Cleaning rosin build-up off the strings.

May 8, 2010 at 04:32 PM ·

Has anyone found any way to clean rosin off the strings without the "screeeech"? :) Any particular material cloth reduce this sound?

Also, how often should one clean the strings? Once a week? More? Less?


Replies (26)

May 8, 2010 at 05:06 PM ·

Use a soft dry cloth to clean the strings whenever you finish playing, don't use chemical products, including alcohol. 

You can't avoid the sound because you will be exiting the strings with the cloth...


May 8, 2010 at 05:47 PM ·

I cut up a soft towel into little squares and they work really good every night - with a light pressure. 

I do like to use a little alcohol only on weekends but Im bad I guess (??!!).  But I cover the varnish carefully first and use alcohol on a tissue and be carefull its not enough to drip. And wipe it off of the finger board quickly.

But Manfio might be right because he really knows alot. His posts are very good.

May 8, 2010 at 05:51 PM ·

I use chamois that is commonly used for car wash - you can get one and cut it into smaller pieces (make sure you wash it before first use as it is oil-treated).  I use the rough side to clean the strings where there are rosin residues, and the soft/smooth side for the fingerboard and neck. I also use a lens-cleaning fine cloth to wipe down under the bridge and the varnish.  This is done after every practice/lesson.  The clothes are washed/changed weekly, otherwise they become dirty and you are just moving the dusts around instead of removing them.

I too use alcohol every week or two to clean the strings and the fingerboard (just a Q-tip with a drop), and I do make sure that the varnish is covered before doing so.  I found that it has prolonged the life of my strings - I used to have to replace strings every 2 or 3 months. I've been using the same set of strings for 5 months since I started this practice, and they are still going strong.

May 8, 2010 at 07:50 PM ·

Alison-- If you rub the string hard or vigorously, or if you squeeze it with the cloth as you wipe, it's going to sing horribly. Try using a lighter touch for starters. I generally don't recommend that players use alcohol and leave that sort of cleaning to the pros. but almost everybody does it. You want the cloth to be just damp. In other words, if you had the strength of a gorilla and wrung the cloth mightily, not even a drop of alcohol could come out. Even so, go quickly and lightly; never stop moving, and keep the cloth off the varnish.

May 8, 2010 at 08:41 PM ·


I was interested to see Joyce`s comment about string cleaning preserving the life of a string.  I`d never thought of it that way but I must admit I can`t quite see the connection unless the argument is that rosin damges the fabric (?) of the string.  Wouldn`t surprise me actually. Rosin is nasty stuff.

But, I would note that in general string do Not last five months,  especially synthetics like Dominants.  They become significantly weaker tonally but becaus ethe degridation is so incremental the player is not always aware of it. The dange rof this is that the player begins to force thinsg or try and correct aspects of tehcnique that don`t need correcting.

In general , praciticng three hours a day a set of for example, Dominats will need to be changed about eveyr six weeks.



May 8, 2010 at 09:20 PM ·

All the talk of the right cloth is interesting but unnecessary.  The cork from a wine bottle will do a very fine job of cleaning off the rosin buildup when the end is rubbed on the string.  You can use it every day, as I do.  

May 8, 2010 at 11:00 PM ·

TOM  -   Just  wondering.  Why cork?  There's alcohol in a cork too.  How does a cork clean off rosin?  Couldn't pieces of cork get between the wires?  Theory or experience???

May 8, 2010 at 11:10 PM ·

It's better not using alcohol to clean strings, alcohol must be kept away from your instrument, it can cause serious damage to the varnish of your violin, in general in the form of accidents.  Everything is considered safe till the second the accident happens. 

So keep alcohol, varnish polishers and chemicals away from your instruments.

May 9, 2010 at 12:54 AM ·

Buri, I suspect that it has less to do with rosin, but more to do with corrosion due to acid and oil from fingers, although I noticed that after cleaning the strings with alcohol, the bow hair grips them better without additional rosin, which makes sense since apparently scrubbing the strings with cloth cannot completely remove the rosin buildup between the windings.

Previously, no matter what E string I used, it started changing color within two weeks, which also happened to other strings but to a lesser extent and much slower. In addition, there were black residues on my fingers and fingerboard. After I started the "alcohol treatment," the strings still look shiny and new after 5 months (I practice 1.5 hrs/day on average). Of course, I don't gauge when to change strings by appearance - I changed them when one of them became false.  It's very likely that my ears are not yet sophisticated enough to discern the tone degradation, but my teacher has not noticed anything yet either (BTW, the strings I currently use are Infeld Red & Pirastro Silvery Steel E, and I did notice the G became fuzzy within a month and replaced it with a Blue).  Thanks for raising this issue! I will change the strings this weekend, as the last thing I need right now is to skimp on a set of strings and make learning violin more challenging than it already is.

Tom, I'd think using cork is quite messy as strings can shred it.

May 9, 2010 at 02:00 AM ·

About prolonging string life: I've heard that if rosin accumulates on the string, especially between the windings, it prevents the string from vibrating properly. So I guess if you're never cleaning your strings, they stop sounding good sooner.

I like to wipe with a clean dry cloth every couple of days... I'm clumsy so I'm scared to use any cleaner or solvent.

By the way Alison: I did a little experimentation, and found that I got less squeaking if I damp the strings with my other hand... try just a light touch (harmonics pressure, I guess) halfway up your fingerboad while you gently wipe off the rosin. I hope this works for you.


May 9, 2010 at 02:08 AM ·

Well, the rosin is basically pitch; it is highly flammable.....

May 9, 2010 at 03:20 AM ·

If you do choose to use alcohol, I recommend the medical alcohol pads.  These are inexpensive and don't drip.  When I clean my strings, I turn my violin upside down, so if there was any sort of drop it would fall to the floor.  I immediately wipe the srings and fingerboard with a soft cloth after the alcohol (still holding the violin upside down).   This procedure seems reasonably safe to me.  I have never had any alcohol hit the finish of the violin.

After doing this I notice a significant improvement in my tone.  Once a week is usually enough. 

May 9, 2010 at 05:34 AM ·


I would caution about inverting the violin and using alcohol. This is not from experience, but the alcohol evaporation does rise, so the alcohol fumes are hitting the violin surface. I would instead suggest sliding something in between the violin and the strings and then proceeding

One possible suggestion is a soft cloth, and then one of those flexible cutting boards. The cloth would protect the surface, and the cutting board would keep any accidental spillage from having an effect on the violin.

May 9, 2010 at 06:39 AM ·

Screeching sound itself doesn't bother me so long as the job is done effectively without damaging anything. I heard Rachel Barton Pine on Podcast talking about using 0000 grad still wool to clean strings, and the issue later was discussed on to some extent. I think that discussion is worth revisiting, as the jury is still out as far as I'm concerned.

May 9, 2010 at 02:16 PM ·

Carol - normally, only one end of the cork has any alcohol in it.  You use the other, non-alcohol-containing end.  Rubbing with the cork just removes the rosin, and, as far as I know, does not create any problems.  Just try it and see what you think.  I tried it because someone on another website suggested it, and I have suggested it on this and other websites and never seen anyone say they had used cork and found problems.

May 9, 2010 at 02:51 PM ·

I've tried just about everything, and cork seems to work best of all,  It's quick, effective, and offers no danger.  I used to use a little alcohol, but Murphy's law kept coming to mind, and while I can repair just about anything, I'd rather not.  There's also the thought that alcohol dissolves rosin, and it could wick its way into the windings.  Don't really know whether that's a factor or not; I just know that a cork is quick safe, effective, and cheap.  Alcohol evaporates completely from a wine cork in a matter of hours, if not minutes, so isn't a factor, and you can also buy pristine corks in better hardware stores.

May 9, 2010 at 03:16 PM ·

Shirtsleeve. Works for rosin, food, runny nose. Universal solution, and always near at hand.

May 9, 2010 at 07:05 PM ·

 I used to use alcohol, until I spilled some on the top of my violin :( . Called myself a fool and went to the luthier, who fixed it in no time and would not even accept payment. Now I use a dry cloth for the whole string, or a cork for just the rosin.


May 10, 2010 at 04:50 AM ·

John is right. The medical alcohol pads are the best. I have been using them for years. They are safe because they don't drip alcohol. Just don't touch the vanish with your wet  fingers unless you want to leave a permanent thumb print for identification purpose.

You can get alcohol pads from any pharmacy. The pharmacist may wonder if you are a drug addict. Just say you are getting them for kids. The alcohol pads are excellent for wiping minor abrasions on kid's skin. The little guy may yell, but it sure is good medicine. Alcohol kills bacteria besides dissolving stubborn rosin from strings.

May 10, 2010 at 03:16 PM ·

In one of the accidents I have seen the violin was put over the alcohol pads and they sticked to the varnish...  

So keep alcohol away from your violin, unless you want to keep violin varnish restorers busy.

May 10, 2010 at 04:24 PM ·

Everyone asks about cleaning strings.

If you have tarnish or rosin buildup, just use a tiny bit of toothpaste on a rag... clean with a damp cloth. 

The best advice is what Mafio said already... wipe down after you play.

May 10, 2010 at 06:05 PM ·

So that is why my violin just would not vibrate as much as it used to... I was always scared of damaging the strings but looks like it is not all that common.

Thank you,

May 10, 2010 at 08:00 PM ·

If I use alcohol I turn the violin upside down so that alcohol will drip onto the floor.

The wine cork... the alcohol will evaporate, it's very volatile! After a week it's so insignificant it wont matter.

A soft cloth after one has played or periodically during play time seems fine too me!



April 17, 2014 at 11:15 AM · Steel wool apparently. Not gonna try it though...if you're feeling balsy lmk how it goes! Gotta be the finest grade steel wool. Or whatever.

April 17, 2014 at 02:01 PM · Apparently, and i also found this out last week. If you have that screeching sound, it means that you are pinching the string too hard, and instead of taking the rosin off, you are actually rubbing it into the string....

April 18, 2014 at 08:51 PM · ^Great post, had no idea. I actually intentionally pinched until it squeaked...

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