The hairs on your violin bow pick up life’s oil and dust over time, becoming grimy. Once grimy, the bow hairs can’t grasp the violin strings like they should to produce a clear, concise tone—a dirty violin bow results in poor-quality sound. 

Cleaning and maintaining your violin and bow helps to preserve the instrument’s sound quality and longevity. 

Cleaning the Violin Bow Hairs

Follow these steps to learn how to clean your violin bow hairs (and then the stick!).

  1. Gather your materials. You’ll need two clean cloths, a fine comb or unused toothbrush, and denatured alcohol (available on Amazon or at any hardware store, including Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace, and Wal-Mart) or rubbing alcohol. Denatured alcohol is the stronger and purer of the two. Special bow hair cleaners are also available on Amazon for anywhere from $8-$20+.
  • Two cloths
  • Comb or toothbrush
  • Denatured alcohol
  1. Prep your violin bow. Please don’t hold your bow directly over the violin or case while cleaning it. You do not want alcohol dripping onto either one. (You don’t want alcohol dripping, period.) Since you loosened the bow hairs when you put the bow in the case, you’ll now want to tighten them like you were about to play. 
  2. Moisten one cloth with alcohol. Moisten part of one cloth with alcohol. The cloth should be wet but not sopping. Again, you don’t want alcohol dripping anywhere as you clean your bow.
  3. Gently grasp the bow hairs with the moist part of the cloth and rub up and down. You’re now removing rosin, oil, and dust! Be sure not to use too much force, as this can damage the hair.
  4. Wipe the bow hairs with the dry cloth and wait for the hairs to dry completely.
  5. Use a fine comb or unused toothbrush to comb the hair up and away from the wood. Work gently to avoid pulling the hair out, breaking strands, and scratching the bow.
  6. Now, rosin your bow! You will need to apply more than you typically would since the hairs are clean. We generally recommend using Leatherwood Rosin on a CodaBow. It’s a premium brand, but it’s our top pick. 

Continue wiping your bow stick with a soft, lint-free cloth every time you play, and pay attention to signs it’s time to clean the bow hair. 

Signs it might be time to clean the violin bow hair include:

  • Bad bow response
  • Visibly dirty hair, especially near the frog
  • Bow slips with poor sound and more rosin doesn’t help

Still, some signs mean you should look at replacing your violin bow altogether. If the bow is visibly damaged (such as cracks or splinters), it is time to replace it. Additionally, if the bow is crooked or challenging to play with, it may be time for a new one. Finally, if the bow is not producing the desired sound (such as if it is producing a harsh or muted sound), it may be time to invest in a new bow.

Is your violin bow looking worse for the wear? Experience a new carbon fiber bow and high-quality Mongolian horsehair. We’ll send a new bow to your home for just $35. Try it out for seven days, and let us know what you think! Request your in-home trial today.

Cleaning the Violin Bow Stick

Wipe the shaft and frog with a soft cloth immediately after each use to minimize rosin and dirt build-up on your bow. If you do this every time you play, you will likely never need to take additional steps to clean your bow.

But if you have a crust of old rosin on the underside of the bow, you might need to use a polish or cleaner approved for use on stringed instruments. Always read the instructions and ingredients before using a cleaning solution on your bow stick, and never use a commercial or household cleaner on your bow. Sometimes even the vapors of these strong cleaners can damage your instrument.

What About Cleaning Your Violin Case?

When’s the last time you gave your violin case a light vacuum? Animal hair, rosin dust, and other gunk can float into your open case while you practice and play. And when you return your violin and bow back to the case, this same hair, dust, and gunk come into contact with your instrument.

Remove your instrument from the case and use a vacuum cleaner with a handheld attachment to vacuum out the case. A quick vacuum might be all you need to do to freshen up your case! If there are some stubborn spots or spills, use a clean rag with warm water and dish soap to gently scrub the area. Let the case air dry completely before putting your instrument back in.

While you’re waiting for your case to dry, check your current cleaning cloths. You should keep two clean ones in your case: one for wiping rosin and one for wiping down the rest of your instrument. Is it time for some new ones?

Tips for Caring for Your Violin Bow

Following a few basic violin bow care tips will go a long way in helping your bow performance look and sound amazing.

  • Store your bow and violin properly when not playing it.
  • Tighten the bow hairs just before playing and loosen them after.
  • Do not touch the bow hairs with your fingers, as this will transfer oil to the hairs and make it difficult for them to hold rosin.
  • Wipe the shaft and frog with a soft cloth immediately after each use.
  • Depending on use, consider rehairing your bow about every 6 to 12 months.

Violin Bow Cleaning Questions

Q: I heard that cleaning bow hair causes damage, and if the hair needs cleaning, it’s old enough to need replacing. 

A: Improperly cleaning bow hair will lead to damage. Don’t rinse your bow under the water faucet, and don’t put it in the dishwasher! Also, some high-end, expensive types of hair, such as live stallion hair, can be damaged when cleaned as it’s extremely sensitive to humidity and temperature. If your bow has high-quality Siberian or Mongolian horse hair (like that used at CodaBow), you can gently clean your bow hairs and quickly restore their vitality. No need to replace the hairs unless you’re missing a significant amount. 

Q: I’m worried about germs. Can I sanitize my violin bow?

A: Rubbing alcohol can kill bacteria and viruses, but it can also damage any varnished surface. Do not use alcohol on a varnished violin surface. On your violin, you can use a small cotton ball soaked (not dripping) in alcohol or pre-moistened alcohol wipes to clean the chin rest, shoulder rest, fingerboard, and the part of the neck you touch while playing. 

On your bow, you can use a small cotton ball soaked (not dripping) in alcohol or pre-moistened alcohol wipes to clean a few different areas. It depends on whether you have a wood or carbon fiber bow.

  • If you play with a wood bow, only use the alcohol on the grip and frog, then use a regular (dry) cloth to wipe the stick. 
  • If you pay with a carbon fiber bow, you can use the alcohol on the stick and frog. 

Also, do not let anyone borrow your instrument or bow. If you’re worried about germs, you want to limit the number of people who touch your instrument. 

Q: Can I clean my bow hairs instead of rehairing the bow?

A: Sometimes, your bow can be brought back to life with simple cleaning and does not need to be rehaired. Other times, no amount of cleaning will fix the hair, like if the strands are broken or stretched out. Professional violinists generally rehair their bows every 6 to 12 months. Consider that a single thread of bow hair has about 120 hours of useful life before its performance deteriorates. How long does it take you to reach 120 hours of playing?

If your violin bow hair can’t be salvaged with a thorough cleaning, it might be time for a rehair. Contact CodaBow to rehair your bow if:

  • The bow won’t tighten anymore.
  • The bow produces a scratchy sound.
  • Hairs are breaking in the middle of the bow.
  • Hairs are breaking on one side of the bow.
  • The hairs smell bad.

Getting your bow rehaired is easy. Submit a service request and send your bow to our workshop in Winona, MN. We’ll have it back to you in about two weeks.