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Bow hair cleaning

Discussion in 'Bows and Rosin [DB]' started by mikejdexter, Jan 1, 2014.

  1. mikejdexter


    Jul 9, 2009
    I am fairly new to bowing so any advise would be most helpful.

    Do you clean your bow hair?
    If so, how often?
    What do you use to clean the hair?

    Many thanks.
  2. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    I just cleaned a kids bow that was badly corrupted with black finger gunk. Granted, I'm not an archier, so this should be treated with the typical skepticism about homegrown methods, but it was recommended to me:

    I used pure 100% isopropanol. Heed all of the cautionary labeling on isopropanol. Arranged the bow so that the hair is always beneath the stick -- no chance to get alcohol on the stick. I put a heavy book on a shelf, and the stick under the book, so the tip was pointing out into the room with the hair hanging down. This meant I didn't have to wrangle with the stick while also dealing with the hair.

    Cleaned the hair with a toothbrush that I would continually dip into the isopropanol. At some point I decided that there was no rosin left on the hair. I patted the hair dry with paper towel, then combed back and forth with the toothbrush as the hair dried further.

    I don't know of any other reason to clean bow hair, and it was a last resort before replacing a bow that probably wasn't worth re-hairing. And I practiced on an outgrown kids bow to test the method first.
  3. dfp

    dfp Supporting Member

    Sep 28, 2004
    maybe once, maybe twice between rehairs i will loosen the bow until the frog is off, dip the hair in a sink full of warm water, scrub w/ a toothbrush and/or fingers and a gentle shampoo. rinse, repeat as needed if rosin was really heavy. dry as you would your own hair. it's kinda a juggling act keeping the stick and frog out of the sink, but that's also part of the fun, right?
  4. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    I understand the application in a "disposable bow" like Fdeck's situation. If the hair really does have an excessive amount of "black finger gunk" on it, it isn't going to play very well. This is particularly a problem on French bows as your hand isn't in contact with the hair on a German bow. As far as excessive rosin goes, playing it out is the safest plan of action. A clean dry rag, or a clean dry toothbrush can also work wonders.

    Using alcohol or anything of that nature worries me. If it gets on the wood it will remove the finish/polish on the bow. It is also dangerous around anything that is glued (the ivory/imitation/plastic tip, the eyes in the frog, the pearl slide etc.) as some of the glues used in bow making are not very strong. 99.9% Isopropyl alcohol is one of my go-to methods for removing glue in bow work, so it is a dangerous idea. If you go this route, or use any other products, make sure to keep them away from the stick and frog. From a hair point of view, alcohol dries it out making it brittle and susceptible to breaking. Although it would get some of the gunk out, it would likely do more harm than good in the long run.

    My two cents is your bow hair doesn't really need special cleaning. If you use too much rosin, a clean dry rag/toothbrush is my recommended action. Chances are by the time an excessive amount of finger gunk has developed a rehair is in order. Try to avoid handling the hair as much as possible, but if you touch it once or twice it isn't going to explode or be completely useless. Hair takes a beating, stretches, breaks, and wears out. Any sort of cleaning method might help some, but ultimately isn't going to prolong its playing life that much.
  5. If you just want to scrape off old rosin powder, a toothbrush works fine. A brush made with natural bristle (hog hair) works even better.

    I would always rather spring for a fresh rehair when there's too much gunk built up, but that's not always an option. If things are desperate and you just need a couple more weeks use, you can clean the hair with either rubbing alcohol or acetone. In this case, I would cover the stick with plastic wrap as a precaution and work the acetone in with a brush. Leave the bow in a warm, dry place over night with the hair brought up to tension. If you leave the hair loose, the strands will dry out and stretch irregularly making the whole band of hair useless.
  6. bejoyous


    Oct 23, 2005
    London, Ontario
    I use citrus solvent to remove caked on or melted rosin from my bow hair. Here's my story from a few years back.
  7. My teacher suggested using a cat flee comb on the bow hair every few days. It works great to remove excess rosin from the bow and there no risk of damage to the bow itself.
  8. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    The flee comb will be found on the workbench of anyone that has ever done a rehair, and you can get them with rounded teeth so there is no chance it will damage the hair. It takes the tangles out when you pull a hank from whatever your larger amount of hair is. However, if you are using enough rosin that you feel the need to remove the excess every few days, I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest you are using too much rosin. While I personally use less rosin than some bassists, I cannot think of a scenario where that much rosin would be needed unless you were long overdue for a rehair.

    IMHO, other disclaimers etc.
  9. dbass87


    May 16, 2010
    I think this is my issue and why I'm going to be getting a re-hair. I realized that it has been several years that I've owned my bow and I hadn't rehaired it in that whole time. Granted, I haven't played constantly over that span of time, and when I did a lot of it was pizz. But it seems that I've been applying a fair amount of rosin lately and still getting a lot of scratch on my bow changes on the E string especially, and string crossings. It seems I'm hearing more of an extra "pfff" sound as I bow no doubt from rosin buildup too.