Are Hand Sanitizers and Other Household Products Safe For Your Guitar?
If you are lucky enough to have some hand sanitizer available to you in these days of dearth, it is very important to your guitar’s health that you pay attention to how you apply the sanitizer and when it is safe to play your guitar if you have it on your hands. If you are not able to get your hands on some sanitizer, um, so to speak, see below for a handy homemade sanitizer recipe at the end of this article. It is hands down better than nothing!
Our good friend at C.F. Martin & Co., Brenden Hackett sent us the following message: With the increased use of hand-sanitizer, it’s advisable that customers allow the sanitizers to completely dry before touching a guitar! Alcohol generally does not affect our finishes but it would be impossible for us to test all of the sanitizers out there.
Words of wisdom to be sure! It is doubly important that you do not touch your guitar if your hand sanitizer contains silicates of any kind. Silicates are often confused with silicone, which also has a negative reputation where guitar finishes are concerned, including nitrocellulose lacquers like those protecting the tonewood of a Martin guitar. But they are by no means the same thing, even if both substances contain the natural element silicon.
You MUST allow the sanitizer to completely dry before touching a guitar!
Silicate vs. Silicone
Silicates are tiny bits of silica, in other words quartz rock, or any of the many other minerals made mostly of SiO42− (molecules of silicon and oxygen in combination with metal ions.) That narrows things down to most of the earth’s outer crust. The important thing is that if you are covering your hands with silicates you are effectively turning them into fine grain sandpaper. Not the best thing to be sliding over your precious musical instrument. We and Martin are not advocating that you cease using hand sanitizer! And we do not know if any sanitizer actually contains silicates. This is more of a generic warning to be aware that some products might contain silicates, and if it feels at all like yours might, you may want to rethink playing your guitar for a while.
Silicone is a manmade substance (polysiloxane or other polymers) consisting of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms in combination with other elements like carbon and hydrogen. It is used to create many things from rubber and artificial leather to antacids and artificial limbs. It is widely said to be dangerous to guitar finishes. But it is also used in some guitar polishes. This suggests it depends on the specific material coming into contact with your guitar, and on the specific kind of finish on your guitar. Some luthiers say silicone is not a problem once a finish is dry, but it can cause issues with areas that are refinished, because it can prevent the finish from adhering to the wood – so it is claimed.
In any case, we know many guitarists who avoid bringing their guitar into contact with guitar straps and rubber coated guitar stands, even the fake leather upholstery on their easy chair, which might contain silicone or other polymers that could react with their instrument’s lacquer finish. And if they do rest their guitar against such items they are quick to wipe down the guitar afterwards. Not all guitar finishes are the same, and many are not as delicate or reactive as the natural nitrocellulose lacquer used by C. F. Martin & Co. But why take chances? And these words of warning aren’t just directed at hand sanitizer. Other everyday products used to heal, protect, or sooth your skin may not be good for your guitar.
For example, we have one friend who sprayed Off brand insect repellant on his forearms before playing his new D-28 on the porch of a vacation cabin. The next day the finish was distorted and wavy just where his forearm rested on the soundboard, as if it had melted and then hardened again. That guitar is now 20 years old and the ripples in the finish are still there. The bottom line is to be cautious and mindful of what you apply to your hands and arms, if you are not certain of any effect it may have on your guitar finish. But by all means keep applying hand sanitizer! The health and safety of you and your family matter most. And from our greater family at Maury’s Music we wish you the best of health and luck through these unsettling times.
Hand Sanitizer Recipe
For those who can’t obtain any hand sanitizer, here is a recipe to make your own at home, thanks to a registered nurse who shared it with a mutual friend of Maury’s Music.
2/3 Cup 99% rubbing alcohol (isopropyl or ethanol.)
1/3 Cup aloe vera gel (to counter the drying effect of the alcohol)
8 to 10 Drops of essential oil optional for fragrance and skin soothing (lavender, peppermint, vanilla)
1 to 2 Drops of one antimicrobial essential oil optional for added antimicrobial protection (tea tree, arborvitae, cinnamon, clove, thyme.) But such oils can be harsh on skin, so go easy on this.
Mix ingredients in a bowl with spoon or spatula, pour into glass bottles. Spritz away!
IMPORTANT: Do not use other types of alcohol (e.g., methanol, butanol), as they are toxic.
The alcohol must be 60% of the mixture to be effective. If you only have alcohol solution under 91% then it needs to be a greater percentage of the mixture.
After all that, do not forget about good old-fashion soap! Traditional soap is abnormally good at getting viruses off your skin, clothes, etc. According to a renowned chemist, it is actually better than alcohol and other sanitizers at destroying the structure of a virus.
Here is a marvelous article they wrote that explains the science behind why that is.