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Violin Cleaners/Polishes


Brad H
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A teacher asked me to write up an information sheet on violin care and maintenance for her mostly K-12 students.   At the end of my draft section on cleaning, I included the following sentence:

- Commercial violin cleaners and polishes:   Most luthiers frown on the use of these since they contain oils and waxes which can build up on the violin's surface.

True or false?  

Or, are there suggestions for a more accurate statement and/or better advice for student?

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my experience is that k-12 student instruments that come in for repair are incredibly dirty with finger marks, and sticky stuff... probably from finger wet with soft drink. I use a damp micro-fiber dishcloth to wipe them down, then polish briskly with a dry paper towel... seems to work as good as anything.

Cheers, Mat

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3 hours ago, Mat Roop said:

my experience is that k-12 student instruments that come in for repair are incredibly dirty with finger marks, and sticky stuff... probably from finger wet with soft drink. I use a damp micro-fiber dishcloth to wipe them down, then polish briskly with a dry paper towel... seems to work as good as anything.

Cheers, Mat

Yeah, I have seen my share of oily fingerprinted instruments.    My first instruction in the care sheet was, "Wash your hands before picking up your instrument"

 

Thanks for the comment, Duane.

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18 hours ago, Brad H said:

- Commercial violin cleaners and polishes:   Most luthiers frown on the use of these since they contain oils and waxes which can build up on the violin's surface.

True or false?

True! It’s good that you’re spreading the word. So many shops use polishes and cleaners with oils by the gallon on their instruments. It always drove me up the wall when the rental staff in a shop where I worked in the past would use Goo-Gone and an extremely oily polish to “clean” the rentals; they were always shocked at how much dirt got on the instruments and how much cleaning they needed when they came back. Kids can make some unbelievably sticky messes, but they’re not entirely to blame when the instruments they’re given are liberally coated with the best dirt-attracting oil on the market!

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Taken back to basics, there are two approaches to cleaning a violin. One is using a mild abrasive and the other a solvent. Things like Hill Polish have a certain oil content, since otherwise you would stick to the violin with your rag and leave an impression of the rag in the violin, the same goes for my polish which I mix myself. It would be better to mix ones own polish, not just because it’s much cheaper, but because it is good to know what's in it. On some fiddles, on can use a furniture reviver from the hardware store (when they reopen), or a pure solvent, but one must know how the varnish will react. One should not forget that water is a solvent. If one likes “Hill Polish” one can make one’s own bootleg polish, since the recipe is no secret.

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1 hour ago, jacobsaunders said:

Taken back to basics, there are two approaches to cleaning a violin. One is using a mild abrasive and the other a solvent.

With some patience and elbow grease, luthier's spit can be very effective at removing dirt/encrusted rosin.    I was once shown how to rub a saliva-moistened finger over cloudy areas in the varnish where dirt and rosin have become encrusted.   You have to rub with quite a bit of force, and do one area at a time, but eventually (10-15 seconds?) you can feel the dirt/rosin being rolled up into small solid fragments which can then be wiped away.

My draft care sheet did mention saliva as a solvent but, with our current virus crisis, wonder whether I should remove it.   Again, my care sheet is intended for students, not luthiers.

I think I will amend my statement on cleaners/polishes to say:

- Commercial violin cleaners and polishes:   Most luthiers frown on the use of these since they contain oils and waxes which can build up on the violin's surface or impregnate the wood where bare spots or tiny fissures exist in the varnish.   

 

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(Pre-Apologia: for the rant), I am fascinated with your care sheet and kudos for drafting it for the teacher. Knowledge is power. That's why so many student rentals are battered squeaking wrecks with terrible setups. It's no wonder, they sound as awful as they do. We all have crazy student stories, physical assault with a viola, violins used as light sabers etcetera.  Water is a universal solvent, given millions of years, it wears down rocks. I usually try to reverse engineer the finish damage when I am sleuthing/repairing it. I always emphasize to parents and students that the post practice wipe-down with preferably, a cotton, or at a minimum, a paper towel is about the most important thing you can do. Anything with oil in it, goo gone, or orange cleaner based tend to be terrible for both wood and varnish for all of the reasons listed above. I have a whole philosophy regarding why it is more important to get a kid into ownership of an older European instrument for a few hundred dollars, rather than rent a revolving door modern Chinese fiddle. (Separate rant). I also spend unlimited time for free, trying to get a decent setup for the students. What if that is the difference between between a kid sticking with the instrument or not? Plus, it's my reputation.

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31 minutes ago, jacobsaunders said:

glad to say that my spit isn't an abrasive (yet)

But luthier spit is magic! I was kind of OCD with spit cleaning my bass in elementary school. It was an old wreck, and I was so proud of it. Weird memory, I haven't thought about that in years.

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Regarding concerns about water on certain varnishes, I am now concerned about my draft instructions on cleaning which does include periodic wiping down with slightly damp cloth.   Here is my draft section on cleaning.     Opinions/recommendations welcomed.

Cleaning

-   Start with your hands…how clean are they?   Wash your hands before picking up your instrument and bow.   Oily fingerprints all over a violin are a sure sign of neglect….as is rosin buildup on top of the violin, the bridge, and the strings.

-  Excess rosin is the enemy of your violin.   Rosin that accumulates  on the violin will eat into the varnish and become embedded, impacting the tone, beauty, and value of your violin.   Rosin buildup on strings adds extra mass to the string and deadens the tone.   Same story applies to rosin buildup on the bridge.

- Wipe down your violin and the strings after EVERY playing session.   Use a soft microfiber cloth (microfibers are more effective at cleaning – they pick up more dust, rosin, and dirt).    In addition to the easy areas to reach, you should push the cloth under the strings, grab the cloth on both sides, and clean under the fingerboard, and then under the tailpiece.    You can also clean the fingerboard and the underside of the strings using the same procedure.   If there are exposed, rough areas on the violin’s top edges, be very careful when wiping these areas – you don’t want the cloth to get stuck in a rough area and pull off a splinter (have a luthier address the rough edges).

-  Wipe down the bow stick as well.   Tension the bow hair, insert the cloth between the hair and the stick,  and give the stick a good wipe down.  (it is a good idea to have a separate cloth for the bow and to wash all cloths periodically)

- You can periodically use a slightly damp cloth (a couple drops of solution* on the cloth, not directly on the violin) to remove dirt and oils.   Don’t allow moisture to come in contact with any bare wood (it is a good idea to have a luthier apply some  varnish on any bare wood).   You can then wipe it down with a clean, slightly damp cloth and then immediately wipe down with a dry cloth.

* Solution can consist of 1 drop of dish soap in a glass of water (distilled water is best, but can use tap water).   Saliva, with its enzymes, is also a good cleaning agent.

- Violin cleaners and polishes:   Most luthiers frown on the use of these since they contain oils and waxes which can build up on the violin.

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Sometimes wanting to touch up a battle ax fiddle.... try this... I am always pleased with the results.

Clean the instrument well ( top, back, scroll, ribs) with a damp rag,  work off all the old rosin and residue. Let dry for a few hours.

Then give it what I call a "varnish rub"....with your finger, rub in oil based violin varnish to 1/2 of the top. Immediately wipe off the bulk of the varnish with paper towel, and polish the rest off with a lint free clorh.  Ditto the other 1/2 then scroll, ribs then back. This leaves any scratches and pits and exposed wood sealed and on the originally good finish it leaves just a microfilm of varnish. Make sure you did not leave fingerprints, & let dry overnight 

I like it because it leaves just a minimal residue but a nice clean look.... and its quick & easy & durable.

 Cheers, Mat

 

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