Rue

Cleaning your violin

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I know we've covered this in bits and pieces...but it keeps cropping up.

Given how many (re: endless) varnishes there are out there (alchemy anyone?) how do we know what cleaning process/es is going to be safe for that particular instrument and NOT cause some bizzarre chemical reaction or other damage?

I have only ever used a damp cloth (just damp enough to move the dirt, then I dry immediately if necessary) and a bit of spit on tough spots.  I haven't ever tried a chemical because of potential issues.  So when I see recommendations of products such as Simple Green, I wonder how 'safe' this is?  How do you know?  Do you want to risk it?  When is water and spit not enough?

I've been doing this for 45 years...never needed more.  But I can see tougher cleaning approaches might need to be taken in some cases...or not?

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1 minute ago, monian said:

I just wipe rosin off the body with a dry cloth.

Yes.  For normal use by a conscientious player.  I was referring more to violins that are being rehabbed or restored, the ones that are actually dirty.

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Other than a very slightly damp cloth, it's a job for professionals.  :P

The general rule is, least first, then move up gradually.  So start with the damp cloth.  Once you have gone too far, there's nothing that will put the original finish back on.  So spraying the instrument over with simple green could end in physical and economic disaster.  Starting with a heavy duty solvent would be lunacy.  So would any DIY on a valuable instrument. 

That being said, I usually clean "the usual" with a bit of turpentine on a rag.  That is, Saxon-Bohemian VSOs with a spirit varnish and a value under $1,000.

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Thanks.  That's the kind of information I thought would be of value to have all in one spot.

Turpentine on the entire body?  

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One should not forget, that water is also a solvent, so you should not splash around with impunity!
A while ago, I posted my own violin cleaner/polish, which you can make yourself, rather than buying a bottle of something where you have no idea what is in it. The most expensive part is the bottle!

 

https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/332293-is-this-fiddle-too-nice-for-amateur-repair-work/&do=findComment&comment=669974

 

 

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Very slightly damp.

Dirt is generally a green-brown or black.  Whatever you use, if you see varnish colour on your cloth, STOP!!!!

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10 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

One should not forget, that water is also a solvent, so you should not splash around with impunity!
A while ago, I posted my own violin cleaner/polish, which you can make yourself, rather than buying a bottle of something where you have no idea what is in it. The most expensive part is the bottle!

 

https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/332293-is-this-fiddle-too-nice-for-amateur-repair-work/&do=findComment&comment=669974

 

 

Excellent.  Thank you!

Jacob's Polish

My polishing mixture consists of:

1 part water (out of the tap)

1 part spirit of campfer (from the apothecary)

1 part turpentine (not to be confused with turpentine substitute!”)

1 part paraffin oil (from the apothecary)

You have to shake the bottle, 'cos it's an emulsion before you DAMP your polishing rag with it. If you mix it yourself, the most expensive part is the bottle.

 

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I am currently in the process of cleaning my early 1800s German factory instrument.   This was very dirty when it came into my possession some years ago and at that time I sent it to a luthier for a clean and set it up.  It came back about 30% cleaner but still very dirty.   I could see maybe 2/3rds of the perfling after that clean.

Subsequently I had a go myself using a non-solvent based hand washing cream which was a method recommended by a contributor here on Maestronet. With much elbow grease I did get further improvement but it was a long way from a good result so I never finished that task.

Just 2 days ago I had a sudden thought about another possible cleaning fluid and did a small trial and found it was way, way better than both previous efforts but still not 100% as over a century of dirt takes a bit of removing.  It is a water-based cream that leaves no residue and produces scratch free gloss finish (but not high gloss).

 What I using this time is toothpaste.  Its main ingredient is Baking Soda, which is the basis of most household cleaning products.  Handled with care toothpaste is absolutely harmless to you or your instrument.

 I apply using a wet squeezed out cloth (so no liquid water is present) putting a small dab of paste on the cloth and then quietly working using one finger on a very small area wiping off with a damp sponge and then a dry soft cloth.  Still needs the addition of elbow grease.

 

Try it for serious dirt and report back. Will almost certainly also work on bows including the metal work.

 But do not use either a budget toothpaste (they can have non-soluble powders added to bulk them up and that might cause scratching, or ones sold for tooth whitening as they usually have a bleaching agent added.

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Thanks for Jacob's Polish! I'll definitely make a bottle of that!

So far, for me, one step up from the damp cloth were baby wipes, frangnance fee for sensitive skin, followed by Kleenex Aloe Vera facial tissues, which have a hint of an oily substance giving a subtle sheen.

Edited by Guido

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A definite warning about baby wipes and the like, they contain alcohol, which can dissolve varnish.  Toothpaste can (and usually does) contain diatomaceous earth (abrasive) and chloroform (to give you that mouth-puckery feeling) or various other substances obnoxious to fine finishes, 

Something which will cause arguments here and problems in the field is that any two people posting their pet household nostrums here might have very different finishes on their fiddles.  Someone who got away with polishing their violins with spray cleaners, rubbing alcohol, Preparation H, or whatever, probably has a fiddle armored with one of the more resistant coatings such as cashew/urushi lacquer, polyurethane, clear epoxy, or FMS-something that their YouTube refinisher got at a surplus sale, and which isn't going to yield to anything less than sandblasting or gunfire.  Innocently applying the same substances some poster had good luck with to a more traditional violin finish will undoubtedly damage it.

Unless you're revarnishing anyway, or already know that your Chinese masterpiece has the skin of a battleship, I'd stick to Jacob's recipe and Rue's original suggestion, and avoid trouble. :)

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The only problem with cleaning violins is that it is quite time consuming (& thus boring) and that many customers cannot comprehend that fact, and start complaining about the “billable hours”.

 

One could also philosophise how violins get dirty. One can easily see when a violin is owned by a violin teacher who screams at her pupils with her violin under her chin, by the spit patterns on the front of a fiddle. The best advice would be to shut up when playing, but it is often advisable to be pretty careful how to dispense such good advice.

 

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On 3/22/2017 at 11:24 AM, Rue said:

...Jacob's Polish

My polishing mixture consists of:

1 part water (out of the tap)

1 part spirit of campfer (from the apothecary)

1 part turpentine (not to be confused with turpentine substitute!”)

1 part paraffin oil (from the apothecary)...

This should be worth trying.  However, I am unsure of some of the ingredients due do linguistic variations.  I assume "apothecary" is what we commonly call a drug store in the U.S. So if I go to Walgreens or CVS and ask for "spirit of camphor" will they direct me to the right aisle.  Or do I need to ask for it by another name here?  And I think "paraffin" is what we call kerosene here, but is "paraffin oil" the same thing?

I don't think I need any help with tap water or turpentine.

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45 minutes ago, Brad Dorsey said:

This should be worth trying.  However, I am unsure of some of the ingredients due do linguistic variations.  I assume "apothecary" is what we commonly call a drug store in the U.S. So if I go to Walgreens or CVS and ask for "spirit of camphor" will they direct me to the right aisle.  Or do I need to ask for it by another name here?  And I think "paraffin" is what we call kerosene here, but is "paraffin oil" the same thing?

I don't think I need any help with tap water or turpentine.

Agreed. Is "paraffin oil" what we call "mineral oil" here (which I'd be reluctant to spread upon a fiddle), or a product to burn in a lamp, more similar to kerosene, or maybe a host of other fossil oil distillation products with varying solvency for various substances, and varying evaporation rates?

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Here they call it lamp oil.

I think there are 3 different types of mineral oil.  But we'd need to ask a chemist. I have some in the medicine chest. Not sure if I can also burn that formulation in a lamp.

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I had trusted the polish recipe simply because it came from Jacob, but the more I look at it, the more I wonder..............

Jacob, are any of the violins in your shop spirit varnished, or are they all fully-oxidized oil varnished? :)

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On March 22, 2017 at 1:24 PM, Rue said:

Excellent.  Thank you!

Jacob's Polish

My polishing mixture consists of:

1 part water (out of the tap)

1 part spirit of campfer (from the apothecary)

1 part turpentine (not to be confused with turpentine substitute!”)

1 part paraffin oil (from the apothecary)

You have to shake the bottle, 'cos it's an emulsion before you DAMP your polishing rag with it. If you mix it yourself, the most expensive part is the bottle.

 

UK - U.S. English

water = water

spirit of camphor = camphor essential oil

turpentine = turpentine

paraffin oil or just paraffin = kerosene

I'm sure Jacob will correct me if I'm wrong. :)

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6 minutes ago, Addie said:

UK - U.S. English

water = water

spirit of camphor = camphor essential oil

turpentine = turpentine

paraffin oil or just paraffin = kerosene

I'm sure Jacob will correct me if I'm wrong. :)

This is my understanding as well. Since the English call kerosene / lamp oil = paraffin, I wonder what they call paraffin wax?

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Most of the violins that come in for repair from the school district are heavy with mixed dirt and rosin, not just under the bowing area, but often spreading to the f-holes.  What works well for me is a damp cloth rubbed on the surface of a semi-dry bar of Ivory soap, and then rubbing the dirt away with elbow grease. Followed by wiping with a clean damp wad of undershirt cloth.  The rosin-dirt are removed surprisingly easily.  When I return the instruments to the school, I tuck a folded piece of polishing cloth (1/4th Planet Waves yellow cloth) under the bridge as a gentle reminder, but I doubt if most are ever used.

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10 minutes ago, Bill Yacey said:

This is my understanding as well. Since the English call kerosene / lamp oil = paraffin, I wonder what they call paraffin wax?

UK - U.S. English

paraffin wax = paraffin wax

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