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How to Clean a Violin

When you rent or purchase a violin, performing routine maintenance on the instrument is essential for keeping its appearance and performance top-notch. While certain types of maintenance are recommended to be performed by a skilled luthier, other types, such as cleaning and polishing the violin, can be done by the user. 

In this guide, you will learn not only about the reasons why violin cleaning is so important, but also how to clean a violin properly and how to polish a violin to maintain the instrument’s vibrant luster.  

Why is Violin Cleaning Important?

Every time you play your violin, it is exposed to certain particulates that if not removed will eventually affect its appearance and sound. Over time, things like dust from the environment, rosin dust, and perspiration and fingerprints from your skin will accumulate on the instrument. If these are allowed to build up, they can damage the varnish and make the instrument’s playability less smooth. 

Rosin dust is especially dangerous to the instrument’s varnish. For this reason, after every session, it is important for any rosin dust to be wiped off the body of the violin, as well as the strings and fingerboard, using a clean, soft cloth. While daily cleaning is an important step in maintaining your instrument, it will also require a more thorough and careful cleaning every so often.

Before cleaning the violin, always wash your hands. If your hands aren’t clean and dry, then you could wind up rendering your cleaning ineffective. Start the cleaning by cleaning out the inside of the instrument. To do this, pour some rice through the violin’s F-holes and shake the rice around. The rice will collect any dust that has accumulated inside the body into a puff that can be easily removed using tweezers. Simply removing this dust will help your violin sound crisper and clearer.

Next, take the soft cloth and run it down each string. You can tell if your strings are dirty if they have a whitish look to them. The white color is the result of rosin residue. When cleaning the violin’s fingerboard, start by loosening the tension of the strings, one at a time. Loosen the string’s tension and gently rest the string on top of the one next to it. You can then clean the exposed section of the fingerboard thoroughly using a dry cloth. Repeat this process string by string until the fingerboard is properly clean.

Cleaning the chinrest is important because this is where your chin is always in contact with the instrument while playing, and oils and dirt can quickly build up. Wipe the chinrest using a soft cloth to remove most of the oils. If the chinrest is especially dirty, then it should be removed and cleaned using a damp cloth and some soapy warm water. Of course, before reattaching it to the instrument, the chinrest needs to be fully dry with the cork on the underside totally free of moisture. For this reason, many choose to have this part of their instrument cleaned by a skilled luthier when wiping it with a cloth isn’t enough.

When cleaning your violin’s body, avoid going against the grain of the wood. Wipe the front of your violin up and down rather than in a sideways motion. Cleaning in this manner helps ensure that any marks go with the grain of the wood, making them less visible to the naked eye. If you ever notice the varnish’s color coming off on your cloth, you should stop wiping immediately.

Violin Cleaner and Polish

If you wipe down your violin with a soft, clean cloth after every playing session, you will remove most of the debris and help to keep it from accumulating. But sometimes, a soft cloth isn’t enough to get all the sticky rosin dust off your violin. In this case, using a violin cleaner and polish will be required. 

Using a specialized violin cleaner, like Hill Varnish Cleaner, will remove rosin buildup and fingerprints as well as give a nice clean shine to your instrument. Of course, before applying any cleaner to your instrument, always test the product on small area before cleaning the entire instrument. When applying, clean one small section at a time using moderate pressure in a smooth circular motion.

How to Disinfect a Violin

Covid has had a dramatic impact on everyday life, making cleanliness and disinfection more important than ever. So, it is now natural for violin players to want to disinfect their instruments from time to time, but especially when renting an instrument that may have been recently played by someone else.

Before you disinfect your violin, you will need to thoroughly wash and sanitize your hands. Disinfection should focus on the main contact points of the instrument, such as the neck and strings, chinrest, and various spots on the body to a lesser extent. Charles Rufino, owner of LI Violin Shop,  suggests wiping the chinrest off with a disinfectant wipe and then doing the same to the neck and strings.

It is important to never apply any disinfectant directly to the instrument. If you are using a spray or pump bottle, apply the disinfectant to a cloth away from the instrument and then sanitize the instrument with the cloth. Make sure to have a clean, dry cloth at hand to wipe up any accidental spills or excess liquid.

How to Polish a Violin

Now that you have the violin’s surface clean, you can now polish it to restore its vibrant shine. Never polish before cleaning because if you apply polish over a dirty surface, it will integrate the dirt further into the wood of your violin.

When applying polish, avoid getting any of it on the strings and bridge, as this can damage the instrument and change its sound. Use only a special violin polish for this process – never use furniture polish or other wood polishing products. Add a very small drop of the polish to a clean, lint-free cloth and rub it on your instrument using small concentric circles, about 5-6 cm in diameter. Continue until the entire body of your violin is polished. 

With your cleaning, disinfecting, and polishing completed, your violin will now be clean, shining, and ready for your next practice or performance!

Use only a special violin polish for this process and avoid using furniture or other wood polishing products.

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