String Cleaning.

February 3, 2011 at 04:15 AM ·

 Well hi everyone, I hope you are all okay. I have a question, what is the best thing to clean your violin strings with? Maybe alcohol? Some special liquid? Or any other substances? I heard once you could clean your violin (and it was recommended) with some oil; I can't recall what type of oil it was, but it was like regular kitchen oil (or something like it).

So, what do you think is the best way to clean your strings and why?

EDIT: I remember the oil now; Almond Oil is what they had recommended me for cleaning violins. Anyone ever used this? And is it effective? Also, thanks to everyone who has answered below :)

Replies (41)

February 3, 2011 at 04:29 AM ·

I use a micro-fiber cloth after each practice session.  If I have some rosin build-up, I'll use the end of a wine cork to get it off and then wipe it down with the cloth. 

February 3, 2011 at 07:11 AM ·

Alcohol works just fine once a week or so. Put it on a small part of a cloth, turn the violin upside down in case alcohol spills. It shouldn't as you're not using that much, and wipe away, the whole length of the string. You want to get your oily finger grime off the strings also. Youcan use a lightly dampened part of the cloth to wipe the rosin off the bridge too. You'll hear the tone open up if there is accumulated rosin on the bridge.I'm not talking soaked, I'm talking damp, nothing will spill from a damp part of a cloth. Don't be distracted and stupid, pay attention while doing this.

February 3, 2011 at 08:14 AM ·

Someone on a previous thread mentioned those little alcohol wipes that are used for skin-prep before an injection.  I tried them, and they're GREAT!!  They're small enough that you can keep them under control when working in tight spots.  I blot just a little alcohol out of them (with a paper towel) before using them though -- just in case they're a little "drippy" if squeezed.

February 3, 2011 at 08:15 AM ·

Someone on a previous thread mentioned those little alcohol wipes that are used for skin-prep before an injection.  I tried them, and they're GREAT!!  They're small enough that you can keep them under control when working in tight spots.  I blot just a little alcohol out of them (with a paper towel) before using them though -- just in case they're a little "drippy" if squeezed.

February 3, 2011 at 08:17 AM ·

Not sure how my post ended up there twice.  Sorry 'bout that!

Mendy, I'm going to have to start drinking a better class of wine -- all my favorites come with screw-on tops instead of corks!!

February 3, 2011 at 11:34 AM ·

I think that most experts here will frown upon the idea of cleaning strings with alcohol, because you may have an accident and ruin the varnish of your instrument.

Ok, players may say that "I am carefull while doing that and never had a problem" but accidents occur and that's why planes crash... 

So, if you have a good instrument, keep alcohol and solvents away from your instrument, just use a soft rag to clean the strings after playing. For the E string you may use a cork.

February 3, 2011 at 01:24 PM ·

someone told me Yehudi Menuhin used to use a little ball of 'glass-wool' to clean his strings, they gave me a little bit.  They told me to 'stroke' the strings very lightly with it occasionally and I do, it does a GREAT JOB, the strings come out as new!

you do have to stroke very very lightly with it, I guess maybe in the very long run if you are 'heavy handed' it  may not be good for the aluminium winding on the strings.....

a very light touch is enough to get the rosin off anyway....

February 3, 2011 at 01:50 PM ·

What's glass-wool?

--Ann Marie

February 3, 2011 at 02:56 PM ·

Glass wool has  a wool-like texture and is made from fine glass fibers. It has an important use as thermal insulation for buildings.

A tip – always wear protective gloves when handling glass wool, because the very fine glass fibers can penetrate your skin and cause irritation and inflammation. 

February 3, 2011 at 03:20 PM ·

there are different grades/types of 'glass wool' some are very fine, the one I have is not, in this case a very small 'blob' of this is ok, you really do not have to wear gloves for the one I have I can assure you! maybe I should post a photo to show you!

if I had to go through the process of wearing 'protective gloves' and storing a 'hazardous' product in my violin case I would not 'bother' LOL

February 3, 2011 at 04:22 PM ·

 I just retouched an alcohol drip on a violin that's worth a couple hundred-thousand dollars. The owner has probably been using alcohol for 20 years or so, with no problem, then one day. . . .

Please just use fine steel wool. A green Scotch-brite pad would be OK, too. No liquids.

February 3, 2011 at 04:29 PM ·

 I remember reading somewhere that Heifitz used plain spit.

February 3, 2011 at 05:46 PM ·

 My favorite solvent, but it takes a while to work on rosin.

February 3, 2011 at 05:57 PM ·

Another horror story: a player was cleaning strings and fingerboard with alcohol in a rag. The door bell rang and she put her violin on the table OVER the rag with alcohol.

February 3, 2011 at 08:31 PM ·

I don't use anything but a cotton cloth.  It seems that cork and alcohol leave a residue.  You can get all of the rosin off with a cloth.  It makes a hideous sound until it's gone, and then it sounds just like the rest of the string.  The only thing is, I notice I can wear my strings out if I scrub them too much. 

This sort of behavior always seems a bit obsessive compulsive.  I think it's because once you build a habit of keeping the rosin off, you always notice when it's there.  I'm always cleaning my students' violins when they neglect them.

February 3, 2011 at 08:32 PM ·

 just don't clean them, why bother at all?


(sorry just got 'carried away there.....hehehe)

February 3, 2011 at 08:47 PM ·

Another approach is not to rosin your bow so often – say once a week – and likewise not to clean the strings, as Jo said (but wipe rosin dust off the instrument and the bow stick after playing, as usual). I take the view that if you can see rosin on the string then there is enough for it to do its job and therefore you don't need to put any on the bow for a while. 

PS I'm still using the rosins I bought over 10 years ago.

February 3, 2011 at 11:19 PM ·

 When strings get caked with even a little rosin where the bow touches, it throws off the trueness of the string, causing distorted harmonics. The result is a dirty sound. Wiping even a little rosin off the string cleans up the sound quite a bit, but rubbing off a big deposit qualifies as a major tonal adjustment of the easy miracle type.

February 4, 2011 at 12:07 AM ·

Is it just me, or does rubbing alcohol leave a residue?  I don't like it because it produces something I can only describe as a greasy feel when I play afterward. 

Michael Darnton is right about the change in tone and tracking of the bow.  It's noticing this difference that got me addicted to clean strings!

February 4, 2011 at 02:07 AM ·

I'm not sure what the greasy feel is, but alcohol is not 100% alcohol; it is usually fairly low percentage in a water solution. If it is colored, then a colorant is added too.

I use a microfiber cloth, and sometimes a fingernail. I no longer use anything else.

I am not certain if all strings are inert (don't react) with alcohol; some synthetics may have a problem with it. The greasy feel may be the string, or it could be the alcohol disolving the rosin, but leaving a gel-like rosin residue on the string.

I have a Rosin Remover that I use on my bow from time to time, but I am not certain enough that it will not affect the violin finish, so I do not allow it near my violins. From the aroma, I think it may be a spirit based cleaner, so even if it does say it will not damage the violin finish, I don't wan't to test it.

One thing you may try is having two sets of strings; when one feels like it needs more cleaning than you can do with a cloth, change strings, and clean them OFF the violin. This will give them adequate time to dry, and even if the vapor from the cleaner could affect your violin, it will not be close enough to do so.

February 4, 2011 at 02:16 AM ·

 If you're using gut strings (like I do), you should not use  alcohol or any liquid to clean the strings.  Only a cloth.  The strings will erode with alcohol applied and moisture damages the strings.

When the strings get too dirty I just simply change them.

February 4, 2011 at 03:27 PM ·

 I second Marsha Weaver

I buy those alchol pads they use for injections and clean my violin strings.


I do that like once a month.

After every practice I will use a cotton cloth to wipe of the excess rosin built up on the strings.

February 4, 2011 at 04:20 PM ·

A cork works fine for all the strings.  There is no need to have any liquid anywhere near them.

February 5, 2011 at 02:52 AM ·

 So, alcohol is efficient, but it has its risks. I started this discussion because I have noticed (on a few violins) that if you just wipe the rosin off the strings, with no liquids/etc on the cloth, eventually you can feel some 'thickness' on the string. The sound emitted starts to become like, 'scratchy', and eventually it seems to make the strings WAY easier to snap. 

Perhaps you could use an alcohol damped cloth on the strings and after that a normal micro fiber cloth again on the strings, so the alcohol removes any 'impurities' from the string, and the cloth removes the alcohol so it won't affect the bow/etc.  

February 5, 2011 at 08:42 AM ·

 yup i think tht answer is spot on

February 5, 2011 at 02:14 PM ·

On a daily basis I use two different cloths to clean up. One is some material that I found in a fabric shop. I don't know what it is - not a natural fiber, I suspect. But it has a slightly rough texture - not good for the violin, but for that very reason, perfect for the strings. I turn the violin almost upside down, so the extra wiped off rosin won't go back on it, and rub the strings in just one direction, towards the bridge; I was told that a back and forth rubbing puts some of the rosin back on the strings. Then for the violin, I use a soft flannel cloth. The two cloths are color-coded, so I can't mix them up. This simple daily regimen goes a long way.

A maximum of three times a year (sometimes far less, depending on the violin in my collection, how often I use it, and what I feel it needs) I thoroughly clean and polish the violin - and bow - with a preparation that maker, Ed Maday has formulated. (It's not commercially available.) I'm more concerned at such a time with cleaning the fingerboard than the strings, but the latter sort of go along for the ride. Both the fb and the strings get the most gunk at the end closest to the bridge. I used to use alchohol. I never had an accident, because I'd use two double folded cloths on either side of the bridge. No part of the top was exposed. I'd use Q-tips. But then I discovered Petz rosin remover. It's supposed to be safe for the body of the violin, but it's very strong, and I only use it for the fb and strings.

February 5, 2011 at 02:50 PM ·

Once upon a time, there was this well-known and highly experienced player who used just a tiny bit of alcohol on a rag to clean his strings, and had done this for many years without any problems. One day, he brought in his Strad in with a patch of missing varnish, asking to have it retouched in a hurry. The really awkward part was that it wasn't his instrument. It was on loan to him.

True story. I was the guy who tried to repair the damage.

People can do what they want, but it's experiences like this which lead to professional recommendations against using it. Alcohol damage is more common than most people realize. It's not something that people tend to brag about.....

February 5, 2011 at 05:37 PM ·

The reason for the stickiness after using alcohol: the alcohol dissolved the rosin and it is now suspended in the liquid. You must dry the strings with a cloth BEFORE they air dry. If they air dry, the alcohol is gone and some of the rosin goo remains leaving a sticky feeling. Wiping the strings dry removes both alcohol and rosin.

February 5, 2011 at 08:26 PM ·

Almost every month we have this question  of using or not using alcohol and polish, and all experts advise against its use.  Even so it seems that players really want to continue using these products.... well, violin  restorers must have some jobs to do and pay their bills....

February 7, 2011 at 12:08 PM ·

 There is a product called 'Viol' available. My teacher brought it out one day when I began complaining of serious and persistent rosin buildup on strings. I don't know what the formulation is, being a German product, but it seems neither an oil nor an alcohol.  It is fine to polish bows, strings and violin, so no worries with the dripping problem.  I use the Karate Kid approach to cleaning the strings, wipe on, wipe off, with a small cloth in each hand.  It works fine.  It would be good to know, however, if you have a very expensive instrument, what the product is made of, just in case.  It is available from some online music stores, for about $18 (AUD) a small bottle, but lasts for a very long time, you don't need much.

Regarding the rosin buildup, I have discovered that in my case it was humidity, and lots of it.  We have evaporative air conditioning which doesn't help the situation, so I found that by angling the vents away from me when practising, the situation immediately improved.  My complaint dates back to mid last year when our 10 year drought broke and we have had very regular rain throughout the warmer months, resulting in humidity.  And lately we have cyclones Yasi and Anthony to thank for the latest incredible deluge.  Always interesting the weather, here in OZ.

March 13, 2017 at 06:17 PM · I friend of mine got this recently and I have to say, it really does the job. In fact, I was amazed with how well it worked - - I also did some googling and found it cheaper at Shar and Amazon...def getting one for myself.

March 13, 2017 at 07:08 PM · Cleaning after each session with fiber cloth should be enough.

As for the violin, a Russian teacher told me to squeeze & twist walnuts inside a soft cloth until the oil comes out then gently rub the violin with it. I've tried this method couple of times and it works beautifully

March 13, 2017 at 09:02 PM · Walnut oil is kind to wood, so that makes sense. Is there a risk the oil could damage the varnish, though, by dissolving some of it?

March 13, 2017 at 09:26 PM · Why not just buy walnut oil. Here in Sweden it is available in supermarkets.

March 13, 2017 at 10:53 PM · People who are at the top of the violin restoration trade will generally not recommend that users apply any type of oil to their fiddles.

March 13, 2017 at 10:53 PM · Double post.

March 13, 2017 at 11:29 PM · I was pleased to read this, from David: "People who are at the top of the violin restoration trade will generally not recommend that users apply any type of oil to their fiddles."

I sought advice when I bought my H Roth, and was told that it had survived very nicely for nearly a century without me fiddling with it, and it would continue to survive best if I didn't put anything on the wood.

And I clean my strings every day after practice with a microfibre cloth. Which is unusual, from what I can see of other string musicians, after rehearsals.

Keep oils and other substances away from your precious instruments, I think.

March 14, 2017 at 02:42 AM · Clean strings: soft cloth

Clean violin: soft cloth (a different one than you used on the strings)

That's it. No polish, no oil.

March 14, 2017 at 06:23 AM · For the record: I am not recommending the use of oil for cleaning of violins but merely pointing to an easier source of walnut oil. This particular oil is probably a bad choice since it is a hardening oil.

March 14, 2017 at 02:26 PM · Cleaning with alcohol may be damaging to your violin, while cleaning with fiberglass may be damaging to you: Aside from inducing an increased cancer risk, fiberglass exposure may worsen your asthma and bronchitis, irritate your eyes, nose, and throat. cause rashes and itchiness, irritate your stomach (particularly once fiberglass fibers are swallowed).

Cleaning with a cotton or wool cloth is safe for both you and the violin.

March 15, 2017 at 11:57 AM · After playing I wipe my plain gut strings with a soft cloth, bearing in mind that in the bow contact area a certain amount of rosin naturally gets embedded in the string, so cannot be removed. About once a week, or as necessary, I rub a touch of sweet almond oil into the string in the fingerboard area to keep the smoothness of the string and, in the case of a gut E, to minimize the onset of fraying.

The rest of the violin is dusted down with a soft cotton cloth. Same with the bow stick.

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