Rosin plays an essential role in ensuring the hairs on the bow of your violin produces that sweet, smooth sound—but it can be annoying when it inevitably ends up accumulating on your bow and rest of the violin. Thankfully, cleaning rosin off a violin bow and body is fairly easy.
There are several methods to clean excess rosin from the violin bow or body:
- For small amounts, a clean, dry, and soft cloth can be used to wipe the rosin
- Alternatively, a damp cloth with mild, wood safe soap can be used
- A proper violin cleaner and polishing oil is best for large amounts of rosin
Rosin on your bow is not only an annoyance but can also lead to issues with the finish of the instrument if left long enough. We’ll discuss how to clean rosin off of your bow stick and fingerboard as well as cover other essential tips, so read on!
Cleaning Rosin Off Your Violin Bow
In an ideal world, the rosin on your hair would stay there permanently. In the real world, however, the rosin has a tendency to vibrate off of the hair as a fine dust and settle on the stick of the bow, the fingerboard, the body of the violin, and, in general, places where it isn’t wanted!
The best way to clean rosin from your violin bow depends on how much rosin has accumulated there:
- For small amounts of rosin, a soft cloth can do the job. Microfiber or very soft cleaning cloths are preferred, as they are the least likely to accidentally scratch the finish on your bow. If there is a small amount of dust or you smudged a bit of rosin when working with the hair, simply use a soft, clean cloth to wipe it off.
- For larger amounts, or for a more thorough clean, then you can use a damp cloth with a touch of wood safe soap. The crucial part here is ensuring the soap is safe for the finish on the bow and to only use a small amount. The soap and damp cloth will help actually remove the rosin from the bow instead of just smearing it around—a problem with larger amounts of rosin.
Those are the two quickest ways to get the sticky rosin off of your bow so you can get back to playing. If you are looking for more of a deep clean (or if you have accidentally smeared a large amount of rosin all over while reapplying it to the hair), then finding a proper violin cleaning and polishing kit is your best bet.
Using a Violin Cleaning Kit to Remove Rosin from the Bow
If you don’t already own one, now would be a good time to invest in a good violin cleaning kit. These kits typically include (at minimum) a specialty polishing cloth, a regular cleaning cloth, and some sort of oil or polish for the body of the instrument.
To clean a large amount of rosin from the bow using a kit, follow these steps:
- First, remove as much rosin as you can from the bow stick using a damp, slightly soapy cloth as described above. The goal is just to get most of the sticky substance out of the way.
- Next, make another pass with the regular cleaning cloth to further remove more of the rosin. At this point, there should only be a thin layer that can be felt but may not be visible.
- Using another clean cloth, drop a couple drops of polishing oil in the places where the rosin remains and wipe down once more. The oil will help the rosin release its sticky hold on the wood and come away with the cloth.
Once you’ve gotten the rosin off, make sure to do one more pass using the polishing oil with the polishing cloth to protect the finish and make your bow shine.
Cleaning Excess Rosin Off Your Violin Bow Hair
Once you’ve got the bow stick itself clean, it may be time to address why there was so much rosin accumulating there in the first place—namely, you may have too much rosin applied to the hair.
To be clear, rosin will accumulate on the bow and body of the violin no matter what. However, ensuring you have the correct amount of rosin in the hair without any excess will help slow that process. Beyond just cleaning, an excess amount of rosin in the hair can affect the sound of the instrument as a whole so it is worth getting right.
To clean excess rosin from the bow hair, you will need:
- Paper towels or Cotton balls
- A fine-toothed comb
- Denatured alcohol
You likely already have paper towels, but the comb can be found on amazon (lice combs work great). Denatured alcohol can be found at any local hardware store; however, the alcohol can and will disturb the finish of the wooden parts of the violin and bow, so take extra precaution to keep it off of them and remove any that does get on them immediately.
That being said, here is how to remove excess rosin from your bow so you can reapply:
- Loosen the hairs slightly, one level below your normal playing tension should do
- Generously coat the hairs in with the denatured alcohol so that it is wet but not soaking
- Wipe off the alcohol with the paper towel
- Comb the hair out to finish
This will remove most, if not all, of the rosin from the hair of the bow. Make sure to reapply rosin after this process, and to only use the recommended amount so you don’t have to repeat this process unnecessarily.
How Do I Know If My Bow Has Too Much Rosin?
We mentioned above that an excess of rosin can lead to bad sound and an increased buildup of rosin on the bow and instrument.
To actually determine whether your bow has too much rosin, there are a couple tests you can use:
- The first one is just to play the violin! If the sound is scratchy, even borderline grating, then your bow has too much rosin.
- Another way of testing for excess rosin is simply by rubbing the nail of your thumb over the hair. If you do not have nails, you can use another object that won’t damage the hairs to scrape over it gently. If there is some rosin sticking to the object, then it has just enough. However, if the rosin builds up as you run the length of the bow, there is most likely some excess rosin.
However, just like there can be too much rosin, there can also be too little.
Using the same tests, you can determine if there is too little rosin on your bow. With the playing test, if the bow glides smoothly along with the stings and barely produces a sound, there isn’t enough rosin in the hairs. As for the scraping test, if there is no rosin on the object or your nail at all, then there is also too little rosin.
With these two simple tests, you can determine exactly what your bow hair is telling you it needs.
Cleaning Rosin Off Your Fingerboard
The bow is not the only piece of the instrument that gets coated in rosin, dust, and grease. All of these can also be found on the fingerboard. This piece can be tricky to clean because of all the strings, if not removed and replaced carefully, can cause issues with the tonality of the violin.
The most effective cleaning method is to wipe it down with a soft dry cloth after every use. That way, the oils and rosin that accumulates after each playing session is wiped away and doesn’t have time to build up, meaning deeper cleanings need to happen less often. However, much like with rosin accumulation on the bow stick, you will still need to clean your fingerboard at some point.
Here’s how to complete a deep clean your fingerboard:
- Detach the string from half the board and attach the to the tailpiece of the other half, loosening the tension slightly.
- Using a safe cleaner designed for violins, thoroughly scrub the fingerboard.
- When done with the first half, reattach the strings and do the same for the opposite side.
Although this seems straightforward, it is tricky to do this without alternating the tonality of the violin. Make sure to be careful when doing all three steps and to reattach them properly with the right tension.
In an ideal world, the rosin would remain on the hairs and wouldn’t dirty other parts of the violin, but it’s a very real issue violinists have to deal with. Thankfully, the solution is often to simply wipe the rosin buildup on the bow away with a soft cloth.
If the rosin buildup is too stubborn for that, then a warm, damp cloth with some wood-safe soap will help the sticky mess release and come away with the cloth.
In the end, it’s a small price to pay for a well-maintained and happy violin!