Stains on violin after getting caught in rain

February 4, 2018, 6:14 PM · A few months ago, I was playing fiddle outside for a neighborhood event. There was a little chance of rain, so I brought my "knockaround" fiddle. Sure enough, it started raining, and I got my fiddle in the case and in the car as quick as I could.

However I couldn't avoid getting some rain on it, and upon getting home, I noticed a number of white stains where the rain had hit it.

Now, I bought this instrument really cheaply from an amateur luthier friend from church for 125; he'd apparently found it in a barn, chewed up by rats, and fixed it up (you can see the wood he put on by the F holes).

Since he wasn't a professional, my first fear is that he used some kind of water-soluble varnish, and the rain has perhaps caused it to deteriorate. But I also noticed that most of the stains are near the fingerboard and bridge, so perhaps it was some rosin that had gotten wet. If this is the case, perhaps it can be cleaned?

Sadly, the luthier died of cancer a few years after I bought it off him, so between that and a surprisingly nice, warm sound, I've got rather a soft spot for the thing. So I'd like to get it cleaned up again if possible, but I'm afraid to try anything for fear of making it worse.

Any thoughts on this? Seen anything like this before?


https://imgur.com/a/Xrf9l

Replies (27)

February 4, 2018, 7:23 PM · I'd first try gently rubbing the spots with a soft dry cotton cloth, like a cloth diaper or something like that. If that doesn't work, you could try a violin polishing cloth (Shar sells them) or some violin polish.

Normally I would suggest going to a luthier but I don't think you have anough $$ tied up in this to warrant that, at least not before trying a couple of gentle home remedies first.

February 5, 2018, 12:40 AM · What Mary Ellen said, though if you have them around try a microfiber towel also. It looks like just rosin dust - what's it with fiddlers and not cleaning the dust? ;)
You could take it to a luthier and I think most wouldn't charge much, or at all, for a quick wipe there. Mine never did.
Good luck! Keep us posted!
February 5, 2018, 6:00 AM · Dedicated polishes for violins often contin only powered pumice and water.
If there is a aroma of solvents, be wary, and try it on a hidden part first.

Rain isn't what it used to be before the Industrial Revolution!

Edited: February 5, 2018, 5:26 PM · One way to remove water stains (like glass ring on fine furniture) is to put mayonnaise on the affected area, wait a few hours and wipe off with a soft cloth. I don't know if there are any reasons why this would be contraindicated on a violin varnish, but it works. The idea is to absorb the moisture that causes the whitening of the varnish rather than wearing it off by polishing.
February 5, 2018, 9:12 AM · Ketchup and mustard will make an otherwise unpalatable violin tasty.
Edited: February 5, 2018, 9:28 AM · That is Lyndon if you like hot dogs! The more sophisticated go for the mayo! Kidding aside, penny's worth of mayo have saved me hundreds of dollars that it would have cost for "professional" refinishing. I've removed a 15+ year old water stain off my fine antique furniture that way.
February 5, 2018, 9:45 AM · Violin varnish is not the same thing as furniture varnish. Please save the mayonnaise for food or furniture!
Edited: February 5, 2018, 10:18 AM · If you threaten your violin by brandishing a jar of mayonnaise or a greasy sausage, it's a decent way of getting revenge for all the times the violin has been uncooperative. :-)
Edited: February 5, 2018, 10:47 AM · Rosin remover from Petz? Try it first on fingerboard the and then with a very small amount and very limited area. Wait at 24-48 hours to see there is any damage on varnish. Where do you live? Looks like it rains more than water over there....
February 5, 2018, 1:37 PM · Just pretend the stain is intentional antiquing.
February 5, 2018, 3:15 PM · I gave a cotton cloth a try, but it didn't really help; seems like the stuff (rosin, maybe) hardened for some reason after the rain; maybe I should have done more right after getting it inside. I'll try a microfiber as well.

And I generally do keep my instruments clean of rosin; keep a cloth diaper in my case just for that reason. Guess there was just enough there after playing for a while to cause it to stain.

February 5, 2018, 4:07 PM · In Germany they use mayo. In the US it's ketchup.... wait, are we talking violins or fries?
Edited: February 5, 2018, 5:23 PM · White water marks are caused by moisture penetrating the protective finish. Residue stains if that is what it is, should be easy to remove with gentle cleaning and polishing. On the other hand, with water marks, the moisture must be drawn out of the finish somehow. Polishing won’t do. Various products can be used to such effect: Petroleum Jelly or Paste Wax are two examples of agents used in restauration for water mark removal. Mayonnaise (not American Miracle Wip, which isn’t mayonnaise!), as dumb an idea as it may sound has the same effect and is very mild lacking harsh chemicals that may interact with the varnish, oil-based or spirit-based (anecdotally apparently Minwax tested mayo for watermark removal, and was surprised on how effective it was). Mayo is simply vegetable oil, egg, mustard and a drop of vinegar. Probably no worse than your own body oils, but I am no expert on varnish chemistry and probably few luthiers are either, and I can only guess. A restoration expert would likely know better. Personally, I’d use mayo over Pertroleum Jelly or any types of wax for that matter, which may have the opposite effect and trap the water. Just saying that if this is a white water mark, some agent/process must be used to extract the humidity that is trapped in the varnish, without affecting the varnish itself. There is nothing magical about violin varnish. Varnish is varnish. Avoid using any organic solvents (alcohol, spirit etc.). You can’t remove water with water either! Sometime hot air is all it takes (hair dryer), but I’d hesitate to cook my violin! The only other alternative is to remove the varnish altogether and re-varnish, which is the least desirable option, but one that I suspect is done more often than we may think by luthiers.

First thing, the OP needs to identify if the marks are on top of, or within the varnish itself. It could be dissolved rosin, or it could be dried chemicals found in the rain water itself (like water droplet marks on a windshield), it could be damaged varnish and it could be water (trapped humidity) marks. All with different solutions. Then armed with that information, I’d ask on Meastronet for advice. For instance, dry rain droplets as we probably all know aren’t that easy to remove on a car windshield, and removal requires a mildly acidic chemical like white vinegar. I don’t know if vinegar will damage the varnish; it isn’t an organic solvent, but for what it’s worth, there’s a small quantity in the mayo ;-)

February 5, 2018, 6:54 PM · Considering the amount of rosin caked in those strings and the spatter of the stains I would think that the droplets hit the strings and sprayed rosined water. To clean it, patience and little more. Heat a room, put a good movie in the TV with the violin on the lap and with a cloth like those to clean the sunglasses, give the instrument its deserved TLC.
February 6, 2018, 3:50 AM · For the most part, "white water rings" or white water spots in a coating form when water penetrates and expands the coating. When the water evaporates, this leaves multiple tiny air pockets in the coating. Since the entrained air does't have the same refractive index as the surrounding coating, it appears white, just like ground glass (which is actually clear).

Applying something oily can fill these voids, rendering the area transparent again. I'm not recommending this on a violin, just explaining the mechanism by which applying an oily substance (including mayonnaise, which is about 50% oil) can work.

February 6, 2018, 10:15 AM · Very interesting David. How does this works when a hair dryer is used to remove a water mark? Is this softening of the varnish that does it vs water evaporation?
February 6, 2018, 10:27 AM · Good luck gluing an open crack or seam that's been coated in mayonnaise
February 6, 2018, 10:40 AM · This goes without saying Lyndon that no oily substance should be used anywhere near a crack or seem. The OP's water marks are near the finger board. Oil-based varnish is also oily, and so are many violin polish sold on the market. How would you clean such varnish water marks?
Edited: February 6, 2018, 12:18 PM · Roger, heat probably works by softening and reamalgamating the varnish, similar to what can sometimes be done with solvents. Very risky though, because the heat can cause the varnish to bubble or blister. I wouldn't recommend it on any wooden object, unless one has a great deal of experience, and knows the properties of the particular coating quite well. When wood is heated, the entrained air and moisture will expand, and that outgassing can easily produce blisters in the coating.
Edited: February 6, 2018, 3:40 PM · Lyndon, mayonnaise comes off just fine with peanut butter. Don't you know anything?
February 6, 2018, 5:09 PM · You can also lick it... the saliva’s enzymes are effective cleaners :-)
February 6, 2018, 5:39 PM · A brazil nut? White of egg? Distilled water (in case it's a water soluble deposit)? Bicarbonate or Milk of magnesia (in case it's acid in the rain)? Tincture of Iodine (in case it's reduction by sulphur dioxide)?
February 6, 2018, 7:40 PM · Don't forget Coke, that cleans everything!
Edited: February 6, 2018, 10:43 PM · There's always baby wipes..

(Sarcasm)

February 7, 2018, 10:08 AM · I've seen toothpaste suggested on maestronet.com, but that is a mild abrasive, which will wear down the varnish.
February 7, 2018, 1:06 PM · While I realize that violin and furniture furnishes may be different, I'll thrown in some success yesterday with a water stain on a piano from about 1900. The product is a pre-treated cloth by Homax called a "white ring remover" which I found at Ace. It may be worth trying on a small corner. Pianos almost universally suffer from water rings, usually from planters or drinks. Sometimes this product works...and sometimes it doesn't.
February 7, 2018, 3:53 PM · Reading the reviews, and the numerous references to "elbow grease" being required, I'll guess that this is a fabric impregnated with abrasives (and maybe also some oils).

Sure, if you abrade away the coating, earlier damage to the coating is likely to disappear, more or less. ;-)


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