Using Terry Cloth to Clean Strngs

Edited: September 21, 2022, 7:54 PM ·
I clean the strings on my fiddle after every use, and I've been using a clean handkerchief. It's been quite a laborious process that squeaks a lot. But by cleaning using several different locations on the cloth, I've finally been able to get each string clean.

The other day, I tried using a terry-cloth towel to clean my strings. It worked quite well and with minimal effort or squeaking. As a check, I followed this terry cloth cleaning by using my handkerchief method. Indeed, the strings were clean. (No squeaking whatsoever, nor did I use any fluids.)

I'm sure there are many ways to clean strings after use. But, I wanted to pass along the success that I had using a piece of terrycloth.

Replies (18)

September 21, 2022, 8:34 PM · Terrycloth works fine. A lot of folks use a microfiber cloth. Some use wine corks. Some use a little alcohol or ultra-fine steel wool, others say you shouldn't.
September 21, 2022, 10:06 PM · Just make sure you aren't leaving tiny cotton fibers behind. Microfiber cloths sold by the violin or rosin houses are a bit safer in that respect.
Edited: September 22, 2022, 8:18 AM · I use microfiber cloth regularly to clean my strings. If I think they need more vigorous cleaning I use nylon "scrubbies" that can be found for sale on Etsy or ebay. I was directed to the scrubbies 20 years ago by an adult cello student of mine, whose mother made them and sent them to him (they are also supposed to be good for kitchen cleanup).

I use alcohol pads (to dissolve embedded rosin) for cleaning strings on rare occasions when I think my sound has been dulled by rosin penetrating the string windings. The alcohol pads are sold by drug stores to clean skin prior to injections. When I clean with alcohol in this way I use a cotton cloth (cotton being more absorbent than microfiber) to immediately wipe the alcohol off each string (I really mean "immediately" - within one second - to avoid alcohol penetrating further into a string's core. The pads eliminate the danger of getting alcohol on instrument varnish.

I also use the alcohol pads (and cotton cloth) to clean bow hair if I think it has been compromised. If that doesn't solve the apparent problem, I get the bow rehaired.

In truth, I think, since the COVID epidemic started 2-1/2 years ago, I have used alcohol cleaning on only one of my instrument's strings and on 2 bows that I took for rehair in mid-2020. But I have been using alcohol cleaning as a last resort for 50 years - with no mishaps since I started using the alcohol pads 30 years ago (and one mishap before that).

Edited: September 23, 2022, 8:15 AM ·
QUOTE: Stephen Symchych · 9/21/2022, 10:06 PM
"Just make sure you aren't leaving tiny cotton fibers behind. Microfiber cloths sold by the violin or rosin houses are a bit safer in that respect."
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Interesting. What kind problems can cotton fibers cause?
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After cleaning the strings, I use a separate cloth to remove any rosin, dust, etc, that's collected on the violin itself.
Edited: September 22, 2022, 10:27 AM · Studies have shown that gentle rubbing with a microfiber cloth will remove >90% of rosin from strings. Studies have also shown that alcohol dissolves rosin and causes it to soak into the string, where it dries inside and deadens the string.

Details here:

https://www.warchal.com/faq/what_is_the_best_way_to_care_for_our_strings.html

September 22, 2022, 9:07 AM · George - which is why I IMMEDIATELY wipe off the alcohol with dissolved rosin, otherwise it soaks "into the string, where it dries inside and deadens the string" (to quote you, except for one "the").

- a process I also follow when cleaning bow hair, which can require as many as 8 swipes of the alcohol pads (4 pads) followed by immediate cleaning with the cotton cloth each time before the alcohol comes off on the cloth clean enough. It will not clean the hair down to "new," it will still grab a string, just not well without being re-rosined.

It's been working for me. With all deference to Mr. Warchal, whose strings I use on 2 of my violins.

September 22, 2022, 9:26 AM · @ George in the Warchal test did they soak the string in alcohol solution and then allow it to set into string? They do not give any details. I also use the little disposable alcohol pads. They do not saturate the string and any residual alcohol seems to evaporate almost immediately. I only do this once a month to give a good deep cleaning. For daily maintenance I use a clean dry terry cloth.
Edited: September 22, 2022, 10:30 AM · Andrew, The way I see it is that if a microfiber cloth removes >90% of the rosin on a string, then there is no need to use alcohol wipes, which will very likely damage the string according to the Warchal study. Using alcohol also risks damaging the varnish if not used carefully.

John, I don't know what benefit you're getting from a "deep cleaning" if the terry cloth is removing >90%. Any additional rosin that is removed is likely to be immediately restored in a few strokes of a well-rosined bow.

I personally think that the Warchal study proves conclusively that using alcohol to clean strings provides no benefits over microfiber cloth, but I also personally know that old habits are hard to break. I tend to point out the Warchal study in threads like this mostly so people stop pushing alcohol as a string cleaner. I have seen a few violins with drip marks in the varnish under and around the bridge, and one can easily surmise what the caused them. Plus, good strings are not cheap, and I like mine to last as long as possible.

So people can read the study, and make up their own minds.


Edited: September 22, 2022, 10:39 AM · Just to illustrate a different perspective, a light pass with whatever duster I use for my violin is all my strings ever get. As far as I can see there's been no build-up of rosin. My favourite duster was torn from a tee shirt belonging to Florentine violin-maker Paolo Vettori in 1997. It's never been washed.
September 22, 2022, 10:56 AM · I am not aggressive about cleaning rosin from the strings. I assume that they will get another coat of rosin immediately the next time I play. I use two ordinary cotton handkerchiefs, one for the strings, the other for the violin.
September 22, 2022, 11:45 AM · I use a wine bottle cork to get much of the rosin off and terry cloth to finish the job. It's a good combo for that.
September 22, 2022, 11:59 AM · I agree with Joel. If I'm playing quartets for two hours, the pristine-clean string feel (and presumably sound) is only good for about the first two bars. So I don't see the point in achieving that state except for the warm fuzzy feeling it gives me.
Edited: September 23, 2022, 9:54 AM · I mentioned using a cork for wiping the rosin off of my violin strings many years ago and then Mr. Warchal followed with a post saying that using a cork damages string winding so ditched the cork. When one of the best string makers in the world tells me not to use a cork or alcohol I will heed their advice.
September 23, 2022, 12:33 PM · using a terry cloth around a violin worries me - I'm always a tad afraid that one of the tiny loops will catch on something... I use a microfiber cloth to clean the strings after every session. Sure, the rosin will be back on there within minutes of the next one, but I'd rather not have any buildup over time. My strings (currently Rondos on the viola, Warchal on my violin) tend to last quite a while (4+ months) doing this, despite quite a heavy playing schedule. I'd be worried if using fine steel wool that a bit of the string material itself will be worn away, and the strings wouldn't last as long. The Warchal article got me years ago to stop using alcohol to clean the strings.
September 23, 2022, 4:12 PM ·
QUOTE: joel quivey ·9/22/ 2022, 10:56 AM
"I am not aggressive about cleaning rosin from the strings. I assume that they will get another coat of rosin immediately the next time I play. I use two ordinary cotton handkerchiefs, one for the strings, the other for the violin."
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This was exactly my approach, until I discovered that a terry cloth cleans strings more efficiently. As indicated, I still use a half handkerchief for cleaning the remainder of the violin.
September 23, 2022, 4:32 PM · @Jeff - thanks.
September 24, 2022, 11:33 AM · Karl Winkler wrote:
"using a terry cloth around a violin worries me - I'm always a tad afraid that one of the tiny loops will catch on something..."

Yes, the tiny loops could catch on pointy parts of the bridge, so I don't recommend using it at hyper-speed in that area. Nor if one has highly frayed perimeter edges which have not been properly maintained. They can catch there too.

The upsides of terrycloth are that it has a lot more absorptive surface area than a microfiber cloth (so it won't become loaded with contaminants as quickly); it can more easily get into tiny crevasses and corners; and it can be tossed in the washing machine with a regular load to clean and refresh it.

September 24, 2022, 8:58 PM · Those disposable blue shop cloths can be useful, the ones made by Scott that come in a roll or a big box like a tissue box.

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