oils could quite match castor oil in that respect until the synthetics were developed.

    (castor oil has severe drawbacks, though; cost, for one; total incompatibility with any mineral oil is another - even a small amount of mineral oil will turn castor-based oil into tar; and rapid aging and breakdown though bacterial attack is a third - though these problems could be tolerated in specialist racing engines, where race performance and reliability under severe stress were paramount)

    The only way you can check if the viscosity is right is to try it and see - but check how well it does in long term use. Bear in mind that, when you play, a lot of moisture is going into the instrument, and will inevitably mix with the slide oil. Mineral slide oils are made to be compatible with lots of water mixed in with them, so they can still do their job; how coconut oil will perform in those conditions is something you can only find out by trying it.

    Another point is that coconut oil, like all animal and vegetable oils, will bio-degrade; what many people fail to consider is what does it bio-degrade into? Clearly, it doesn't just vanish into nothingness! So 'bio-degradation' means breaking down into another substance, which may or may not be kind to your trombone. It might dry up into an organic powder, or go gummy and thick - either of which will make your slide stiffer in action. Cleaning the residue off might be easy, awkward, or really difficult; only a trial will show.

    I've done a bit of a trawl around the internet about the properties of coconut oil, and one of the reasons it works well on your skin and is also resistant to being colonised by bacteria and fungi is that it contains a number of acids. These are fine on your skin, which is slightly acid itself. But what effect these acids will have on the metals used in the trombone, I haven't been able to find out.

    Thinking about the whole business of changing from a product which definitely works, to a product which might or might not work, but which also has the potential to do significant damage to something as expensive as a trombone (and even student models are not that cheap), I'd be inclined to stick what is known to work. Even if coconut oil was claimed to have some definite advantages over mineral slide oil, I'd still sooner that somebody else tried it on his or her trombone for a few years first!

    But that's my two-pennorth - and I've never even tried a trombone, so can claim no expertise on that score!


    Jack E.
    Matthew likes this.
  5. DocFox

    DocFox Retired

    10 years ago when I own a boutique shop and sold top of the line cornets, trumpets, and bones with mouthpieces. At one time I had every size of Wick Mouthpieces made. I also carried a lot of Schilke and Curry mouthpieces. The I had a whole range of "interesting" mouthpieces. You would be appalled at the condition the new instruments came in. Every instrument I carefully unwrapped, used WD-40 and a valve brush or a slide brush. I then would oil each valve and reassembled the horn. New slide grease was applied and a horn that is shipped always picks up dirt so I would take the time to clean to instrument until it SHINED. I would literally put at least two hours into every instrument before I put it on display.

    The best "bio-degradable" lube for trombone is WD-40. WD-40 was developed to be poured by the gallon over US ICBMs so that they would not corrode. It is primarily made out of fish oil. You can literally drink it. To make coconut oil work, it would have to be mixed with liquid Teflon and I still think it would glob up.

  6. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Doc - just out of curiosity, I looked up the Material Safety Data Sheet on WD-40 (link below), published by the manufacturers, and that paints a very different picture of its composition and bio-hazards. I also looked up the Material Safety Data Sheet for '3 in 1 Oil', which is made by the same company - and found that the main ingredients of both are long chain hydrocarbons, which are typically produced from mineral oil, rather than having an organic origin. In fact, the MSDS for WD-40 states that non-hazardous ingredients form less than 10% of the total. Comparing the ingredients for the two products, to a large extent it looks like they share many of the constituents, just in differing proportions. And you'll note that there is no direct mention of fish oil. It could be wholly or partly included in the 'less than 10% non-hazardous ingredients', but it's the other 90% which concerns me.

    As for "you can literally drink it" - the makers disagree. I quote from their MSDS:


    You may be perfectly correct in saying that WD-40 is an excellent protective treatment for brass instruments, and I see no reason to doubt it; but if anyone used and handled WD-40 on the assumption that it was as non-toxic as you say, they could do themselves serious harm.


    Jack E.
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2016
  7. DocFox

    DocFox Retired


    That is probably true. Still, IMO, it is the best for cleaning. I think when they started marketing WD-40 instead of selling it to NATO, they used cheaper and easier to obtain and mix compounds. I read an article by one of the inventors that said he would gladly spray it in his mouth. Questions, questions. Of course, the concentration makes a big difference too, and US laws make everyone post any possible problem on the label. Pure fish oil might have the same warnings, who knows?
  8. Jack E

    Jack E Well-Known Member

    Oh, the way so many company directors get a brilliant product, and then take the approach of "How can we produce something sort of like this at a fraction of the cost?" - I've seen it more times than I care to think about, and I've also seen one of my previous employers bankrupt his company by doing so! You simply cannot build a Rolls Royce product on a Ford Popular budget!

    Re. your point about US regulations; that MSDS applies to Britain, not the US. A company I worked for in England, which produced synthetic lubricants for the food industry, produced exactly the same kind of Material Safety Data Sheets for all their products, even though - as a matter of company policy - they refused to export any of their products to the States.

    With best regards,

  9. Slider1

    Slider1 Active Member

    I was under the impression WD stood for WATER DISPERSANT to stop their ICBMs from freezing up on their cradles etc. and 40 was the 40th Formula that actually worked. Therefore to alter the formula to do something else
    would make that WD 41 etc. surely.
    I like the Smell though
  10. Ianroberts

    Ianroberts Well-Known Member

    Also its fantastic for cleaning windows with.

  11. DocFox

    DocFox Retired

    That is generally true. They needed something they could buy by the ton to pour over the ICBMs (in US and are Allies) to prevent corrosion (make it water-resistant).