Solutions for those poor souls with acidic sweat

Edited: July 24, 2018, 9:31 AM · Aw, man! I'm so excited about my *brand new* gut strings! They sound awesome and are reportedly super durable, and—
o h _ w a i t
My sweat has a pH of 1 (edit: obviously hyperbole) and instantly dissintegrates any metallic or organic materials present within 10 metres.

A week in, my E string snapped. Now my A string's fraying and my D's all fuzzy like and onion left out in the sun. To boot, that Goldbrokat E string I bought anticipating my E string's imminent demise has gone a nice shade of carbon b l a c k.

I've tried everything. From oiling my strings to exercising and eating plenty of greens, I can't seem to protect my strings or lower the acidity of my sweat. The only solution I can think of at this point is rubbing baking soda all over my body, but that would get my nice black performance tux all powdery. And feel real nasty.

This bites into my savings and into my sanity. What do I do?

(Curiously enough, my violin's varnish is unaffected by the 4-hour-a-day sulfuric acid bath that is my practise. In fact, I've tried every solvent under the sun–including literal paint thinner—and nothing can dissolve it. Annoying, since I had to do some varnish touch-up after the previous owner went at it with a nail file.)

Replies (27)

July 22, 2018, 11:23 PM · Wash your hands before you practice. Practice in a cool room. And use relatively inexpensive strings because you will be changing them often.

You may find some strings more resistant to corrosion than others. For instance, I can tarnish most steel E strings in 2 to 4 weeks, but I don't seem to affect platinum-plated E strings or Warchal's Amber E.

July 23, 2018, 8:41 AM · Lydia,

Well, you see, that was plan A...

July 23, 2018, 9:00 AM · I would have thought that with sweat THAT acidic, you'd be of interest to your local teaching hospital's research department! What ARE you excreting from those sweat glands? I'd get in touch with a biochemistry department if I were you.
July 23, 2018, 9:21 AM · hand sanitizers. they dry out your hand pretty well, which is what we want here.
Edited: July 23, 2018, 10:24 AM · pH of 1 is unlikely (which is that of stomach acid), a pH of 4 would be more likely. Notwithstanding do you eat much fruits? If not you should. You might want to consult a health specialist if your skin is THAT acidic, there may be something wrong with your physiology.
July 23, 2018, 10:48 AM · The pKa of pyruvic acid (I think the most acidic non-noxious acid) is as high as 2.5. Lower than that, you're talking about free phosphoric and oxalic acids.
July 23, 2018, 11:05 AM · Wipe your strings periodically during practice and between each piece during performance, maybe? I know a flutist who said her breath is acidic and cleans the inside of her flute often during practice and in between each piece when performing to keep the metals in her flute from getting damaged.
July 23, 2018, 12:36 PM · The other half of the corrosion chemical reaction is water. Sea water is corrosive because it is a mix of water, reactive oxygen and electrolytes (salts). So, wipe the water off of the strings frequently. Metals that should be more corrosion resistant than steel would be Titanium and Gold plating. Aluminum will quickly form a protective layer of Al oxide, but it is a soft metal that breaks for other reasons. Silver windings quickly form a thin layer of dark Silver Sulfide. Fortunately, some brands of plain steel E are cheap enough to replace frequently. E strings break for other reasons; sharp edges or too much pressure while playing too far over the fingerboard.
July 23, 2018, 12:45 PM · The tarnish gets deposited on the fingers and fingers board? And on the wiping cloth? Exposing fresh metal for more oxidation?
July 23, 2018, 2:26 PM · If you are open to explore ayurvedic approach, I would encourage you to learn more about it and get diagnosed. You may have imbalance in energies and would benefit from paying attention to what do you eat.
July 23, 2018, 3:01 PM · I had this issue as well and use gut strings. I cut down on drinking coffee and went on a much lower carb diet. That seems to have helped reduce my acidic sweat. I also highly recommend getting plain gut strings with varnish. This will protect the strings from moisture and humidity.
July 23, 2018, 3:26 PM · It's difficult to control what I eat since I still don't legally have a choice about living with my parents, but I'll have to make do. This isn't the first time I've heard similar advice; I guess I'll prepare my own meals for a month and pump some iron and we'll see what happens. Maybe in a month's time, I'll make a follow-up post for people with the same problem.
July 23, 2018, 7:40 PM · Here a thread in Maestronet on sweat and varnish,
with some data on the corrosiveness of sweat:

July 23, 2018, 9:18 PM · There is a correlation between pH of sweat and urine but it is complicated.

The way to increase the pH in urine is to eat mostly vegetables.
Urine pH can go as high as 9, quite alkaline.

To decrease the urine pH one should eat a diet very high in meat; this can bring the urine pH down to 5, slightly acidic. But some people cannot bring the urine pH down very well, and may suffer from certain kidney stones.

Before the antibiotic era urine alkalinization was used to treat bladder infections.

So I don't know if you could increase the pH in your sweat by eating more veggies and less meat but there is a chance.

There are conditions like cystic fibrosis where sodium concentration in sweat is higher.
However those athletes who lose considerably more sodium in sweat than the average ones haven't tested positive for any of the cystic fibrosis gene markers. There must be other genetic markers for this as well.
These athletes have to be more careful during marathons not to become hyponatraemic which is dangerous.

Not sure what you can do to bring the salt concentration in sweat down. There are ways to decrease the total sweat production as per the previous post.

July 23, 2018, 10:32 PM · I sure am enjoying the chemistry lessons here.
July 24, 2018, 12:15 AM · Hendrik, it's not alkalinization you treat or prevent urinary infections, but just the other way - by bringing the pH down. If you are at risk of stone formation then depends on the type of stones you eventually suffer from.

What we want here is lowering the concentration or uric and lactic acid in the sweat. This can be partially done by dilution - do sports, make yourself sweat a lot (maybe running might be more effective than just pumping irons?), and drink like a horse. For the rest, dietary advice has already been given.
For the alkalinization of urine potassium citrate is commonly used. I can't tell you if this also works with sweat, but it could help you to replace the potassium you loose by sweating. And as long as you are not suffering from uric acid urinary stones or kidney failure, you should not do much harm with it and it could be worth a try.

July 24, 2018, 1:34 AM · I confess I am confused about the pH needed to prevent or treat UTIs. I did indeed learn long time ago that acidification was what was done to treat or prevent UTIs; and this was done by high meat diets at the time. However E. Coli grows better in an mildly acidic than in an alkaline environment in vitro so I thought I must have remembered it wrong. Still not sure how this works then.

Regarding the stones: I meant that people with RTA cannot acidify the urine. As you imply one can get stones in both acid and alkaline urine, but different kinds.

Nuuska, any idea how you can bring down the Na concentration in sweat?
The salt concentration appeared to be the main factor distinguishing "rusters" - the people who's sweat destroys electronics - from non-rusters. I imagine that would be the same problem with strings or varnish. So it would be nice if we could bring the concentration of salt in sweat down. Maybe the same way you suggested to bring the lactic acid down.
As far as treating hyperhydrosis - excessive sweating - it is tough.
People have gone as far as using botox injections. These have to be repeated every 6 months or so. Aluminum salts are somewhat effective as well.

July 24, 2018, 8:04 AM · Whew I wish there was a way to bring down Na in sweat. I'm a terribly salty sweator, and I really have to watch my electrolytes when working out or in the heat.

I honestly think the best plan for it is simply management and avoiding sweating on your instrument which is not realistic. I would LOVE to be proven wrong about this. Wipe constantly.

I tried reducing my salt intake at one point, and all that did was mess everything up while NOT reducing how much I lost through sweat.

Let's not even start on chinrests in heatwaves. Oil is enough, but why should that salt crust be limited to just my face? ughhh

Edited: July 24, 2018, 8:47 AM · I think while there might be some measures to slightly regulate sweat, have string makers and luthiers (in regards to varnish composition) come up with solutions? The human variable is usually the most difficult and unlikely (maybe also not so healthy, as in basing ones diet exclusively on a violin related factor)to control
July 24, 2018, 10:18 AM · Though changing diets can theoretically help, I would just suggest using the more resistant strings, because some individuals do sweat more regardless diet. They are not better or worse than any other violinist just because of what they choose to ingest.

I agree varnished pure gut strings are pretty resistant to wear+are pretty stable.

For wound strings, chrome windings are "immune", and thus help, but most wound gut strings I know of are either gold/silver/aluminum wound.

In the end, though many love Chorda, I would agree that something like varnished Tricolore pure gut strings may be a better solution+have a more "practical" tension even at their lowest gauge vs the Chordas (no offense to anyone here, to be sure-use whatever works for you and your music.)

July 25, 2018, 10:04 AM · If your perspiration really was pH = 1, your bed sheets would have holes in them and you wouldn't be able to wear any natural fabrics at all. That makes me curious how this value was measured.
July 25, 2018, 10:54 AM · Back in the day I used to use Pirastro Eudoxas. I liked them but they would lose their shine pretty quickly and I found I could not slide too well within a few days and eventually my hands would completely corrode the winding. I did change strings and had less of that problem but at about the same time I developed the habit of wiping my strings after every play. I don't have the problem any more. I think maybe Eudoxas are fragile strings and I'm sure different metals react differently. However, wiping the strings seems like a good idea - kind of like how if you eat candy and brush your teeth after it's less likely to decay than if you go to bed with a gobstopper in your mouth!
July 27, 2018, 12:25 PM · A PH of 1? I have some steel beams at home that need cutting. I'm wondering if maybe you could come over and hold them for awhile?
July 27, 2018, 1:04 PM · The other metal that is corrosion resistant is bronze, which used to be used as the winding of the G string. Bronze cannons pulled out of the ocean from shipwrecks can restored almost as good as new, while the iron cannons gradually disappear.
Edited: August 1, 2018, 2:02 PM · Talc?

Gets everywhere though.

Edited: August 3, 2018, 2:55 PM · If you happen to have a guitar store nearby, look for string cleaner, such as Dunlop Fretboard 65. I have heard that they can prolong average string life
August 3, 2018, 3:21 PM · As a University student, I was told to use anti-perspirant on my hands just before bed. It washes off in the morning, but does leave a trace in your skin to prevent so much sweating. It is like the way your underarms react if you miss one day's shower! Over time, it can cut down on your sweating in your hands. Try it, and maybe discuss with a Dr. for the best advice.

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