Clean nitro with naphtha they say, no worky sez I

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by cdlynch, Feb 23, 2017.

  1. I have a '72 nitro finished Gibson that hasn't been fully cleaned in the 18 years I've had it, and it's anyone's guess how long before that. The broad consensus seems to be soft cotton rags, damp with water, and then graduate to naphtha if needed. Neither is working for me, and the film just gets shoved around the surface, with very little transferring to the cloth. Some also say distilled white vinegar is OK, which I haven't tried yet.

    Some also say mild detergent, but that's usually petroleum based, so I'm wary of that. Then again, so is naphtha. One thing I'm curious about is unscented castile soap. I have some unscented Bronner's that I could try if there's no objection, but I can't find ANY reference to its use in all of google-dom. Here are the ingredients:

    Water, Organic Coconut Oil, Potassium Hydroxide*, Organic Palm Kernel Oil, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Citric Acid, Tocopherol
    * None remains after saponifying oils into soap & glycerin.​

    I also saw mention of nearly undiluted Simple Green, but I couldn't make out if the finish in question was nitro. Its ingredients (includes Ethoxylated Alcohol - bad?):

    Water, Ethoxylated Alcohol, Sodium Citrate, Tetrasodium N,N-bis(carboxymethyl)-L-glutamate, Sodium carbonate, Citric Acid, Isothiazolinone mixture, Colorant, Fragrance​

    I'd love to give it a safe and effective cleaning that still gives me a little time to play the damn thing before I croak. If naphtha (or maybe OMS?) is the only answer, I will spend hours shoving around grime in a toxic cloud, end up with a hazy finish anyway, and die before I can play another note. I pray to the Great Science in the Sky that there is a safe and effective alternative!

    Especially if that alternative is already in my home and doesn't require a special order of Virtuoso Cleaner!

    Any chemists in the house?
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2017
  2. Manton Customs

    Manton Customs UK Luthier

    Jan 31, 2014
    Shropshire, UK
    Luthier, Manton Customs
    Can you post pics of the haze?
  3. My experience of Naptha on metal is it cut through grease very effectively. Maybe the issue is the guitar actually needs a proper cut and polish? The haze could be microscratches built up on the surface. The good news is, if this is the case nitro is apparently very easy to polish.
    cdlynch likes this.
  4. Maybe, I just have an iPod touch 5 for a "camera" and it'll be nearly impossible to light and get the right angle to show the difference between haze and normal.

    I'm not interested in polishing, just cleaning. The less dirty bits are plenty shiny when wiped clean.

    I should also mention that the hazy bits are not a result of finish damage, it's just a film of filth that I can mush around at will, but won't lift off with ease. That's why I'm looking for more of a soapy option if possible.
  5. Means2nEnd

    Means2nEnd Supporting Member

    Hey cdlynch I just dd some major repairs to a Gibson early 70's acoustic guitar. The finish was def nitro and even soft and weird in some spots. After we glued the bridge and repaired bracing inside we did some touch ups and blending. When I was finished I cleaned the top that we didn't touch with naptha and I got what I think is the same thing you got a cloudy haze in the finish. I always use the Stew Mac preservation polish for anything with lacquers because there is no alcohol or silicone and it's formulated for it and it works great but it didn't seem to work on this Gison that's why I went to naptha.

    I think along the way throughout it's years of service some unknowing knuckleheads used stuff like Pledge or other junk with silicone and alcohol and it left the lacquer soft and gummy in some spots. The only thing that helped and actually completely took all the haze away was I let it dry for a week or so after my chemical onslaught and took it to my buffing wheel at 1200 RPMs with some Menzerna beige fine compound and with light buffing not a ton of heat building up from pressing in too hard it went away thank the Gods of finishing.
    cdlynch likes this.
  6. Quick update: I got brave/stupid and tried some very diluted unscented* castile soap. I worked a small dirty area with it, some grime came off, then I used a damp rag to "rinse," and a dry rag. All soft cotton of course. It seems to work very well, and when I use the dry rag, after the rinse pass, the area I cleaned ends up shiny, and the surrounding dirty area behaves as before, just smooshing around the hazy filth. So, I'm confident that I'm not dealing with a decaying finish, and the soap isn't eating it either. It's just that dirty. After the soap pass I could still do the naphtha if needed, but I doubt it.

    I'm not recommending anyone try the castile thing without some pros weighing in, and I'll update when I get a chance to bathe the whole beast, then we'll just call it "one schmoe's limited experience."

    * unscented because scents are essential oils that can react badly with all kinds of stuff, so I figure nitro is one of those things.
  7. Is your bass covered in tar?!
  8. Nah, just the usual 45 years of sweat, beer, nicotine, and [insert horror here]. No big deal, I just don't want to touch it anymore.
  9. Christopher DBG

    Christopher DBG Commercial User

    May 18, 2015
    Westerly, RI
    Luthier/Owner, Christopher Bass Guitar
    Try mineral spirits. I'm not sure it will get the gunk off, but it won't hurt the nitro and it is good at getting gummy kinds of goop off.
    cdlynch likes this.
  10. BusyFingers


    Nov 26, 2016
    Don't try to reinvent the wheel. The absolutely best stuff for nitro instruments is called Virtuoso. They have a cleaner and polish.
    cdlynch likes this.
  11. It's been a few days since I gave it a bath with diluted castile soap. I was able to remove the grime that looked and felt gross on the body and back of the neck with minimal elbow grease. The finish was not made tacky, so I think I'm in good shape.

    I know people love Virtuoso, but it's about $10 for 4 oz., compared to $13 for 32 oz. of unscented castile soap that I diluted about 10/1, so value-wise it's more like $13 for 320 oz., and I already had it at home. In addition, they don't divulge their ingredients (not a big deal as it has a great track record) and their website reads like lots of hype with little information, and I just wasn't comfortable going for it, plus I didn't want to wait for shipping.

    The castile soap does seem to knock down the gloss slightly, so if that bums me out I'll polish it, but so far I'm not bummed. Since the result isn't 100% perfect I won't suggest that people try it, but then again, Virtuoso also sells a polish formula, so maybe those results are similar? I haven't tried, so I'm not claiming anything.

    $2.50/oz. or $0.04/oz.? OK, fine, I'm cheap as hell. ;)
  12. TomB

    TomB Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2007
    Martin Guitar Cleaner / Polish. Great results! idea what it costs as I've had a 4 oz. bottle for over 20 years!
    ColdEye and cdlynch like this.
  13. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    I looked over their website just now and you're right, not only are there no ingredients listed or even described, but there is no link to a materials safety data sheet, and they're in California? Huh? How do they get away with that? How does any business stock it legally without an MSDS?
    cdlynch likes this.
  14. I did a search on Virtuoso and I'd have to do the search again to link here, but I found a long thread elsewhere about that. They have the MSDS but are allowed to keep it secret because they are in compliance with CA, and protect their formulas as "trade secrets" meaning the formula is hard to reverse engineer, so that's a better method for them than a patent. That's the same strategy Coca Cola uses. Patents run out, but trade secrets don't unless someone figures out and publishes the formula. It's perfectly legal and not shady, just annoying for those that like details. :)
  15. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    That would never fly here, which is probably why it's available in so few place here in Canada. Anyone who thinks Cali is restrictive with enviro and safety should come to Canada for a fresh perspective on how free California is. :D If a WorkSafe officer visits me and finds a product without an MSDS, I get an order to comply with it within 30 days, and a fine thereafter, period. If their "proprietary formula" can be emulated to their detriment just by reading the components in an MSDS, then their product contains such a low number of ingredients that it could be easily reproduced. That's enough for me to call it snake oil. Even snake oil sometimes worked for people, after all the placebo effect works about 33% of the time... :D
  16. Is Coke snake oil? The ingredients have been cleared by CA or they couldn't sell it. Just because they have a trade secret doesn't mean they can get around the law. It also doesn't make it snake oil, or easy to duplicate. Sometimes knowing the ingredients of a thing isn't enough to copy it. The process by which the ingredients are combined or treated, can be as, or more important. Or, Virtuoso cleaner could just liquid Ivory soap, but we'll never know.

    I'm not here to bash anyone's product; I just wanted to use what I already have, because I'm impatient and reckless! ;)