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Will L

CLEANING VIOLINS? DO NO HARM!

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The more I read on this subject, the more confused and fearful I get.  Seriously, I have a friend who has a rather nice Bisiach which is definitely getting dirty and needs something.  The question is, "What?"  The last time I cleaned a violin we were still using xylene and I was happy enough.

I went to the fairly recent IPCI book and after reading about 4 long pages, I became convinced I'll need to get an advanced degree in chemistry before considering myself qualified to clean even a "Lark."  Then I read a bit further and found the recommendation that saliva is about as good as it gets for safety and effectiveness.  But the idea of taking in a nice violin and returning it with an honest description of the work, and materials used, makes me queasy.

Then—and this gets BETTER—the IPCI article talks about artificial saliva.  So I screwed up my courage and approached my pharmacist,  with a very long and curious line of dying people behind me, and not one of them had been diagnosed with hearing loss.  I asked her if her pharmacy had artificial saliva.  Like a real pro, she didn't bat an eyelash—probably relieved I wasn't asking about sexually transmitted diseases— and went to work on a very slow computer. Interestingly, there were two listed: One was a lozenge!  Go figure!  Perhaps the lozenge could be added to distilled water.  The other was in liquid form; but it sold for $250 per ounce.  I did some quick math and wondered if an ounce would do more than one violin.  If an ounce was a lifetime supply, perhaps I might mortgage the house and make an investment.    

Now the IPCI article did mention a couple of ingredients, so I thought maybe could make my own;  but by now I was losing interest fast. :)

So,  it seems that cleaning a violin is anything but a simple, agreed-to procedure.  After all, there are different amounts and types of dirt, grime, old polishes and waxes on every violin.  Then there is the nature and condition of the varnish on each instrument; and then there are cracks, touch up varnish, and spots with little or no varnish or ground.  It doesn't seem to me there could be one material or method which would cover all the bases. 

The question: can anyone recommend something simple  and safe in 99% of all cases?  If not, how can anyone really trust anyone to clean a violin?  

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Would installing ( again ) spittoons all over the place might not ensure a constant supply of saliva ? I think that's a habit we could get back into.

""" Use of spittoons was considered an advance of public manners and health, intended to replace previously common spitting on floors, streets, and sidewalks. Many places passed laws against spitting in public other than into a spittoon."""

This I believe, would be clean, non polluting, 100% green technology.  

Sorted : "The United States Senate also has spittoons spread across the Senate Chamber as they are considered a Senate tradition.[7] Similarly, each Justice on the United States Supreme Court has a spittoon next to his or her seat in the courtroom.."

And people thought the Senate and the Supreme Court serve no useful purpose - they produce saliva.

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Didn't I say always test first? I have not had any finish problems on any violins I have used this system on. Water will not get black rosin residue off. This will. YMMV.

 

 

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Hi Will;

Testing on the "subject", of course, will be required for just about anything you use... and in many cases, more than one approach may be needed.   Nothing is fool proof.

Three methods I'll usually test and start with, after "dry cleaning" with a soft brush, are:

De-ionized or distilled water (can be effective for some water soluble "grimes").

The artificial spit you quested is available here: https://www.ctseurope.com/en/scheda-prodotto.php?id=483

Vulpex soap (it was developed for cleaning parchment, paper and leather I believe) diluted 1 part soap to 20 parts (or more) water or stoddard (mineral spirits without sulfur) is effective on rosin and other clingy resin stuff.  In my experience, the soap in stoddard is less aggressive than in water.  You need to lightly follow with a cloth dampened in distilled water.  Usually no problem, but be careful... You are stepping things up here and you don't want to soften the finish.

Hope that helps.

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Quite by accident, I discovered an excellent cleaning material for both violins and bows.  It is mechanics' hand cleaner.  Two brands that I have used successfully are "CRC Lanolin Cream Hand Cleaner" and "Gojo Creme Hand Cleaner"  typically sold in 14 oz. containers/tubs at auto parts stores and hardware stores.  The material is a white solid cream.  If you tap the container it vibrates noticeably inside like Jello.  To use it, select a soft flannelette cloth.  With your forefinger in the cloth, add a small dab from the container.  Clean by gently using a circular motion on the finish surface.  You should always test in an inconspicuous place first of course. I have used it for several years and only once encountered possible damage to a finish.  On violins, it will remove sticky rosin residue around the bridge and even blackened rosin residue from under the fingerboard.  It does equally well cleaning the sticky rosin residue from bow sticks.  (Be sure to remove the frog from the stick so that the hair does not come into contact with the cream.)  After cleaning, use any 'normal' polish to remove the greasy residue.

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Artificial spit!!!

What a time to be alive.  I honestly feel that we should all explore our own spit/cleaning properties. Perhaps the best solution has been in our own mouths this whole time? The mind boggles. 

"My violin is dirty"

"Let me just finish eating this box of good and plenty's and I'll be right with you."

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25 minutes ago, Ted Sinoski said:

Quite by accident, I discovered an excellent cleaning material for both violins and bows.  It is mechanics' hand cleaner.  Two brands that I have used successfully are "CRC Lanolin Cream Hand Cleaner" and "Gojo Creme Hand Cleaner"  typically sold in 14 oz. containers/tubs at auto parts stores and hardware stores.  

Personally, though I may be being a bit conservative, I'd probably stay clear of this sort of hand cleaner for instruments due to the oil content, and the CRC stuff contains trace amounts of lye.

Innocent question.  What is a "normal" polish?

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2 minutes ago, arglebargle said:

Artificial spit!!!

What a time to be alive.  I honestly feel that we should all explore our own spit/cleaning properties. Perhaps the best solution has been in our own mouths this whole time? The mind boggles. 

"My violin is dirty"

"Let me just finish eating this box of good and plenty's and I'll be right with you."

I believe saliva has been employed in art (painting) cleaning and restoration for quite a while... but the artificial stuff might come in handy... I think I'd have trouble spitting out enough to manage a large canvas.  :)

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2 minutes ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

I believe saliva has been employed in art (painting) cleaning and restoration for quite a while... but the artificial stuff might come in handy... I think I'd have trouble spitting out enough to manage a large canvas. :)

But not a violin, I'll bet.

Old person- "If you don't smarten up, somebody's gonna find a way to sell you your own spit!"

Me- "Hang on while I finish buying this brand new violin cleaner. (stupid old people:rolleyes:)"

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7 minutes ago, arglebargle said:

But not a violin, I'll bet.

Which do you bet?  1) That I wouldn't have trouble mustering the spit, or 2) that the method hasn't been used for quite a while?

1) You might lose, depending on how dirty is was, but you might win.

2) You would lose. It's been used for quite a while... wood, varnish, leather, paintings.... documentation exists from the 18th century.  Probably wasn't a new idea then.

:) 

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2 minutes ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

Which do you bet?  1) That I wouldn't have trouble mustering the spit, or 2) that the method hasn't been used for quite a while?

1) You might lose, depending on how dirty is was, but you might win.

2) You would lose. It's been used for quite a while... wood, varnish, leather, paintings.... documentation exists from the 18th century.  Probably wasn't a new idea then.

:) 

Number 1.  I, personally, only need to think of sauerkraut or half-sour pickles and I could clean a bass.

As for #2. Parents have proven the cleaning power of spit on the faces (leather) of kids since the beginning of time. 

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2 minutes ago, arglebargle said:

Number 1.  I, personally, only need to think of sauerkraut or half-sour pickles and I could clean a bass.

As for #2. Parents have proven the cleaning power of spit on the faces (leather) of kids since the beginning of time. 

1) Gotta try that.

2) Great minds think alike.  I almost included that use in my post. :) 

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I vote for spit. :)

Didn't we just have this conversation?

No matter! In my limited experience  I start with a dry cloth. If that doesn't work..then a damp wipe and dry using R/O water and a soft cloth  (fond of flannel). And finally... for those hard to clean spots - spit.

This is for "normal" dirt on a relatively clean and actively used instrument. I have never tried to clean one that was really grimy and neglected.

However I have cleaned any number of low end wooden antiques. I don't recall ever damaging any or making them worse...

 

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I thought this product, which I saw at NAMM two years ago, was quite good: Old Master Violin Spit, and it's not close to $250./ounce. Here's their web site: http://stravari.com/cleaners/   Jeffrey, did you ever get your sample?  For those who don't click on links:

20141130_184702
STRAVARI VIOLIN SPIT

Violin Spit… it’s a shocking name, but the fact is that most string players and fine violin shops will sometimes use human saliva to clean rosin build-up from instrument varnishes. This needs to be done each time you play your instrument because rosin is made up of 90% acid and should not be left to sit on your finish.  Human spit is a very effective solvent but not the most sanitary way to clean!  Our healthy, alternative formula has none of the nasty bacteria and cleans even more effectively. We use a slightly higher concentration of enzymes than in saliva, a natural organic surfactant (to lift the dirt), and a blend of natural food grade preservatives to protect the formula in a deionized water base. Try Violin Spit along with the Old Master Microfiber Cleaning Cloth (below), it’s the most effective and gentle daily cleaner for string instruments. For a more aggressive occasional approach to remove rosin from your instrument bow and strings use Old Master String Cleaner & Rosin Remover.

MSRP $9.95

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Does it help if you chew tobacco first? I once flew from Houston to London sitting next to an oil rig worker who chewed  and spat into a sick bag all the way.  Once I got used to the punctuation we had an interesting conversation.  He said he took up chewing because you couldn't smoke on the rigs. I think his spit would have stripped the varnish too, but left a rich coloured ground.

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12 hours ago, Jeffrey Holmes said:

Hi Will;

Testing on the "subject", of course, will be required for just about anything you use... and in many cases, more than one approach may be needed.   Nothing is fool proof.

Hope that helps.

Yes, it all helps, and thanks to you and everyone else.  It leaves me thinking I'm better off turning down the job on a fine instrument.  Mainly because I don't have the time or patience—or even the knowledge—to "test on the 'subject.'"

Incidentally, I found the articles on cleaning in the IPCI to be thorough and they discussed testing. 

As I recall even xylene could take off some varnishes, and what someone might think was dirt was really valuable varnish.

With the particular violin I mentioned in the OP, I have no idea what has been done to it over years of "cleanings" from a variety of repair persons, not all of whom were highly qualified.  

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13 minutes ago, Will L said:

As I recall even xylene could take off some varnishes, and what someone might think was dirt was really valuable varnish.

 

Yup... and solvents like xylene often have a different effect on touchup varnish as they do the original varnish.

Charging your full rate for cleaning may increase your patience level.  It does mine. :) 

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