How to Safely Clean a Viola

Playing a viola

In orchestras, the viola is often the butt of the joke, but it’s a necessary part of the musical world. When a viola is dirty, it can sound even more out of tune than it already would. So, if you want to prove the naysayers wrong, you should know how to clean your instrument.

How do you safely clean a viola? To safely clean a viola, use a soft polishing cloth to get rid of any fingerprints or oil off the wood. Be sure to loosen the viola bow and wipe it down as well. When changing out the viola strings, consider wiping down the fingerboard since it can be hard to clean under the strings.

Whether you’re new to playing the viola or you just upgraded to a new instrument, you should know how to clean it. Keeping your viola clean will help it last for years to come, and it can make it more pleasurable to play. Read on to find out how you can clean your viola.

cleaning a violaWhy Clean Your Viola

Playing the viola can be a great way to express yourself and work with others. In an orchestra, the viola usually plays a supporting role, but it can take the spotlight. Whether you’re playing alone or in a group, your viola will collect dust from the air and oils from your skin.

The oils and dust will slowly build up on various parts of your instrument and can lead to problems. A little bit of oil or dust won’t cause a problem, but as more gets on your instrument, it can become hard to play.

You might be able to feel the oils of your skin on the strings, which might make them slippery. If your bow seems to make weird sounds against the strings, it might be due to a buildup of rosin. Cleaning the different parts of your viola can help you avoid these problems.

Wipe Down the Common Contact Spots

While you may want to clean every part of your viola occasionally, you should focus on the common contact spots. That includes places that your fingers and hands touch, but you should also clean other areas of the viola to keep it in good condition.

Take care to clean the following parts of your viola regularly:

  • Your thumb almost always touches the neck of the viola, mainly when you play in the lower register. After you finish playing, be sure to wipe the back of the neck.
  • On the other side of the instrument, you have the fingerboard, which is where your fingers touch the strings. Because of that, the strings and fingerboard can collect lots of oil.
  • As you clean the fingerboard, you should continue down the rest of the strings. While your fingers may not go that far, the rosin from your bow can get on the strings.
  • You should also use a cloth to wipe down the shoulders of the viola, which are the parts on the body near the neck.
  • On the other end, you should wipe down your shoulder rest and that end of the viola. If you notice that you sweat a lot, you can even place a cloth over that area while you play to keep it clean.

If you take these steps to clean your viola each time you put it away, you won’t have to spend much time later. However, you should protect your viola as you clean it. Make sure you hold it securely and use another cloth to hold areas that you’ve wiped down so that you don’t have to go over them again.

One Cloth for Strings

polishing cloth for violinIf you want to clean your viola safely, you should have one cloth that you use only on the strings. You can use this cloth to polish each string, and you can work your way down the instrument.

Start with one string, and clean the entire length of it from the neck to the bridge on the body of the viola. You can then use the same cloth for the other strings, but pick another area of the cloth for each string.

Also, you can use the cloth to wipe down the bow and bow hairs. Again, make sure you choose another part of the cloth. When wiping the bow hairs, make sure you go with the grain so that you don’t damage the hairs.

Do you need to buy some quality cloths? You can find them at any store or online, you can find a 5-pack of microfiber cloths for around $8 or a premium microfiber polishing cloth for around $6.

Another for Skin

You should have another cloth on hand to clean the parts of your viola that your skin touches. Use this cloth to clean areas like the back of the neck, the shoulders, and the shoulder rest. You can also use it to polish the other areas of the viola that you don’t touch as much so that you can polish the entire instrument.

It’s essential to use a different cloth for this part because using the same cloth as earlier means the rosin dust could transfer to the wood. Not only does that mean you wasted your time cleaning off the rosin, but it can also damage the wood finish over time.

Keep Water Away

When cleaning your viola, make sure to keep water from getting on or in it. You don’t need to keep your viola in a dry environment because some humidity can help the wood. If the wood gets too wet though, it can damage the viola and affect your sound.

Before you start cleaning, wash your hands, and dry them as best as you can. Having clean and dry hands means you can limit the amount of oil that you transfer to your viola as you clean it. If your hands are dry, you won’t have to worry about water soaking into the wood.

Clean Regularly

It may be tempting to put your viola away after a long practice session and clean it later. While you can do that if you’re in a hurry, try not to do that often. Unfortunately, you may not be able to see some oil or dust until it becomes a significant issue.

If you don’t have time to clean it right after playing, you should make time before you play your viola again so that you can get any rosin and oils off.

Cleaning your viola each time you practice won’t take more than a couple of minutes, and it can make a big difference. You can prevent dust and oils from building up on the wood. If you don’t clean your viola regularly, you may need to take it to a professional for a more thorough cleaning.

Other Things to Consider

Hill & Sons Varnish CleanerSometimes, you may not be able to clean your viola effectively yourself. If you notice a lot of rosin accumulating on the instrument, a professional can safely remove it. You can also buy an instrument polish cleaner such as Hill & Sons Varnish Cleaner or Dunlop’s Orchestral 65 Polish & Cleaner – both are engineered to protect the viola’s finish.

If you find that rosin builds up on your strings, you can use a magic eraser to get it off. However, don’t use the eraser on the wood because wood is porous, and the eraser is only for non-porous surfaces.

If possible, sit down when you clean your viola. Then, you can rest certain parts of it on your lap as you clean other parts. While you don’t want to drop it at all, it won’t fall as far if you’re on a chair as if you’re standing.

As you upgrade to a higher-level instrument, you need to take more care of your viola. If you ever get to play an older, more valuable model, don’t attempt to do anything more than general wipe downs and applying polish. If you have a scratch in the finish, take it to a professional.

If you don’t already have a violin case, you need one to protect your instrument. From our research, we have case recommendations for you.

Final Thoughts

The viola can be sweet and melodic or dramatic and mellow, but that depth can be hard to achieve if your strings and bow are dirty. If you take the time to clean your viola regularly, you can walk on stage or into a rehearsal room with confidence.

Make sure to check out our other articles on viola cleaning and maintenance. Also check out our viola gear page for recommendations that will help you save money.

Josh Olswanger

I've been playing and writing music since the age of 13. My father is a piano tuner/technician of 40 years, and I've been musically involved in all aspects from composing, to recording, producing and playing live for most of my life. I've always had a fascination and appreciation for all types of music and musical instruments, so creating this site is a perfect outlet to share my knowledge.

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