Live from China: Coverage of the Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition

Opinions on cleaning violins?

February 1, 2008 at 07:18 PM · I recently got a free gift with an order from a music store of a cleaner/polishing set. As always (me being paranoid) I'm wary about putting chemicals or anything that smells strange on my violin, though it really does need a cleaning. Anyone know about proper instrument cleaning?

this is what i have:

http://www.sharmusic.com/itemdy00.asp?T1=1136&Cat=

Replies (51)

February 1, 2008 at 07:20 PM · Easiest answer is take it to your local shop. Talk to your luthier and ask him/her to show you proper maintenance that you can perform.

I've never needed anything more than a soft clean cloth, that I wipe down my violin with before I put it into the case.

for me, outside of what I just described, I'd take it to the luthier. I can change strings, chinrests, etc., but cleaning and inspection, that's what they get paid to do.

February 1, 2008 at 08:58 PM · The violin maker Akord Kvint recommends the following:

"The best way to keep your instrument clean is to wipe it over with a soft duster each time you have finished playing, before it goes back in the case. This prevents any build up of sticky rosin and dirt which cause varnish and string damages. We reccomend outstanding polish by Hammerl GmbH and Co. KG, D-91081 Baierdorf (JOHA®Glanz und Pflegepolish). Polishing of violins, violas and cellos is very simple and its result has an aesthetic magic.

"It is neccessary to carefully shake the polish before the use. Then apply it using a soft piece of cloth in an amount approximately of a larger coin, with a light pressure on the whole of the varnished surface of the violin. After that, with a slightly stronger pressure, polish it dry. If the varnish is given such care and fingerprints and other dirt as i. e. dust are removed, the instrument regains an attractive look of a brand new violin.

"If an instrument does become soiled with sticky rosin and dirt, it must be cleaned very carefully by a specialist."

I would say that you should rarely-to-never put any cleaning agent on a violin and then only a carefully chosen product.

February 1, 2008 at 09:08 PM · I've used cleaners on student instruments, but if I think my own need cleaning, I have the luthier do it. Sue

February 1, 2008 at 09:12 PM · The best cleaner/polishing is that one the violinist never uses. Use just a soft rag.

February 1, 2008 at 09:47 PM · Polishes only attract more dirt and builds up on the instrument...

February 1, 2008 at 10:13 PM · Rubbing alcohol or vodka.

February 1, 2008 at 10:44 PM · I think alcohol or vodka should not be used in a violin, they may ruin the varnish.

February 1, 2008 at 11:04 PM · In high school I used to use this stuff called "Skin So Soft" by Avon. Since I got my really nice violin I leave it up to the experts and instead I use my Avon product as a furniture cleaner around the house.

Also, before I take my violin in for a soundpost adjustment I pour about half a cup of uncooked rice into the violin through the f-hole, shake it around, and pour it out. It gets rid of the dust particles accumulating on the inside crevices. You'll be surprised how dirty it gets in there!

I use alcohol to clean the strings if there's rosin build up but very careful not to get any on the fingerboard or body!

Everything else besides wiping it down with a soft clean cloth should be left to the pros.

February 1, 2008 at 11:17 PM · Marina - you can clean the strings with the cork from a wine bottle.

February 1, 2008 at 11:49 PM · This is really weird, but broken up walnuts (using the white inner part) without shell or skin rubbed anywhere on the violin serve these functions when immediately rubbed off with a cloth:

1. Darkens nicked spots making them nearly invisible

2. Cleans and shines the wood with natural wood oils without harming the varnish! (I swear!)

3. Doesn't attract dirt or dust

February 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM · Tasha,

that would be natural walnut oil. I wouldn't do it myself, for two reasons:

1: Walnut oil hardens. Over a long time, you'd actually be building-up a thicker finish, which could theoretically (over a LONG time) change the violin's tone.

2: Walnut oil penetrates. If you have nicks that go to the raw wood (past the ground) then the oil will soak deeper into the wood. This is absolutely a bad thing. The whole reason luthiers use a ground (besides aesthetics) is to protect the inner wood from oils and contaminants.

Granted, it would require a large number of nicks for this to become significant, but why start down that road at all?

February 2, 2008 at 12:41 AM · What does the cork do? Will any cork work or does it have to be wine stained?

February 2, 2008 at 01:19 AM · Allan,

Thanks for letting me know! My high school teacher introduced me to it and it seemed to work really well, but all that is VERY good to know for future reference.

February 2, 2008 at 01:47 AM · Spit, gently rubbed with your finger, followed by a soft cotton cloth

AP

February 2, 2008 at 02:22 PM · Do you spit right on the instrument first Annabel?

February 2, 2008 at 03:09 PM · Sandpaper works very nicely - even fo adhesive dirt such as 0.5 cm thick rosin layers.

February 2, 2008 at 03:53 PM · No, no sandpaper please!!! The most coveted violin in the world, Paganini's Cannone made by Del Ges├╣, has a dark coat of rosin in the bridge area, and there is a consensus that it may not be "cleaned" anyway.

The best thing to use is a soft rag.

Many "cleaning" accidents occur with alcohol (while cleaning the strings or the fingerboard with alcohol)polishes and other products.

Varnish in fine instruments in general is fragile and will react differently to different products, so only a professional may do this kind of job.

February 2, 2008 at 05:09 PM · sandblaster? or just use a pencil and inscribe some ivy vines etc, to add much appreciated character and value to the violin. Make sure to sign name on back of the violin as well. Good luck

February 2, 2008 at 05:19 PM · I don't mean this in the unkind way that it sounds, but this thread is a real "fools step in where wise men fear to tread" thread. Just about the scariest thing that happens in a restoration shop is cleaning, and no one in a restoration shop just dives in with their standard cleaner/polish without doing a lot of careful testing first to make sure something horrible isn't going to happen. Varnishes vary wildly, and you never know what the solvent may be--sometimes it's even just water, though water is usually the safest, and spit isn't a bad idea, either, where water is OK--supposedly the enzymes in saliva have a bit extra cleaning power, but not a damaging amount. . . with most varnishes, but not all. I have used common cleaners to casually brighten up a cheap violin quickly and watched the varnish soften immediately (oil in normal polishes is a solvent for some varnishes, are are the various other things you can smell in commercial polishes). ANYTHING with any oils (a lot of commercial polishes) or silicone (most furniture polishes) is a absolute no-no, too. Alcohol and sandpaper? I assume those are just bad jokes.

That said, not a whole lot is left, except a soft cloth. I know one del Gesu owner who's had the same instrument for about 40 years, and I don't believe he's ever had it cleaned, but it's spotless. All he does is wipe off the whole thing with a fresh silk handkerchief every single time he puts his violin in its case, and that's what you should do, too.

February 2, 2008 at 10:32 PM · I'm often surprised tha legitimate shops will toss in a free bottle of some sort of cleaner/polish with student violins. First thing to do is toss it in the trash. Last thing you need is a layer of goop on top of your fiddle, unless it's a layer of goop seeping into a crack to render it impervious to the effects of glue.

Personally, I'm a proponent of the spit-to-polish school, but only on the layers of antique crud found on old attic fiddles.

February 3, 2008 at 12:15 AM · I found that violin polish worked well on a cheap artificial banana. Use it on a high-value, collector fake banana at your own risk.

Have yet to try it on other fruits. Maybe Jim will comment?

February 3, 2008 at 12:39 AM · Good luck getting a banana polished, period.

February 3, 2008 at 01:30 AM · Keeping a violin clean really is quite easy:

use a 100% cotton cloth

clean everyday [wipe down]

remove excess rosin from strings

remove nasal expulsations with water or spit

every 6 months use lemon pledge to enliven finish

just be clean....

February 3, 2008 at 02:06 AM · From Jim W. Miller;

"Good luck getting a banana polished, period."

------------

Yeah, there were more opportunities when I was younger. Who knows, I may have to pay someday. ;)

February 3, 2008 at 02:52 AM · I touch up mine on a polishing wheel!

(Note for young'uns: the above is a JOKE, like approximately half of the other suggestions. Please be sure you know which half, before you proceed. Thank you.)

February 3, 2008 at 03:04 AM · I'll vouch for professional polishing. Get a good professional shine and you'll see what I mean.

February 3, 2008 at 03:39 AM · How long does a professional polishing last?

Maybe I should just get it chromed.

February 3, 2008 at 06:07 AM · If your violin is really grimy, then get it professionally cleaned. If it's a little gritty, using a soft, lightly damp cloth is the best way to go. The varnish should protect the wood from such a small amount of water.

NEVER use rubbing alcohol on the body of the violin - not only will it destroy many varnishes, but most rubbing alcohol is 70% isopropyl and contains mineral oil, which will soak into the wood and may damage it. Scary. For cleaning your strings, only use 99% isopropyl - available at a good pharmacy - and hold the violin upside down so in case it drips, it only ruins the finish on your floor.

February 3, 2008 at 11:23 AM · Another point is that some rosins seem to produce a lot less "gunk" than others so it might be worth switching to make your life easier.

My own question is related to the chinrest. Obviously being a make-up wearing female, my chinrest gets a bit grubby after a while. It's a rosewood one so would a very slightly damp cloth be OK for cleaning? Rest of violin never sees anything other than a dry cotton duster.

February 3, 2008 at 02:13 PM · Has anybody tried the Hidersol cleaner? I just bought some but I find it way too gooey, I prefer the oil-like Viol that I've used until now.

I tried some of the Hidersol on the top of my violin, nothing bad happened but I'm not convinced anything great happened either!

Anybody?

February 3, 2008 at 02:57 PM · Re-reading my posts from yesterday, I see that I was a little obscure! :)

In mentioning other uses, I was trying to suggest that polishes and cleaners not be used on violin varnish, as Manfio and Darnton already had with much more greater clarity.

February 3, 2008 at 03:30 PM · I polished off a few bananas just for you, David.

February 3, 2008 at 05:37 PM · Thanks Bob.

That's a little more polish that won't find its way onto a fiddle. ;)

February 3, 2008 at 10:02 PM · Rosalind, in contrast to my statement above now without kidding: As for strings and fingerboard you can take 70% ethanol (in water) for your rosewood chinrest. It is rather cheap (pharmacy), has a nice cleaning and disinfecting effect, is not persistently smelling and won't damage these parts. The ethanol concentration should not be higher for an optimal disinfectant effect. Be sure to put not to much on a soft cloth (I use a fine microfibre cloth) and take care not to touch the varnish of the violin.

February 3, 2008 at 10:14 PM · I like to use a pledge grab it, it picks up the rosin dust, and they dont have any strange chemicals on them...the best part is you dont get that horrible squelching sound when you rub the strings.

April 14, 2009 at 10:12 AM ·

BIzarre though this sounds, a suggestion made to me by a trusted expert is to use toothpaste on a damp cloth.  I tried this, and all be darned, it worked, and very well so.  

Apply and wipe clean immediately.  100% safe and effective.

Maybe we should start a thread for violin trivia? 

 

April 14, 2009 at 11:27 AM ·

 Yes Ron it does sound bizarre...I'll pass

Abrasives: Abrasives give toothpaste its cleaning power. They remove stains and plaque, as well as polish teeth. Common abrasives include calcium phosphates, alumina, calcium carbonate, and silica. Toothpaste should be abrasive enough to remove plaque and stains. Unfortunately, some toothpastes are too abrasive, and do damage tooth enamel.  Consumers should look for these less abrasive toothpastes.

Detergents: Detergents create the foaming action we associate with toothpastes. Foam keeps the toothpaste in our mouths, preventing it from dribbling out as we brush. SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) is the detergent most commonly used. Unfortunately, SLS and other detergents have been linked to the promotion of canker sores (mouth ulcers) in susceptible individuals. The presence of bad-tasting detergents requires the use of strong flavorings to mask the bad taste.

 

April 14, 2009 at 10:44 PM ·

I agree with the preventative medicine approach that many have recommended. I wipe my violins clean after each use - even if I'm taking just a 15 minute break. When I'm done for the day, I also wipe off the strings with a different cloth, going in one direction.

That said, even with such care, rosin, dust, and dirt will gather incrementally, and overall, the finish can dull. I've tried different things over the years. With what I now know, and with some caveats that others have made here, I was lucky most of the time. I now use a polish-cleaner developed by the maker of two of my violins, Edward Maday. It's easy to use and very effective. Most important, I believe him when he says it's safe. The same man who makes his own varnish from scratch, makes this polish for his own (and other) violins, whose health he very much cares about. I know a few of the ingredients, but I don't think I'm supposed to tell!  He says I can use it whenever I want - and I will make touch-ups as necessary, especially between the bridge and fingerboard. But with my daily hygiene routine, I find that a thorough polishing 4 times a year - once per season - is enough, and gives me a sense of renewal.

Ed gives this polish to his clients. I don't know if he sells it as such. But you can look up his website and ask. Tell him Groucho sentcha! (Just don't tell him Raphael did! Just kidding!)

10/18/15 Was reminded of this thread by a reference from  a post on the current thread that just got archived re fingerboard oil. I still stand by what I said above but I'm down to only twice a year - a spring and fall cleaning. And I often skip the back as it just can go for years w.o. needing anything. I use it a little more often on bows.

 

April 14, 2009 at 01:17 PM ·

Agree with Sam, toothpaste is a terrible idea

April 14, 2009 at 02:09 PM ·

I wipe my instrument down after each practice session with a cloth - strings, fingerboards, surface.  Rosin still accumulates on the surface between the end of the fingerboard and the bridge.  I don't think I'm over-rosining.  What gives?

April 14, 2009 at 03:00 PM ·

SAM- I love your animations!

April 14, 2009 at 08:22 PM ·

I just wipe it with a dry cloth after each practice and bring it regularly to my maker for soundpost adjustments and she can do a big cleaning if needed.  If it is really durty, bring it to your maker.  We lately had a discussion from a professional violinist who make a few spots on his 30 K violin using alchohol... He had done this for several years without problem and one day, he missed his shoot...  Very sad story although his instrument is far from scrap.  Be careful!

Good luck! Please, tell me the tooth paste is a joke ??? You don't really put this on your violin???

Anne-Marie

April 14, 2009 at 09:16 PM ·

i've heard that the toothpaste thing only works when you rub it real good with sand paper.  also, steel wool works.

-ross christopher
www.rosschristopher.com
www.myspace.com/rosschristopher

April 14, 2009 at 09:29 PM ·

 

 
Save Our Strings
 

 

April 14, 2009 at 10:41 PM ·

Cute one, Sam!

BTW, I used to use alchohol for the fb, and fortunately never had an accident. But now I use Petz Rosin Remover. It's meant to be used on the body of the violin, so if a drop goes astray, no biggie. However, while it shines very well, I don't recommend it for the body of the instrument. It's too strong. In fact,the few times a year that I use it, I try to have a window open.

I stand by the approach I indicated in my earlier post above. But if your instrument is pretty far gone, then do take it to a violin maker to be cleaned. And then take better care of it!

April 15, 2009 at 12:19 AM ·

I prefer windex

can't recommend it to everyone though.

 

April 15, 2009 at 04:29 AM ·

I use the rosin remover mentioned above on the neck, but on the body, I take a lint-free cotton cloth, and put on a little orange oil. Not enough to get the cloth really oiled, but a dab on one corner, then rub it on itself until it appears gone.

This way, not much oil transfers to the body, but it does tend to attract finger oils and such better with the little bit of oil on the cloth.

 

April 15, 2009 at 10:56 AM ·

Well, it seems that varnish restorers will continue to have lots of work!

www.manfio.com

April 15, 2009 at 11:40 AM ·

How about javex.  Wouldn't be cool to have a white violin lol Ennough childish things for now...

Anne-Marie

April 16, 2009 at 02:00 AM ·