How to Clean a Violin

So, you just got your violin (or maybe you found an old one in a closet or attic someplace) and you want to know how to keep it looking beautiful. How do you keep the violin from getting dusty and clogged with flaked off bow rosin? How do you keep the finish looking beautiful? Follow these simple steps and your instrument could last for many years looking as good as the day you got it.

1. Wipe Down the Strings

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Most of the buildup and gunk you will find on your instrument is going to drop from the strings. Why? Because the rosin on the bow slowly rubs off as you play the instrument. This rosin usually resembles a thick dust particle and slowly builds up on the instrument. So, the first place you need to start when cleaning your instrument is with the strings.

Using a soft cloth, gently wipe down the strings. Try to remove all of the built-up rosin that has accumulated on the strings while you were playing the instrument. Remember, if you do not get all of it you will have to clean the instrument again in no time.

2. Wipe the Face of the Instrument

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The next area to focus on is the face of the instrument. All of that flaked off rosin has likely collected here, along with some ordinary dust, and will need to be removed.

Using a soft cloth, wipe off the entire face of the instrument. Pay careful attention to the areas around the “F holes” and when passing under the strings, as it is easy to damage the instrument while working in these areas. Never tug the cloth against the strings or the bridge. The debris should come off fairly easily, so there should be no need to use an aggressive polishing technique, particularly in these areas.

3. Carefully Dust Under the Bridge

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The bridge on a bowed string instrument like a violin, viola, cello, or bass, is not fixed in place. Instead, the tension from the strings holds it firmly against the face of the instrument. As a result, it is very easy to dislodge the bridge during cleaning. It is usually necessary to have your teacher or a professional luthier reset a bridge once it has fallen.

To avoid damage, use a cotton swab (a “Q-Tip”) around and under the bridge. Again, not much force should be required, so take your time and be gentle.

4. Clean the Bow

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Rosin tends to accumulate on the stick of a bow just like it does on the body of a violin. So, you should carefully wipe the stick with a soft cloth to remove any built up rosin. You may also need to clean the metal windings near the frog of your bow to remove built up debris.

Do not clean the hairs of the bow. You want rosin on this part of the bow, and you can actually damage the bow by trying to remove it.

5. Occasionally Polish the Wood

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It is natural to want to polish the wood of your instrument every time you clean it, but that is neither necessary nor advisable. By doing so, you can actually damage the finish, create build up, and harm your instrument’s sound and playability. Instead, you should polish your instrument only about once every two weeks.

Find a polish specifically designed for string instruments (like this one). Apply a small amount (no bigger than a dime) to a soft polish cloth and gently work it in a circular direction over the wood surface until the polish disappears into the finish. As always, be careful around the “F holes,” bridge, and other fixtures. Avoid getting the polish on the strings, as it may interfere with the playability of the instrument.

Conclusion

Following these simple steps should extend the life of your instrument, preserve its value, and keep it looking beautiful for years to come.

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