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How safe is it to use denatured alcohol to clean strings?

Discussion in 'Strings [BG]' started by nrs7six, Nov 7, 2016.

  1. Hi all,

    I am curious to try this method of cleaning strings but am wondering how safe it is, after all, denatured alcohol/methylated spirits are poisonous!

    From what I gather, the denatured alcohol will evaporate. Is this all of it? Will any of it be left behind and can any of this get into your system from the strings through your fingers?

    This might seem a daft question to some but I don't want to use this technique if there is any risk to my health and I can't find any direct answer to this question via search.

    Last edited: Nov 8, 2016
  2. hbabels

    hbabels Supporting Member

    Jul 26, 2015
    Phoenix, AZ
    I clean my strings this way for years.
    I let strings dry after soaking & they sound brand new !

    Never had any problems or health issues from it.
    stacker and Funkabilly like this.
  3. ubernator


    Oct 30, 2004
    lost angels
    Do you reuse the alcohol? What do you soak them in? I never got farther than soaking a cloth with alcohol and wiping the strings. Back in the day I would boil them and pour in a little alcohol and the gas range would flare up, fun! Now boiling is less feasible and I just wipe them down with a cloth wet with 91% isopropyl, well it is more of a pinch and drag than a wipe. But I wouldn't say the results are "like new". With nickel strings though, if I don't do it every time I play, they die real quick. I get a little more life out of them with constant cleaning.

    Just don't drink the stuff. But then again I am using rubbing alcohol which is used on the skin all the time, not sure of the risks with denatured stuff.

    I have used the wound prep pads before too, 70% isopropyl soaked. More feasible to bring to practice and a gig than a bottle of rubbing alcohol.
    physics likes this.
  4. hbabels

    hbabels Supporting Member

    Jul 26, 2015
    Phoenix, AZ
    I do rebuse alcohol , and I have a PVC pipe cut to neck length of bass & capped at one end.
    Just slide in strings & let soak for a couple of hours. Then take out wipe off with a rag & let air dry for a while for the rest to evaporate off.

    Works great very noticeable difference.
    Roxbororob and riimodar like this.
  5. ubernator


    Oct 30, 2004
    lost angels
    I save my strings, so someday I might try this. Several hours soaking sounds like it might really dissolve all the crud. Does the type of alcohol used matter? Surely 91-99% would be better than 50%-70%, but does it need to be denatured, or is isopropyl sufficient? How would you compare it to the old 10 minute boiling in water with a little alcohol mixed in?

    What diameter PVC? Reminds me of my 10th grade science experiment with semipermeable membrane for reverse osmosis. And what we did with the leftover pipe, caps and some Estes rocket engines ;)
  6. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Don't drink it. Don't get it in your eyes. Don't use it near anything that could light it on fire.
    Other than that there is no danger to you.
    Ewo likes this.
  7. hbabels

    hbabels Supporting Member

    Jul 26, 2015
    Phoenix, AZ
    I get "denatured alcohol" usually found in painting section of Home Depot or "Lowes".

    Don't remeber the exact diameter maybe 1/2 " or 1" maybe 3/4"
  8. I found it much easier to boil strings in water with some vinegar. Dry on a towel for a few hours.

    Word of caution: if you're doing this to make the strings sound new again, the effect doesn't last long--in fact the zing lasts shorter each time you boil.
  9. GIBrat51

    GIBrat51 Innocent as the day is long Supporting Member

    Mar 5, 2013
    Lost Wages, Nevada
    Denatured alcohol (also known as methylated spirits) is ethanol (the kind we like to drink) with other things added to it (like methanol), to make it the kind we don't like to drink. Depending on what's added (the bottle should say what it is), you can be left with a residue on the strings after the ethanol evaporates. But, it will be miniscule, and should wipe off easily. That bothers some people, however; so, I'm just sayin'...
    Isopropyl alcohol is not the kind of alcohol you want to drink - so, there's usually nothing else in it but water. It's practically impossible to get 100% pure alchohol - it will break down into 98-99 % alcohol/1-2 % water on its own. Isopropyl alcohol is poisonous if you drink it, or get it in your eyes - like iz4005 said - but, other than being extremely flammable, it's safe enough to use. And, since nothing needs to be added - it's already unsafe to drink - there's no residue left when it evaporates...:thumbsup:
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2016
    Roberto Nunez likes this.
  10. Wavy


    Mar 23, 2016
    I didn't realize people still did that. I tried boiling strings once, w baking soda IIRC.
    Waste of time IMO. Strings aren't that expensive.
    I wash my hands before I play and always wipe them with a clean cloth when done.
    tryinalearnDan likes this.
  11. hbabels

    hbabels Supporting Member

    Jul 26, 2015
    Phoenix, AZ
    I've tried the boiling strings method. Soaking in denatured alcohol does a much better job in my experience in returning strings to sound new than boiling.

    I'm not sure if this has to do with less water content in denatured vs rubbing alcohol or the fact you don't have to hear them up.
    But to me they sound & feel better as opppsed to boiling them.

    Also I've had really good results with these : BassBrites Advanced String Cleaner - 30 Wipes

    and this :
    The String Cleaner by ToneGear https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001FSZR4U/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_KksiybM42TF6E

    Definitely extends string life / helps keep new string sound.

    Soaking in denatured alcohol being the one that for me has produced the best most dramatic results.
    Mr Butters likes this.
  12. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Supporting Member

    Other than cleaning strings, one of the main uses of denatured alcohol is to clean pro kitchentops.
    It probably wouldn't be if it was dangerous.
  13. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Big Dogs Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    I do the exact same. PVC pipe soaking tube FTW.
  14. evanoverdrive

    evanoverdrive https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dBuenRxMCg Supporting Member

    Oct 13, 2011
    The cheapest thing i have found is the little alcohol soaked lens cleaners used for cleaning eye glasses.They literally cost pennies a piece.I wipe my hands with one before i play, and wipe the strings down with one after. it removes all oils and evaporates with no residue.I have found the BAUSCH AND LOMB SIGHT SAVERS to be the "wettest" brand,with the most soaked pad.
  15. Phalex

    Phalex Semper Gumby Supporting Member

    Oct 3, 2006
    G.R. MI
    Perfectly safe for strings. Maybe really bad for bass finish. (Take the strings off the bass)
    davidprice likes this.
  16. ubernator


    Oct 30, 2004
    lost angels
    I have used curad alcohol prep pads that are available at 99c stores for a pack of 50. Similar results to my pinch and drag method with a rag soaked in rubbing alcohol. Good for taking to gig/practice.

    But saying strings aren't that expensive is pretty ignorant of reality for many people. An average of $20 a set adds up really quickly for people who like a zingy tone, and can barely get a few weeks out of them before they go dead.

    Guitar strings are cheap. Bass strings, not so much. They may break less often, but not everyone prefers the sound of dead strings. Pros change their strings constantly, many for every gig. And they also are given them for free or super cheap. This is why $35 elixirs make sense, they last at least 4x as long for approx 2x the cost. 4x is a conservative rating, at least for those of us who kill nickel strings in record time. Heck they probably last 4x as long as stainless strings. But I still have a few packs of mortal strings I got in a clearance bin at GC, and I need to make them last as long as possible. Rarely do I pay regular price for uncoated (non elixir/cleartone) strings unless they are in a guage not available coated, such as heavy boomers for drop C.
    JMacBass65, Roxbororob and eff-clef like this.
  17. I remove strings from the bass, coil them, and soak them in a tub of denatured alky for at least twenty-four hours. Then I remove the strings and heat dry them under a lamp. Works much better than the boiling I used to do. Also, if strings are boiled multiple times the windings can loosen on the cores.
  18. If you're in a hurry, just burn off the excess alcohol.
    Alcohol burns relatively cool & it wouldn't take long at all.
  19. ubernator


    Oct 30, 2004
    lost angels
    And they rust quicker as well when boiled. I am.going to try to piece together an alky tube. Not sure if coiling them is more efficient or not or if it makes a difference compared to the PVC tube method. I suppose it wouldn't require making anything, but probably uses more alcohol. Or not. Anyone compare how many ounces are needed each way?
  20. physics


    Aug 7, 2009
    Berkeley, CA
    I use the 91% isopropyl alcohol that I get at the local drugstore. I dampen a 2" x 2" white cotton bore patch and pinch scrub the strings along their length.

    The white cotton shows any gunk picked up very well and the alcohol evaporates without leaving a residue. It does a reasonably good job in cleaning the strings and has the advantage of not giving off poisonous fumes or poisoning you through skin absorption.

    I like to follow up the cleaning with a light application of pure mineral oil, further cleans and lubricates the strings. This procedure produced a noticeable improvement in tone and sustain.
    quickfix and Honch like this.

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