Caring for a violin bow, like caring for a violin, requires dedication and consistency, but can save money on expensive repairs over the long run.
With so much emphasis on violin care, the proper maintenance and care of the violin bow can get lost in the shuffle. In many ways, a violin bow is much more delicate and susceptible to misuse than the violin itself. Still, many of the standard rules of violin care can and should be applied to the care of the bow. This is true, whether we're discussing violin bows, cello bows or viola bows.
For instance, keeping a bow clean is essential to proper care of a bow. After applying rosin to a bow and playing for any amount of time, rosin dust will not only accumulate on the instrument, but also on the bow itself. Any professional violin shop or online violin store will sell soft, microfiber cloths. These cloths are ideal for cleaning not only a violin but the bow as well. By gently wiping the frog and the wooden portions of the bow, the cloth can easily remove any freshly created rosin dust that has accumulated from the last playing session.
Besides excess rosin, other kinds of grime will accumulate on a bow, such as perspiration and oil from the bowing hand. It is imperative, therefore, that the bow be cleaned in this manner after every playing because the cloth will not remove the sticky rosin dust, sweat and oil that accumulates over a long period of time.
When it comes to maintaining the cleanliness of the bow hairs, the experts are divided. There are those who suggest using a soft-bristled toothbrush to remove deposits of rosin accumulated on the hair. This is a low risk technique and may be effective as long as it is applied after each playing. The technique of washing bow hair, however, is a high-risk technique not recommended for anyone but very experienced players.
A hair washing consists of freeing the hair by loosening the screw and cleaning the hair first with alcohol, which, if it comes into contact with the wood of the bow, can damage the finish. The alcohol removes excess rosin, while washing the hairs with soap and water removes fat deposits and sweat and dirt. The bow is then towel dried before the next application of rosin.
If the bow arrives at a point of needing a hair cleaning, it is recommended to take the bow to a local shop for cleansing. The service is generally inexpensive compared to the cost of repairing a bow if alcohol or other cleaning chemicals damage it.
Speaking of bow hair, to keep it in optimum playing condition, the easiest and most basic thing you can do is to refrain from over-tightening the bow. After playing and practicing, the bow should always be loosened before placing it back in the case.