Using 70% isopropyl alcohol prep pads for cleaning synthetic core and steel strings

December 13, 2016 at 06:54 PM · Is this a good idea. I have D'Addario Helicore on one violin and Pirastro Tonica on another.

Replies (43)

December 13, 2016 at 07:06 PM · When I was a Nurse, I used these for cleaning the strings. The rosin may clump since it is not soluble in the other 30%, and that makes a bit of a mess.

Also, Isopropyl will dissolve your varnish, so hold the violin upside down and keep it there until ALL of the alcohol has evaporated. All it takes is one drop to make a mess. Further, if you should get a drop on the varnish, blow on it to increase the speed of evaporation. DO NOT try to wipe it off.

December 13, 2016 at 08:10 PM · The best alcoholic string cleaner is that one the player NEVER USES.

Accidents occur all the time and you may ruin your varnish, that will cost you a mint in varnish restoration.

In one case the player put the instrument over a rag embedded in alcohol, the damage was horrible.

The alcohol will penetrate the string and it may damage them too.

December 13, 2016 at 08:36 PM · Just wipe the strings every time you finish playing with a soft cotton cloth, and you won't ever have to resort to substances that could damage the varnish.

A little bit of preventative maintenance goes a long way!

December 13, 2016 at 09:17 PM · I agree with Manfio.

The best string cleaner/instrument polish is the one that you never use.

December 13, 2016 at 09:31 PM · I guess accidents can happen, but I frequently use Isopropyl Alcohol to wipe chinrest, tailpiece, fingerboard, strings and the unvarnished neck once a while, then I apply tiny bit of olive oil to fingerboard and the neck.

For strings, I pinch the strings and slide the cloth(pad in your case) all the way back and forth from nut to bridge.

If you are confident that you'll be careful, and not have any accidents. I do it all the time. If you don't, well, not using anything works are recommended above.

For me, at least I think the sound is bad when the string has dried up rosin stuck to them, and I cannot stand the sound or feel of the texture trying to wipe it off with dry cloth.

December 13, 2016 at 10:16 PM · Some highly experienced and very careful players have had bad accidents with alcohol. I don't recommend it.

Another downside is that dissolving the rosin with a solvent can carry it to the inside of the string, depositing it there, and changing the behavior of the string (typically causing it to go "false").

December 13, 2016 at 10:27 PM · Steven, that violin prepared with alcohol and olive oil sounds delicious!

Seriously though people: play it, wipe it with a soft cloth (a separate one for strings and for the instrument itself). If you think you need something else, take it to a professional.

December 13, 2016 at 10:39 PM · As for accidents, I have many countermeasures, for example, I use a little drop of alcohol, on a cloth, and make sure that drop is no longer than my pinch, so that I can physically cannot touch the varnish as long as I am pinching the string. As for dissolved rosin going into the core, I haven't thought of that.

December 13, 2016 at 11:02 PM · Well, we take care while we are driving, pilots take care with their airplanes, etc. but, eventually, accident swill happen, the same with alcohol and violins, we see that happening. It is incredible how just one drop can ruin the varnish almost instantly.

Also, fingerboards are in many cases finished with an oil, if it is touched frequently by alcohol eventually it will make the ebony more dry and porous, ant that is not good.

Keep alcohol away from your violin.

December 13, 2016 at 11:51 PM · The PO's question was about alcohol pads, which I have used without incident for about 25 years. I am careful to:

1. Hold the instrument vertically, tilted slightly toward the strings

2. Wipe each string immediately with a dry cotton cloth to prevent any resolidification of the rosin and to be sure to get it out of the winding grooves.

Going back an additional 20 years I did use alcohol (from an eye dropper bottle - a little bit on a soft cloth - and then followed the same process I now do with the alcohol pads. I did get a drop on one violin ONCE at least 40 years ago and the small scar is still there, so there is no question this process must never be done carelessly.

Following this string-cleaning process has always resulted in tonal improvements for me from the early days I started to do it to now (gut, gut core, synthetic core and steel core strings). I believe it is because of the way I do it and the way this removes rosin from grooves in the string windings

December 14, 2016 at 12:05 AM · Wiping the strings with the finest grade steel wool works best for me. It's very humid here, and the rosin tends to get really sticky. When I lived in NM, I didn't have this problem - I could just wipe with a cloth.

December 14, 2016 at 01:05 AM · Nylon "scubbies" are more gently abrasives for rubbing off rosin, but they still don't get into the fine string winding grooves.

The new "Nomad" sold by SHAR is a new device that does a very good job cleaning strings and instrument finish:

December 14, 2016 at 01:06 AM · I clean my strings in the same manner as Andrew Victor. One thing about the prep-pads. Since they're 70% alcohol, you can't use them for more than 15 seconds or so, because the alcohol evaporates more quickly leaving predominantly water.

My hunch is that 70% isopropanol is not compatible with the polymers used to make the cores of synthetic-core strings. In this context, "not compatible" is a good thing -- it means that the solvent will not swell the polymer or transport foreign dissolved materials into its interior.

December 14, 2016 at 01:08 AM · I carefully wiped my strings with an alcohol wipe, being very careful and holding my fiddle upside down. I wiped each string with an absorbant cloth immediately after the wet wipe. The difference was surprising. It sounded like I put brand new strings on.

That being said, after reading the above, I don't think I'll ever do it again. I was really nervous about making a mistake, so I'll just keep using very fine steel wool. (cork has never worked for me.)

December 14, 2016 at 01:17 AM · Cork works for me. I highly recommend it.

December 14, 2016 at 02:32 AM · Cork can gently and safely remove large build ups.

But if you have a white linen cloth with a cross weave, or a microfiber cloth, a simple wiping of the strings after each practice or play session will keep the strings clean.

December 14, 2016 at 02:35 AM · Andrew, oh my.. A cleaning tool that allows me to clean under fingerboard. I'm going shopping... after I recover from Christmas shopping.

December 14, 2016 at 03:53 AM · Steven, I bought the nomad and it is worth every penny. I always used q-tips to get in tiny spaces and wriggled the cloth under the finger board. This new gizmo does it all. Gets the dust out from the peg box. I love it. Both ends of the tool are cleanable so it would be long lasting.

December 14, 2016 at 05:34 AM · Good tips. Also, how about cleaning the horsehair on a carbon fiber bow using an alcohol swab to get rid of the rosin?How do you usually clean your violin bow?

December 14, 2016 at 08:08 AM · I have used the pads for a long time to clean the fingerboard and chin rest. They dry out very fast, but I keep handy a clean cloth to wipe off any alcohol that isn't evaporating in seconds.

December 14, 2016 at 01:04 PM · Steven why don't you just keep an old splint of wood (such as one of those stirrers given away in paint stores) in your case and wrap your cloth around the end of it when you want to reach under your fingerboard.

The problem with using the prep swabs on the bow hair is that you have to use a lot of them to actually remove the old rosin and residue rather than just moving it around. The pads are okay if you're just cleaning the residue at the frog end. I disconnect the frog and allow the hair to dip into a bowl (perhaps 100 mL) of "denatured alcohol", moving the part that is being dipped back and forth until all the hair is cleaned. This technique came recommended from a good luthier. You've got to make sure you don't get "denatured alcohol" on anything but the hair. Once the hair is clean you just dangle the frog off the end of a table which keeps the hair straight until it's dry, typically overnight. Then you brush it gently with an old toothbrush.

December 14, 2016 at 04:19 PM · So the luthier consensus is: don't do it. (Manfio and Burgess)

Tom reccomended cork. I'd also suggest, if you must clean further than wiping with a soft cloth, one of those large pink pencil erasers.

December 14, 2016 at 04:27 PM · I accept the luthier consensus that a mishap (spill of alcohol onto varnish) is potentially very damaging, and that the rewards are perhaps outweighed by the risks. Based on my general knowledge of the solvents and materials involved, I am not ready to accept the opinion that the strings themselves are likely to be damaged.

Steven mentioned that he cleans the unvarnished neck of his instrument with alcohol and then replaces the natural oils that were there with some other oil. I do not recommend this. I've never needed to clean the neck of a violin with any chemical.

December 14, 2016 at 04:50 PM · Thinking out loud ......

How did the early musicians clean strings ?

Maybe wine can do the job?

December 14, 2016 at 04:50 PM · Thinking out loud ......

How did the early musicians clean strings ?

Maybe wine can do the job?

December 14, 2016 at 04:58 PM · Paul, I clean under the neck because the dark colour is not the natural colour. It is dirt, grease and dead skin that built up! The thought makes me cringe. Olive oil is really applied so that I can do shifts smoothly, no other reason. Also, As for cleaning tool, I want something flexible, and if there's a professional cleaning tool, I'll pay for it because i want to support them as well as have a nice cleaning tool.

December 14, 2016 at 05:31 PM · I'm not a luthier and I don't play one on TV but my opinion is just...don't. If you wipe down your strings and violin with an untreated microfiber cloth after playing you should be ok. If there is really that much build up that you need a professional cleaning tool then you should seek out a professional to clean your violin.


December 14, 2016 at 07:03 PM · In the soft cloth camp-just don't rub them too tightly and strongly, making that screechy noise and wearing the windings in the bowing area way ahead of time (alternatively, use a rosin that's not so hard to wipe off.)

December 14, 2016 at 07:28 PM · Using a solvent on the rosin will just dissolve it and spread it in a thin film deep into the windings of your strings where no cloth will ever reach them again, not a good idea.

December 14, 2016 at 07:33 PM · How about taking the strings and throwing them in your washing machine?

Probably should remove them from the violin first, but only if you're the nervous type...

December 14, 2016 at 07:39 PM · From Bodan Warchal, string manufacturer, in a recent thread:

December 2, 2016 at 08:59 AM ·

"Strings may be cleaned by alcohol instantly and effectively. But the problem of any solvent is, that it doesn’t only removes the rosin from the string surface, but also the solution (thinned rosin in fact) comes inside, into the string structure through the winding gaps. It will not destroy the string, but it may change its sound quality.

I usually clean the excessive and resistant rosin build-up simply by nails, or by any plastic object edge (credit card e.g.) Plastic or nail is harder than a rosin build-up, but softer than metal windings."

December 14, 2016 at 08:09 PM · I'm not convinced that alcohol doesn't degrade the core of the strings....

I recall reading a story where a scientific lab was analyzing the failure of a nylon climbing harness. It was determined that the nylon failed because of frequent cleaning with isopropanol alcohol.

Perlon, the core of Dominant and similar strings, is related to nylon.

David -- are those roofing nails, or masonry nails? :-D

December 14, 2016 at 08:15 PM · Shoot, Douglas, I forgot to ask. ;-)

An additional possible concern with a solvent is that some strings are impregnated by the manufacturer with a viscous liquid dampening compound, for tonal reasons. I don't know to what extent this may be dissolved or leached out, with a cleaning solvent.

I make my living from this struff, so I prefer not to introduce any more wild cards than I need to. There are plenty already!

December 14, 2016 at 09:48 PM · Any suggestions for cleaning plain gut, other than a gentle wipe over with a clean dry cloth? It seems to me that rosin gets embedded in the surface of plain gut, so other than removing the loose rosin I don't do anything about it, otherwise damage to the string is a real possibility.

The embedded rosin doesn't seem to affect the tone, means that I don't have to apply quite so much rosin to the bow the next time round, and is a useful visual reminder where my sound points are (or should be!) - on plain gut, with its lower tension you play a little closer to the bridge than you would with other string types.

I don't need to add that isopropanol, or any other solvent, including water, is most definitely not a good idea for plain gut.

December 14, 2016 at 11:04 PM · Mr. Warchal also said that using a cork to rub your strings was not a good procedure because it could damage the winding. Although I have used a cork occasionally after my strings were a couple months old I will not use one again since a prominent string maker has advised against it. I do not have a problem with rosin caking on my strings and I probably use more than most people do after reading comments on other previous rosin threads here on

December 15, 2016 at 02:31 AM · When we clean dirty rosin buildup from bow hairs, or rosin buildup on the top of a violin, we use warm soapy water (liquid dishwashing soap). I've never tried it but it seems this would work perfectly well on cleaning strings as well without the risk to the varnish, or of dissolving the resin and making it soak in further into the windings, anyone tried this??

December 15, 2016 at 02:40 AM · David that's interesting about the climbing harness. Surprising to me, but I could stand to research that more. My own empirical observation is that my strings sound better after alcohol cleaning. Long term perhaps there is some effect, but I change my strings approximately annually anyway. I clean with alcohol only about every two weeks anyway because of sheer laziness, mostly I just rub with a cloth -- and I rub very hard which makes them squeak terribly and I've never damaged the windings as far as I can tell. The cat does not appreciate it however.

December 15, 2016 at 02:48 AM · Once you commit to removing rosin from bow strings with alcohol, you have to commit to removing all the rosin. If you do not, you run a high risk of the remaining rosin hardening to a glass-like consistency. Any suppleness of the strings will be gone until you remove the remaining rosin.

I restrict cleaning to areas near the frog where the hairs can get discolored by sweat and grim. If the rosin buildup gets so excessive that the bow hairs are no longer playable, you might be better off re-hairing the bow.

December 15, 2016 at 03:33 AM · One expert friend of mine claims hairs do not wear out, they just get dirty, as long as you have enough hairs they can be cleaned with soapy water and reused, I can testify that after cleaning with soapy water, the hair no longer grips the strings (because the rosin has been removed), just like brand new un rosined hair. No need for much riskier alcohol treatment or a complete rehair when you can just use soapy water.

December 15, 2016 at 03:45 AM · But why do top string companies like Pirastro offer alcohol based string cleaners

The Amazon page says the following

Pirastro violin string cleaner can help to remove old rosin deposits that build up over time on strings. Applying sparingly to a lint free cloth and then wiping down the strings can give them a new lease of life. Obviously strings do need to be replaced from time to time but this liquid can delay that. Think of it like when a printer runs out of toner, and you give it a shake and get a few hundred more pages - this is the same principle!

December 15, 2016 at 03:54 AM · Basically, to keep strings clean you need to get in the habit of wiping them off every single time you play, with a clean cotton cloth. And wash the cloth frequently.

December 15, 2016 at 10:06 AM · Violin varnish polishes are also produced but, again, the best is that one the player NEVER USES.

December 15, 2016 at 04:56 PM · Pirastro sells string cleaner for the same reason that there is something called "Bow Tonic" for the same reason that Shar sells a cloth on a stick for cleaning under your fingerboard. It is because people buy that stuff and then they make a profit.

I agree with Lyndon that washing the hair with soap and water should be just fine for bow hair, although "soap" can often have a lot of vile things in it. With isopropanol I know what I'm getting. I'm also in the camp that thinks rehairing is over-rated (I believe there was a "weekend vote" on that rather recently). One mixture that might be considered for cleaning bow hair is window-cleaning solution (Windex or Glass Plus). Those formulations will generally contain water, 2-butoxyethanol (or some such soluble surfactant), isopropanol, and ammonia, sometimes a dye and/or fragrance in very small amounts.

I don't know what "Hill Polish" is but I suspect it is an aqueous emulsion containing turpentine and a small amount of some kind of wax.

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