How s and whys of string cleaning

March 31, 2018, 7:14 PM · iamnycellist shared this on another site and I thought many of you might find this useful. My personal preference has been low abrasive gray or non-abrasive white Scotchbrite pads and a cotton kerchief.

What is your favorite method?

Replies (13)

March 31, 2018, 9:29 PM · I just use a dry cloth.
March 31, 2018, 9:35 PM · I use denatured alcohol, I've heard it's not good for a synthetic string, but I've not noticed any negative effects and it's the only thing that ACTUALLY gets all the caked up rosin off.
April 1, 2018, 3:53 AM · I just wipe with a cloth and sometimes rub my fingernail along the bowed area of the strings. I used to use an old wine bottle cork occasionally until Mr.Warchal said it damages the string winding.
April 1, 2018, 6:34 PM · Christopher, the Warchal site has some pretty convincing evidence of what happens when you use a liquid hydrocarbon to dissolve your rosin. Now, if you don’t notice a difference, then I guess it works for you.
I get reprimanded that my gray Scotchbrite is going to fray and separate the windings when I do it in front of a certain cellist. That said, it definitely does get off the caked rosin with less wear on the windings than steel wool (I actually look at the windings through a hand microscope on occasion.)
Edited: April 2, 2018, 7:37 AM · I'm with Jeff. I stopped using alcohol after looking at the report on the Warchal site. I'm still not 100% convinced by the evidence against using a wine cork, but to be on the safe side, I'm sticking with a cloth and fingernail. And as for Scotchbrite or steel wool (as some have reported), they're great for scouring cast iron frying pans, but not such a good idea for something as delicate as silver or aluminum wound violin strings. With steel wool moreover, apart from abrasion on the strings, you'd probably end up releasing a load of tiny metal particles into the air, and therefore straight up your nose.
Edited: April 1, 2018, 8:28 PM · Again, not the green Scotchbrite. Green would most assuredly damage your strings with little effort.
The 3M company manufactures different grades.
The gray has a much lower amount of abrasive and the white has none at all.
April 15, 2018, 8:52 PM · Rachel Barton Pine had an audio program in which she interviewed the head of Otto Infeld (maker of Dominant and other strings). When talking about when to rosin the bow, the gentleman said that when you feel the bow needs rosin, instead of rosining, take a piece of 0000 steel wool and use it to clean the caked-on rosin off the strings. At that moment, the bow will probably draw correctly without needing more rosin. So, a string manufacturer suggests 0000 steel wool as a string cleaner in some instances.
April 16, 2018, 10:55 AM · I find the advice to use steel wool, even 0000, to be odd. Steel wool removes material, and when you remove material from a string, even a minuscule amount, you change the distribution of mass. You could be removing mass from the top of the string instead of the bottom, and at one end more than the other. And that's part of what makes strings false. Maybe not the first or second times, but eventually.

There's something else on the string besides rosin: skin oil, and that can deaden the sound as well as lead to falseness (there's certain to be more of it on the string and between the windings in the lower positions than the high positions). This is why I use those small alcohol pads you can get, 100 for 99c. or something. They easily take off oils, dirt, and rosin without causing any abrasion.

April 16, 2018, 11:18 AM · Soft cloth advocate, because generally the string dies faster by overzealous cleaning than rosin build-up. Just do not ever let it ever build up in tbe first place. I am not even too worried about my gut A, and just make sure all strings are "clean" without too much undue rubbing (I do not use cleaning agents at all.)

An an example, Pirastro's windings tend to fail/break apart by the bowed section if you are the type of player that makes a squeaky sound with your cloth as you rub off "all rosin" from it. Not worth the noise and effort, plus it just kills the string faster than rosin anyway. This may happen with other brands, BTW, but I suspect many people's complaints about Pirastro's windings being "defective" *may be* due to overzealous cleaning after practice/rehearsals.

April 16, 2018, 12:31 PM · The Warshal article clearly show that alcohol does get in the winding, a foregone conclusion. What I don't remember being discussed is how it actually (if at all) degrades the string's properties, so the question remains open on that one.
April 16, 2018, 2:27 PM · I've never experienced degradation due to alcohol. It's volatile anyway and evaporates in minutes, which is why the pitch can go up a bit. Now acetone? That could affect the polymer core.
Edited: April 16, 2018, 6:02 PM · Scott, most of the major string manufacturer engineers I've spoken with agree that the main cause of initial degradation in sound quality is from contamination. Initially, that will be on the surface of the string, which isn't a big deal to remove. But solvents will take that into the core of the string. The solvent will evaporate, but what has been dissolved and taken into the core of the string by the solvent will remain. I have not done any sort of exhaustive tests on this myself.

Somewhat beyond (but concurrent) with that initial contamination degradation stage, things like wear of the string surface start to be of more importance. When people remove a highly-used aluminum-wound string, don't they notice that the side facing the fingerboard has worn flat, so the mass along the length of the sting is no longer uniform (resulting in a "false string")?
Maybe not. I've been trained to look for subtle clues like that when sound or intonation problems arise, but perhaps most people are not.

Edited: April 16, 2018, 7:06 PM · All this talk about ruining your strings with solvent coming from the folks who would dearly love you to replace them frequently -- the manufacturers.

Generally I just rub my strings pretty thoroughly with a cloth after I'm done practicing. That seems to be good enough.

However I have not noticed negative effects from using alcohol or 0000 steel wool on my strings.

One does not rub like crazy with steel wool. You rub very gently and you can feel when the rosin has been dislodged. I keep the piece of steel wool in my violin case in a plastic container.

Alcohols differ. Medical "prep pads" contain 70% isopropanol, the other 30% is water. Likewise you can buy 70% isopropanol in bottles at the supermarket. That is probably the safest of the common solvents (aside from water) in terms of damage to the core of the string. One advantage is that you know exactly what is in the bottle -- there should never be anything other than isopropanol and water.

Denatured alcohol contains mostly ethanol with additives to prevent you from drinking it -- including other solvents (notably methanol) and soluble ionic compound called Bitrex that is exceedingly bitter, present at about the 10 ppm level. Usually the can will not tell you the exact composition of the solvent.

Acetone is quite a different solvent compared to alcohols. I use acetone all the time in my university laboratory but I have never needed it for anything related to my violin.

None of the above is a "liquid hydrocarbon" in the strictest sense of the word "hydrocarbon." Common hydrocarbon solvents that you find in the hardware include mineral spirits ("odorless paint thinner"), kerosene, turpentine, white gas, and toluene. I wouldn't use any of these for the removal of rosin from violin strings.

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