Dirty bow? Clean it up
First, I’m going to start by saying I am not a professional violinist, I am just a hobbyist that was looking for alternatives to rehairing my violin bow. I had a cheap Vinci violin bow that was no longer being used because it was old and dirty and clogged with rosin to the point it couldn’t play correctly, so I decided to use it for my project. My sister and I both play the violin and we decided to do an experiment to clean the old rosin off of the bow hair by soaking it in alcohol instead of rehairing the bow. Before you run off to go try this there are a few things you need to prepare first and a couple of simple steps that you need to follow to do the job right.
How to clean the bow hair
There are a few items that you will need to complete this task. You will need Denatured alcohol, Methanol or Methyl alcohol will work too. You can find most of these items in your local hardware store like Lowes or Home depot. You will also need two cleaning cloths, an unused toothbrush, large plastic wrap (like Saran wrap), rubber gloves, and a small unused comb. Before I get into the cleaning process I want to point out that my sister and I wanted to know why 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol wouldn’t work and why everyone suggested Denatured alcohol, so we used one of our old cheap violin bows to test it out. It turns out that rubbing alcohol is not strong enough to dissolve the rosin and because of that the rosin remains on the violin bow hair. So if you have rubbing alcohol in the house, don’t bother using that stuff because it doesn’t work, If you want the alcohol to clean the violin bow hair correctly you will need a strong solvent like Denatured alcohol.
You don’t ever want the Denatured alcohol to touch the Frog or the wooden parts of the bow because it will ruin the varnish and the wood. Make sure that your violin is not in the room, if the Denatured alcohol touches the violin it could damage the finish on your violin.
Alright, let’s get started.
- 1. To clean the bow you will need to carefully fill a small bowl with about 1/4th cup of Denatured alcohol. Be careful so that it doesn’t splash around. I would recommend you wear rubber cleaning gloves so that it doesn’t get on your skin because it can have negative side effects. You will also need to work in a well ventilated area to help clear out any harmful fumes.
- 2. Loosen the violin bow hairs by turning the screw counter clockwise all the way until the frog comes loose so that you can remove it from the stick. Be careful not to tangle and twist the hairs around. Refer to Picture 2.
- 3. Cover the stick in plastic wrap, the kind you buy in the grocery store will work just fine. You need enough of it to cover the stick from end to end to protect the wood from the alcohol.
- 4. For this next step you need to take care. You will need to carefully dip the center of the violin bow hair into the bowl of Denatured alcohol without letting any of the liquid touch the frog or the wooden stick. To do this, place the frog on the outside of the small bowl and rest it on the table. Hold the stick in your hand and hold it up in the air so that the center of the bow hair is in the alcohol. Use your other hand to swish the hair around in the alcohol to clean the old rosin off, you can also gently rub the hair to remove any stuck on rosin. Lift the stick up and down to clean the top and bottom parts of the bow hair. Because you are holding the bow in the air the alcohol will run down the hair into the bowl without touching the frog or the stick. Refer to picture 3.
Alternately, you could keep the frog on the stick and dip your cleaning toothbrush into the Denatured alcohol and gently scrub the violin bow hair to remove the rosin, that way you don’t have to dip the hair into the bowl. The only problem with this method is that the alcohol could run down the hair and touch the frog. Both ways will work as long as you are careful.
- 5. After you wash the hair in the Denatured alcohol you will use your cleaning cloth or paper towel to gently pat the violin bow hair dry; it should only take a couple of minutes. After the hair dries repeat the above steps a few times until the rosin is completely removed from the violin bow hair.
- 6. When the violin bow hair is clean and completely dry, my sister actually takes a small comb to gently comb through the violin bow hair to keep it straight and even. The violin bow is made with horse hair so as long as you are careful, combing through the hair works great to keep it straight and remove tangles. Don’t tug and pull, comb about half way through the hair; stop and re-position the comb and then comb through the second half of the hair so that it doesn’t knot up and tangle.
After you clean the violin bow hair thoroughly you shouldn’t see any more rosin in the hair and it should now be ready to apply the new coat of rosin. Just by looking at the hair you should be able to see the difference in how clean it is. There are a few people that will go ahead and put a small bit of rosin on the bow hair right after cleaning because they say it helps any future rosin stick better, and they will put a full coat of rosin on just before playing.
This method of cleaning your violin bow hair will help keep your violin bow clean longer without you having to rehair it as often to help save you a bit of money. However, this process can only be performed so many times before the violin hairs start to wear down and dry out, at which point you will eventually need to completely rehair the violin bow.
For more information you can click on the below links for more information about the violin bow hair cleaning process.
1. Rosin Factory QA.
2. Ehow violin bow cleaning tutorial.