Cleaning Bow Hair?

July 26, 2005 at 07:24 PM · Is there anyone out there who knows how one can clean his bow hair, Particulary the part at the heel where (as I understand it) sweat from your hands reacts with the rosin and forms a disgusting greenish brown substance.


Replies (72)

July 26, 2005 at 07:28 PM · I have a paper on what to use to clean the bow, and how to clean it. Whatever you do, DO NOT wash it with soap and water. Give me a day or so and I will see if I have that paper, or if someone else tells you how.

July 26, 2005 at 07:38 PM · I've heard that denatured alcohol works well--just do not allow it on any of the wooden parts (tane the frog off and drape into a bowl of alc).

July 26, 2005 at 07:46 PM · Nod to Bill -- yep, I've always used denatured alcohol. It'll dissolve the rosin, though you'll need to rinse well (in the alcohol) or some of the dissolved rosin will remain and make the hair sticky.

July 26, 2005 at 10:22 PM · thanks

July 27, 2005 at 12:22 AM · My teacher took a clean, unused toothbrush, and it gives an evil sound, but it cleaned up some rosin residue.

I've heard of actually washing the horsehair, but if you're that desperate, maybe you should just get it rehaired.

July 27, 2005 at 01:18 AM · Yes, you can wash bow hair, after all it is from a horse's tail! Show horse's tails are washed often, sometimes daily. Mane & Tail shampoo is a favorite, lots of horse people even use it for their own hair. :-)

My teacher, who played professionally for close to 30 years, recommends unscrewing the hair at the frog and very carefully washing the hair with a bit of mild shampoo in a basin of warm water. Followed with a good rinsing, just like you would your own hair. It's easy to do, just be sure to keep the water away from the wood. After it dries reassemble the bow and put enough rosin on to grip the hairs.

July 27, 2005 at 07:04 PM · Hey Carley. I don't afford to rehair the bow every time the hair at the heel gets dirty. That would involve rehairing every week or so!!

July 27, 2005 at 07:14 PM · Frans the paper of how to clean the hair is is my room somewhere. So tell me if you want the paper and I will look for it.

July 28, 2005 at 12:21 AM · Well, Frans, I agree...except, maybe you're using too much rosin?

Yeah, Wanda, that sounds right...I just couldn't remember it for myself. You dry it un-screwed, right?

(not that I'm considering it right now...I seriously need to get my bow rehaired, in my opinion, but my teacher and luthier don't think so, so maybe's been more than a year, though...and the horsehairs are breaking pretty regularly now...Oh well...I need a new bridge any time now, so when I finally get there I'll make him rehair it. :) Woah, this is way too long for parenthesis!) ;)

July 29, 2005 at 10:48 PM · Hey I found the paper! :)

It's even better then I remember, it tells you which alcohols are good and which are bad. It also tells you how to remove the rosin from your violin. I'm not going to type this whole paper but if you give me your e-mail I'll be glad to send a scanned copy. Thanks again

Oh and I cleaned my bow before using its instructions and it never told me to loosen the bow hair and take it out. And my bow sounds great.

July 31, 2005 at 02:58 AM · The best, and only, way to clean your bow hair is to use denatured alcohol and Kleenex. There are two kinds of denatured alcohol: wood and ethyl; ethyl (190-200 proof grain) is the best. In some states it's available only in liquor stores. Other denatured alcohol can be bought in paint stores. Do not use rubbing alcohol, as most rubbing alcohol’s have baby oil or soap and other added ingredients that you don’t want on the bow hair. Separate the hair from the stick and clean hair. Alcohol will damage or remove varnish from the stick, so let the hair dry before attaching to stick. After the hair dries tighten the bow and rosin. Cleaning will help the hair to last for years. Anyone telling you to re-hair every 6 months, or any time less than 10 years is just after your money!

July 31, 2005 at 03:30 AM · liquor store alcohol is ethyl but it isn't denatured. Denatured is ethyl with wood alcohol added to purposely make it poisonous.

August 3, 2005 at 09:48 AM · Can you send me a copy of the paper on thanks

August 5, 2005 at 02:53 PM · Yes, I'd like the paper to, if it's not too late!

August 5, 2005 at 04:16 PM · Re-hair every 10 years? Really?

My bow hair gets all stretched out after 4 months or so of playing-- no more elasticity. that's when I get it rehaired... dirt or rosin buildup was never the problem for me.

August 7, 2005 at 04:26 AM · Carley,

I get my bow rehaired every six months or so - I wouldn't be able to stand it if I waited even eight or nine months - but then I practice quite a bit, approx 3 - 4 hours a day if you average it out. As I understand it, what happens is there is tiny teeth on the hair that hold the rosin, and as you use the bow, the teeth wear flat (off?). Then the rosin can't stick to the bow, and the bow can't grab the string. When that happens, I end up applying way to much rosin to the bow, and the sound is heavy, thick, really gritty and I can't manipulate the nuance.

This may be contraversial, but a way I use to tell if my bow is ready for a new rehair is to run it on back of one of my fingers to feel the teeth, just have clean hands and don't use any pressure. Mainly though, I can tell by the feel when I play.

Maybe your teacher dosen't need to rehair her bow very often because she dosen't have to practice as much as you?

Get a good bow technician, I had someone mishandle one of my bows once. The hair was pulled more on one side of the string and it bent the bow.

August 8, 2005 at 02:01 AM · Southwest strings offers a bow hair rejuvenation kit in their catalog but I've never tried it.

August 9, 2005 at 03:33 AM · Hey Don that's not a bad idea. So after that you rosin up your bow and it plays fine right?

Mine as well get the belt sander to do a professional job. Well I'll tell you tommorow how it went.

PS - If the belt sander ruins my bow I will sue for emotional damage for $1000, and $20 for the value of the bow. Your total bill, $1020.

August 9, 2005 at 09:22 AM · sanding the hair?

hair gets smooth?


My prof's pernambuco bow is over 10 yrs, and never been rehaired - just cleaned. Plays and sounds beautifully.

Sadly, my old wood bow warped in this heat and humidity, and lost its tension. I rehaired, but this made no difference. I bought a cheaper carbon fibre bow that has very good hair, and this is working out fairly well. I still prefer a high quality pernambuco bow and hair.

But so far, I am not convinced that bows need to be rehaired often.

August 9, 2005 at 05:38 PM · hey the paper please


August 11, 2005 at 02:00 PM ·

August 11, 2005 at 03:03 PM · Brian Sura can you send me the paper you mentioned before please?


August 12, 2005 at 04:14 PM · thanks brian

August 19, 2005 at 03:23 AM · I believe that the best thing to do is have your bow rehaired once a year. The thought of using any liquid on bow hairs makes me cringe. If you do it, you must be very careful to avoid getting liquid on the stick. I like the suggestions about cleaning the bow hairs with a clean toothbrush or fine sandpaper. Some kind of dedicated device that would deliver a sonic boom to the bow hairs would be good, too, but no one has invented it yet.

August 20, 2005 at 12:39 PM · Xylene. Poison. Effective.

Sometimes light detergent or shampoo in water very dilute.

There are drying and other tricks to get the hair working, too.

Too much rosin, not very good rosin, dirty hands, amusing body chemistry seem to lead to dirt.

With the odd cleaning now and then my bow hair lasted 10 years. Still usable, but I'm having a friend expert rehair it.

If you want lots of information, talk to Adam Sweet at Emily's Violin Shop.

August 20, 2005 at 01:07 PM · When I was younger, my older friends used to rub the hair at the heel with a sugar lump to clean it - honestly! Their teacher gave them this tip, but he was quite possibly mad.

August 20, 2005 at 01:43 PM · Sugar lumps sounds so Irish. What are they exactly? Are they wee?

August 20, 2005 at 03:07 PM · a wee bit less cubical than their cousins?

August 20, 2005 at 03:37 PM · Ah. Thanks. I never use the stuff.

August 20, 2005 at 05:31 PM · Of course sugar lumps are Irish! That's why we have the cleanest bows in the world. And of course they are wee (the sugar cubes, not the bows) - you couldn't get a big one in a teacup. Some people!!!!!

August 29, 2005 at 03:21 AM · I've been thinking about the suggestion to use sandpaper (actually, it's emory cloth) on the bow hair, as suggested by Don Roth. At first, I thought this was radical. But after some pondering, I do wonder if Don may have a point. At some point the hair will wear out, and quickly for the cheaper hair. So, given this point is reached where you are about to throw out the hair anyway, why not try the sanding method? If it works, you have saved some cash, and extended the service life of your bow. So, Don, thanks for the idea. I will try this sometime, and let you know how it worked for me.

August 29, 2005 at 10:53 AM · I used the sugar lump method when I was 'wee' on my cheap childhood bows. It got rid of all the gunk at the heel where my dirty fingers and constant over-roisining had ruined the hair. It seemed to work fine and not damage the hair but I wouldn't risk it now on my more expensive bows, and I don't really need to any more - a biannual rehair seems to suffice!

August 29, 2005 at 07:08 PM · Yep Kathleen, that's what I did too, and although I was wee, the big girls, with much better bows than I had, did the same - everyone kept a sugarcube in their case! Like yourself, I haven't resorted to that in years, but I'm a lot heavier on the old bowhairs than I used to be.

September 22, 2005 at 09:22 PM · We clean bow hair regularily and our system is fairly simple. All you need is a large box (taller than the bow) and denatured alcohol. Lightly go over the bow hair with the denatured alcohol using a white cloth (the denatured alcohol can cause the colors to ransfer from a cloth to the hair-not good), then place the bow over the box with hair on the outside and the stick on the inside (this allows the hair to dry without allowing the denatured alcohol to come in contact woth the stick. When dry, repeat (it usually takes 3-4 applications) until the hair is clean and ready to be rosined (Make VERY sure that the hair is COMPLETELY dry before re-rosining).


September 22, 2005 at 09:40 PM · And if you don't have a box, use anything :)

September 22, 2005 at 11:51 PM · Yes, although I tried using a chair back, except that I forgot that the chair was varnished also. My wife was kind enough to bring the end result to my attention.


September 23, 2005 at 12:26 AM · It may not be the method for everyone, but I've cleaned hair by filling a smallish (16oz) jar with alcohol, removing the frog, coiling the hair carefully and dropping it in the jar for a while with a little nudging now and then, with the stick and frog outside. Then just pull it out and wipe it off. A bit risky if you're all thumbs, but it works well. You have to be careful not to get things tangled, and keep the alcohol away from the stick and the frog.

September 23, 2005 at 05:16 AM · You can go a lot faster in Ruslan without all that friction.

September 27, 2005 at 03:35 PM · I'm not sure how you can play regularily without either having your bow rehaired or cleaning the hair. Rosin tends to build up on the hair, either at the area where the hair meets the heel, or with some players, on areas of the bow that are not used as much (typically from players that use shorter bow strokes). Plus hair breaks (just ask any Mongolian Horse). Unless you play incredibly lightly (which I have seen from some jazz Violinists as well as players who typically use a pick-up) I would think that either cleaning the old rosin residue off or rehairing would eventually become a necessity.


September 27, 2005 at 08:10 PM · As far as I can tell cleaning hair never fails to rejuvenate it. To the extent that I think that idea that bow hair wears out is a myth. Is there any scientific evidence for the idea that bow hair wears out? Does anyone with long experience of cleaning bows find that eventually it fails make the hair servicable again?

September 29, 2005 at 01:13 AM · I, also, would really like to know about this.

I have a carbon fiber bow, Arcus, which I have played hard for exactly a year. It doesn't have quite the grip it used to have (same rosin all year). None of the hair is broken or dirty. I looks brand new but doesn't have quite the bite.

I would love to try cleaning it.

Same question: Does the hair really wear out?

How does anyone really know for sure? Microscopic pictures maybe?

September 29, 2005 at 02:18 AM · Pantene would have you believe that the hair wears out.

Split ends are real in human hair. Of course horse-hair wears out. Everything wears out. Even Stradivari wear out.

Someday there will be no Tourtes left to play. But there will still be tourtes to be eaten :-)

September 29, 2005 at 04:35 AM · (putting on my engineering hat for a moment - so excuse me)

Bow hair does "wear out" from use. Friction over time will cause the hairs to break, and will do damage to the hair itself over time. I have to assume that it will make some acoustical difference in the sound. I would not think that cleaning would really help since the wear is on the hair itself, changing it's texture. I'd be tempted to say that cleaning may even make a bad situation worse, but I have never tried.

I *could* ask the lab to take some photos of new hair vs. old hair, but right now I only have "old" hair samples. I could take a hair and clean one part and not the other to see the difference. I'll ask anyway. It could be fun. :) They have some cool cameras for microsections.

September 29, 2005 at 05:17 AM · Boy, but new hair sure does sound better than old hair, I know that.

September 29, 2005 at 06:49 AM · I wouldn't assume it would make an acoustical difference. And if it did, and it was perceptible, I wouldn't assume it would have to be for the worse.

September 29, 2005 at 06:44 PM · Pictures would be very interesting, but not only pictures of old hair which is clogged with rosi: also, especially, pictures comparing cleaned old hair vs new, to show just how good (or not) cleaning is at making old hair like new.

September 29, 2005 at 06:56 PM · Mendy, I would love to see some pictures comparing old hair with and without rosin and new hair with and without rosin.

September 29, 2005 at 07:46 PM · If you really wanted to research it, there are numerous technical studies that have been published (your tax money at work!) by physicists and others studying violin bow hair.

Here a link containing scanning electron microscopy (SEM) pictures of horse hair with and without rosin:


And here’s another site with some interesting SEM pictures of bow hair and the violin wood itself:


September 29, 2005 at 08:31 PM · Personally, I think if your bow hair is that dirty you should get it replaced, and remember to wash your hands before you practice,and keep your hands away from touching the hair.

September 30, 2005 at 10:43 PM · My bow hair isn't dirty at all! It is just a year old. I just doesn't seem to grip quite as well as it used to.

October 1, 2005 at 12:26 AM · 1-year old bow hair is pretty old. But it depends on how much playing you do. Rehairing every 6 months is good.

December 14, 2006 at 04:12 AM · My experience is that with time rosin accumulates in a ralatively smooth layer on the hair and makes the bow very sensitive to the amount of rosin you add. If you go too long without adding rosin, the layer is relatively smooth and doesn't grab. If you add a little too much, you get the rough over rosined tone. The amount of rosin between these two cases get to be less and less. You can fix it one of two ways: 1) clean the hair; 2) rehair. Which you choose is your preference (it's your money, spend it to rehair if you wish.)

November 25, 2008 at 02:48 PM ·

 A local dealer recommended combing the bow hairs with a fine tooth comb to remove the old rosin.  Does anyone do this regularly?

November 25, 2008 at 07:24 PM ·

I would think that combing dirty bow hair is about as effective a cleaning method as combing human hair.

I think the major problem with degraded bow hair effectiveness is rosin melted on to the hair. I have no scientific evidence for this, but it makes some sense, since cleaning the hair with a solvent or soap and water (also a solvent for rosin) is an effective rejuvinator. Every method that works to clean bow hair or strings is consistent with this hypothesis.  It will also remove oils or grease from hair or strings.


November 27, 2008 at 07:37 AM ·

Are there no bowmakers willing to shed some professional light on this subject? Why not email one outside of this format, ask the question, and report your findings?

 I change my bow hair at least once a year... 9-12 months on average.. so I don't do much bow cleaning.

Another thing worth noting is that it is not wise to change rosin types without cleaning the old rosin off before applying a different brand, some varieties do not mix well with others.

Horse hair lasting 10 years is plain nonsense, even if you only practiced 1 minute a day!

Using tack shop "Mane and Tail" shampoo/conditioner  to clean your bow hair? The notion that it is good for horse tails, and the fact that some riders use it on their hair proves nothing.  I have had horses all of my life and am familiar with the product. It makes a horses tail look full and shiney, but I would never use it on one of my bows!

Never tried using sandpaper... but will try it out... starting with 1200, and 600 grit paper,  and get back to you.

November 27, 2008 at 02:02 PM ·

White spirit works for me. Bought it from art supply shop, Winsor & Newton brand. Works wonder, after cleaning the bow hair looks new and transparent (not see-through!), and still hold rosin very well until now. The bowhair has been at least 2 years old.

November 27, 2008 at 10:49 PM ·

I use Acetone (nail polish remover) . Sounds harsh but works better than Alcohol and will not make hair brittle . Alcohol absorbes mosture in the hair . I tried Acetone on some cheep (campfire ) bows to test with no ill results.  I just rehair my good ones . I also use the mild side of a emery nail file to ruff up the hair (again campfire bows) .

Heck , I'm just a Hillbilly  Fiddle Player , What do I know !

November 29, 2008 at 01:25 PM ·

i've heard that if you want to wash your bow hair, just wash it with detergent and water. i have ever tried it and it worked. after that, i dried it with hair-dryer. and it's clean!!

November 29, 2008 at 03:12 PM ·

I trust we are only discussing the small area where the thumb might gain contact over time the dirt and rosin cause build-up...GENTLY, with soap and water...AIR dry...nix to using a hair dryer

November 29, 2008 at 04:02 PM ·

As long as you are careful of your bow stick and as long as you realize that the downside of cleaning the bow hair is the re-hairing you were going to get anyway, I can see ABSOLUTELY NO HARM in cleaning one's bow hair by any of the methods described. It is critical, however that no liquid of any kind get into the ends of the hair, where it could swell the blocks that hold the hair into the tip and frog and do irreparable harm to the bow itself.

My old Voirin plays like a dream (I don't use it very often) and I last had it rehaired 12 years ago.  Before that it went about 20 years. My most active bows make it about 6 months to a year between cleanings, and 3 or 4 cleanings between rehairings - but usually by then there is enough broken hair on one side that that is the main reason I get the bows rehaired.

I think all the speculation about the nature of bow hair and rosin and so on is obviated by the 1997  book "The Violin Explained," by the late physicist/musician James Beament. I think it covers most questions most string players will ever have about most things string. Of course, we would not want it to eliminate our get-togethers here.


November 30, 2008 at 06:24 AM ·

As I live in a hot climate, my bowhair needs cleaning quite often,I loosen the hair,  wash it carefully with shampoo, no brush, just with my hands, rinse it and press the hair to a paperkitchen towel, let it air dry after that and once dry, attach it again. I have been doing this for years and find it works very well. my bowhair seems to last much longer. Fits nice ans a bit tighter after the wash. Be careful not to get water on any other part of the bow.

November 30, 2008 at 07:37 PM ·

I occasionally remove the frog by loosening the screw to wipe off the green gunk (which tends to accumulate under the stick and over the metal piece of the frog) using an instrument-worthy cleaning cloth and rub the gunk off.


If you're inquiring about the hair itself, I've read that several violinists will wipe the bow hair with a cloth after playing to remove excess rosin (which, if I recall correctly, should serve to further the life of the hair, something about the rosin weakening the hair over time).


Eh, my memory of bow part nomenclature may be a little shabby...

February 10, 2009 at 10:47 AM ·

Well, I can tell you, shampoo seems to be okay on some bow hairs and not on others.

I just tried one bow, great success. Tried it on another bow (my main bow, which also happens to have been rehaired recently), won't hold rosin at all anymore. Now I have to get it rehaired -- again.

I don't think I washed one more than I did the other, and I used the same shampoo -- and I got two different results.

Moral of the story... just because it works for some people and for some bows and sometimes, doesn't mean it'll work for everyone, for every bow, or every time.

February 10, 2009 at 02:14 PM ·

I have tried the sanding method on Chinese higher quality bows by sanding cross the hairs too some success. I used a small Emory board for finger-nails. I then rosin the bow and get improved playability. It seems that there is a disturbing move towards synthetic horse hair by manufacturers and it simply does not work. Many have commented on this thread that one bow hair does NOT work for another. I agree with their observations. In a perfect world your bow hair should be Mongolian horse hair. Guess again, maybe, maybe not; your luthier may not even know? I would agree from experience first hand, that if its truly real hair a broken strand twisted together and burned in a candle flame, has that distinctive hair burned SMELL. If you don’t recognize that smell, its not real hair.

             The shampoo method works well on real hair and the most effective degreaser is Orange Dawn dish detergent, its cheap; rinse well and dry; naturally please, no hair dryers. I unscrew the adjuster, place it in a very small plastic bag and twisty tie it. This assures me little water in the frog, a real bad thing.

    Those that try this method will feel proud. Those violinists that achieve no improvement have questionable bow hair and it should be replaced. Fixing very old violins has taught me a strange little secret. Very old hair on bows, sometimes 50% loss in volume, re-rosined has yielded amazing sound ability on the strings. Now how can that be?  Perhaps real horsehair is the secret?

            Scheryl & Roth does make a rosin remover. I personally have never tried that method, I think if I did rosin remover the bow hair, I would still dish detergent wash it also, and air dry, I use the sun method on the clothes line, believe it or not, and it’s a winner.  Regards, Don


February 13, 2009 at 04:44 AM ·

 I take it back -- I got my sound back!

I talked to my stylist, who told me to try washing the shampoo off with soap. Apparently shampoo adds a coating of silicone (silicon?) to make hair shiny, and it doesn't come off with just water. Hand bar soap did the trick.

Donald, that's definitely true -- I used up my old bow hair until it was down to maybe a few dozen hairs. It sounded unbelievably bright, which I liked.

I read somewhere else on the forums that for this reason a lot of players ask for less hair when they get their bows rehaired.

March 12, 2010 at 10:09 PM ·

I just learned how to rehair my bow. I figured some woodwind instrument players make their own reeds, so why not a violinist learning to rehair their own bow.  Once you start buying the shanks of hair it's really really cheap to do it. Like less than the cost of one bow rehair at a luthier.

March 15, 2010 at 12:39 PM ·

that's great, so how does one learn to rehair their bow? and where would you buy canadian's horse hair from?

March 17, 2010 at 01:46 AM ·

RE:  Cleaning the horsehair on your bow if it's really getting caked on.

I'm NO expert, however my luthier suggests using Ivory bar soap for a gentle cleaning and a certain type of alcohol (from the hardware store) for a more thorough cleaning.  Will have to check on what kind.  On You Tube search "cleaning a violin bow".  He uses denatured alcohol BUT you better not get it on your bow!  It will remove the finish.  Ouch $$.  Maybe just take it to a good violin shop or a luthier if you don't feel comfortable cleaning it or have it rehaired.

I'm open for suggestions too regarding how to clean the wood and metal parts of your bow.

March 17, 2010 at 01:56 AM ·

There is a Bow Re-hairing DVD available via You Tube.  Also one available on ebay but it's not a professionally made DVD however it gets the important points across.

October 22, 2012 at 07:43 PM · I would like a copy of the paper, my email is on my profile.

October 22, 2012 at 08:47 PM · My Violinmaking mentor showed me how to clean bow hair by using a solution of borax , I have specialised in building new instruments so its not something that I have done on a regular basis , so thake this as general information rather than advice


May 29, 2014 at 05:19 PM · @Brian Suda, I hope it's not too late. But could you maybe send the paper to my e-mail adress?

Thank you in advance!!

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal
Miroirs CA Classical Music Journal

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker

Classic Violin Olympus

Coltman Chamber Music Competition

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Jargar Strings


Violin Lab



Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine