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How to Clean, Polish, or Sanitize Your String Instrument

Posted by Anton Krutz on

Not sure how to properly clean and care for your instrument or how to sterilize it? You’re in the right place! Below you will find a thorough video about how to properly clean your string instrument and how to sterilize it safely. Under the video, you will also find step-by-step directions on General Cleaning, Using Instrument Polish, and Sanitizing Your Instrument.


General Cleaning

Cleaning your instrument is a straight forward process and all you need is a soft, clean cloth. We recommend using a cotton cloth.

  • Each time you play your instrument, wipe the rosin residue off when you are done. You will need to wipe off the strings and the top of the instrument between the bridge and the fingerboard. If you play the cello or the bass we suggest wiping the bridge down too.
  • About once a month you should take your soft, clean cloth and wipe down your entire instrument to prevent the buildup of dust and rosin in other places. Don’t forget to wipe the stick of your bow down as well (but do avoid wiping the hair on your bow).
  • Once a year, you may also want to take your instrument and items out of your case and vacuum any bits of rosin or other debris that slowly builds up in your case over time. We suggest doing this to keep your case clean and to make sure that any items that are too old to use are disposed of and not cluttering up your case.


Using Instrument Polish

Sometimes we get questions about using instrument polish. Polish can help remove more stubborn buildup and can give your instrument a nice shine if the varnish and polish don’t react to each other. While we generally do not recommend using instrument polish, keep the following things in mind should you choose to use it on your instrument.

  • Every instrument maker has a different recipe for the varnish they use and every instrument polish uses a different recipe as well. Sometimes the chemical compounds in the varnish and react to each other, which can cause the varnish to come off of your instrument. You do not want the varnish to come off as it will change the sound of your instrument, can be very time consuming and costly to fix, and there is no guarantee that your instrument will return to the sound you loved after the varnish is repaired to the best of your luthier’s ability. Because of this, we recommend testing any polish you use in a small and less visible area, such as around the button or endpin. If your instrument is made by a maker who is still living, we suggest contacting them to ask them if they have a polish that is made specifically for their instruments or if they have a brand of polish that they suggest.
  • Use caution and when in doubt don’t use it.


Sanitizing Your Instrument

Because of the current pandemic, we have also had many people ask recently about how to sanitize their instruments. The simple answer is that there is no good and safe way to sanitize an instrument at home.

  • UV Light: The best way to sanitize an instrument would be to put your instrument in what is essentially a special instrument tanning bed and let extra strong UV light destroy any bacteria and viruses present on the instrument. We have a UV booth in our workshop that we use for the production of our instruments that is great at setting varnish and sterilizing instruments. However, this is equipment that is not readily available or particularly safe to use at a consumer level and is only available for commercial production.
  • UV light at home: To simulate the UV booth at home, you can place your instrument in a very sunny window for a day or two and the combination of UV light and lack of human contact should help to destroy viruses and bacteria. Note: If your window has any kind of UV filter built in, this will not be very effective.
  • Sanitizing with Alcohol: For the parts of the instrument that are not varnished, it will be safe to use rubbing alcohol or similar liquids with over 60% alcohol content. The rubbing alcohol will destroy the virus and remove some residue from your instrument. We recommend using a paper towel with a little bit of rubbing alcohol to carefully wipe down the chinrest, tailpiece, strings, fingerboard, and pegs. It is very, very important that you do NOT get any alcohol on any part of the instrument that is varnished. The varnish is what makes up a large portion of what gives your instrument its sound. If the alcohol touches the varnish, it can start to strip the varnish off and can be very costly and time consuming to repair with no guarantees that your instrument will return to the sound you loved when you purchased it.
  • Watch out for damage when sanitizing: If your instrument is made with painted parts, you may see the paint come off with the alcohol and should stop using it immediately. If your instrument is properly made with ebony or boxwood for the pegs, fingerboard, and chinrest, you may see a little bit of dye come off the first time you use rubbing alcohol as they are sometimes treated with dye to even out the color. This will not hurt the quality or sound of your instrument. Use caution and when in doubt, stop!

If you have any follow-up questions, don’t hesitate to contact us! Email us at:  info@stlstrings.com

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