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Cleaning Bowstrings the Right Way: The Complete Guide


Having a complete guide about cleaning bowstrings the right way is something that every novice archer should have.

Cleaning bowstrings the right way: the complete guide.  Cleaning your bowstrings properly is necessary to keep your bow functioning accurately.  Having a complete guide with step-by-step instructions on how to clean bowstrings is something that every archer should have.

Bowstrings get dirty from usage and can affect the accuracy of the bow.  Bows that are frequently used or that are more mechanical can build up dirt. 

Experienced archers have developed their methods of cleaning bowstrings properly.  However, for someone new to this subject, having a guide comes in hand. 

Continue reading to learn more about how to properly clean your bowstrings, as well as additional basic information about archery that a novice needs to know.

Do Bowstrings Really Need to be Cleaned?

Yes, bowstrings need to be kept clean so that your bow functions properly.  A properly maintained bowstring will lengthen the life of your bow and is important for shooting the arrows accurately.

In fact, it is important that your bowstring is cleaned because it is the part of the bow that projects the energy that releases the arrow.

If you are new to archery, you might think that using a basic micro-fiber cloth to clean your bowstring is enough.  You might even think if a bowstring even needs to be cleaned. 

If you own a fairly new bow, you might also think that cleaning the bowstring is not necessary at all, so long as you wax the string. 

Keeping the bowstrings clean will depend on how much you use your bow.  If you do not use your bow that often, you will not need to spend too much time cleaning the bowstring because it will not wear out quickly. 

On the other hand, when you frequently use your bow, it causes the bowstring to wear out faster.  As the bowstring wears out, you will need to put more wax on to keeps it working properly.     

Additionally, manufacturers produce bowstrings materials that make it strong and resistant to stretching.

Different types of materials are used to make bowstrings that can be used with a low-end or a high-end bow.

  • Low-end bowstrings are made of Dacron fiber.  Dacron bowstrings can eventually wear out and be stretched out.

(Dacron is polyethylene terephthalate fiber that is also used in pillows, cushions and other products)

  • High-end bowstrings are made with Dyneema fiber.  Dyneema bowstrings are pre-waxed and referred to the strongest fiber material.

(Dyneema is an ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene fiber.)

Some experienced archers have their cleaning methods and many forums will explain that merely loosening and waxing the bundle and pulling the dirt and wax right off, which sounds simple.

So, for those of you who don’t know how to clean a bowstring, here are some easy steps you can follow.

How to Clean Bowstrings?

Now that we know the basic types of materials commonly used to manufacture bowstrings, we can focus on the steps to properly clean a bowstring.  Before you begin though, you need to inspect the bowstrings for wear and tear signs, such as fuzz.

If you see signs of wear lightly and tear on your bowstring, there are two simple steps you can do to clean your bowstrings.

Two-Step Process

Step 1:

 Get a damp micro-fiber cloth

Step 2:

Lightly rub the damp micro-fiber cloth along the grain of the bowstring. 

  • It is important not to use too much pressure because it can damage the bowstring.

However, if the two-step process is not enough to clean the dirt and grim off the bowstring, you can try the three-step process. 

Three-Step Process

Step 1:

Inspect the bowstring and cable for signs of wear and tear, or fuzziness.

Step 2:

Use a piece of serving thread and loop it around the bowstring and pull at the ends, as if you are tying it around the bowstring without tying it. 

  • Serving thread is tough, has a good grip and can remove dirt.

Step 3:

Take the ends of the serving thread and run it up and down the bowstring.

  • By running the serving thread up and down the bowstring, it will pull off the dirt and debris.  It will also pull out some of the wax.  Therefore, after cleaning the bowstring, you will need to apply more wax.

When you run the serving thread along the bowstring, you might need to position the bow so that you can pull the thread easily.

Also, while there are cleaners that can be used to clean bowstrings, some products can end up drying out the bowstring material.

Can I Use Cleaners?

Many archers use a serving thread to clean the dirt off of the bowstrings.  In addition to using a serving thread to clean the dirt off of your bowstring, you can also use cleaning products.  However, if you properly maintain your bowstring and it is lightly soiled, you can also use a damp cloth.

After threading the dirt off with a server, you can apply a cleaner solution to the strings and wipe away any excess dirt or wax. 

One widely used cleaner is called Scorpion Venom. 

  • Scorpion Venom cleaner can be used to remove dirt build-up from bowstrings.  You can find a 1 oz — cleaner on Amazon for about $10.00.

Check out this video where they show you show to use Scorpion Venom on a compound bow string:

Using a cleaner can make the cleaning process easier, though some people have said that it can dry out the bowstring. 

If you do not use your bow as frequent, using a cleanser is not necessary.  If you frequently use your bow and dirt gets built up, using a cleanser in addition to cleaning the string with a serving thread will work better. 

Waxing Bowstrings

After you have cleaned your bowstrings, the next process is waxing.

It is important to apply wax after you have cleaned the bowstrings.   When the wax of a bowstring diminishes, the strings can begin to fuzz or tear which affects the accuracy of the shot.

Without wax, the strings can become dry and water can seep into the strings causing damage.

The waxing process is simple to do.  You only need to use a small amount of wax on the string and you can apply it with your finger all along the string until it is covered with a small layer of wax.

Some was products come with applicators used to apply the wax or you can always use a piece of cloth.

We should mention that as you are rubbing the wax into the bowstring, this will create the string to heat up.

There are several brands of wax including:

  • Scorpion Venom
  • ML-6
  • Bohning

However, if any part of the bowstring is torn or has excess fuzz, it is best to replace the string.

How Do I Wax Bowstrings?

The steps to apply wax to bowstrings are simple and it is also not necessary to use a lot of wax on the bowstrings.  If you do not use your bow as frequent, the bowstring may have little to no signs of fraying or fuzz. 

If there are no signs of damage, cleaning the strings with a damp cloth will be enough and waxing will not be needed.

As mentioned before, you need to inspect the string and look for indications of tearing or fuzz.  When there are light signs of fuzz on the string, applying wax will revitalize the bowstring. 

If you feel that you need to re-apply wax to the bowstring, be sure to clean the string either with the three-step process or with a cleanser.

After your bowstrings are cleaned, you can apply the wax as follows:

1st: Apply the wax product along the string and cables.  You can buy wax that comes in a container like a glue stick to make it easier to apply to the string.  Do not apply any of the wax on the string that has serving thread.

2nd: Use your fingers to rub the wax into the grooves of the bowstring.  Make sure that you apply the wax all around the string and that the strands are covered.  We should mention that when you are rubbing the wax on the string, the friction will cause it to heat up.

3rd: With a piece of cloth or fabric, you can spread the wax evenly throughout the bow.  You can wrap the piece of fabric around the bowstring (like a loop) and pull it up and down the bowstring.

4th: Remove any excess wax off of the bowstring and let it set for a while.

Although the waxing process is simple, here is a brief video on how to wax a bowstring.

Maintaining your Bowstring

Now that you know how to clean and wax bowstrings, maintaining them will be easier because it will keep your bowstring from wearing out faster. 

When you inspect your bowstring and you notice that the string appears to have fuzziness, it means that it is time to wax the bowstring.

Using wax periodically can prevent your bowstring from tearing apart.

You should also clean the bowstrings before applying wax to them.  You can rub the wax on the string with a cloth or with your fingers.

Although high-end bowstrings are pre-waxed, it will eventually wear out and can cause it to tear if not maintained.

If you do not maintain your bowstring, it can cause damage to your bow.  Your bow can break or can bend its shape.

If you do not wax the bowstring, the fuzziness can turn into rips and tears on the string.  If there are tears in the bowstring and you shoot from it, the string can burst.

Eventually, without the occasional cleaning and waxing, you might have to buy new bowstrings.

What Else Do I Need to Clean?

Cleaning bowstrings is a simple process.  However, to keep your equipment working accurately, you should also maintain your bow that is attached to the bowstring.  It also makes sense to clean your bow, not just the bowstrings.

In addition to bowstrings showing signs of wear and tear, the bow itself can also show signs of damage.   When you maintain and clean your bow and bowstrings, the accuracy of the shot will not be affected.

Some bows will be easier clean than others.  For instance, a longbow is typically made from a single piece of wood which means it can be cleaned easily.

Since there are also different styles of bows that are more complicated than a classic one-piece bow, cleaning the bowstrings and bow will become more time consuming and will require more steps.

For instance, the strings on a compound bow will also wear and tear where the pulleys and cables are.  Therefore, you need to inspect the string in this area as well.

Longbows

Longbows are laminated and finished with a coat of resin or glue to keep any moisture from the wood.  And, if you see signs of wear and tear to the bow, you can put a little bit of furniture wax to keep moisture from affecting the bow.

You can also use some Danish oil for any scratches. 

Since the shape of a longbow is simple and there are minimal parts to it, cleaning the bow and bowstrings can be done either with the two-step or three-step process.

For those who are not familiar with a traditional longbow, the main parts of it are:

  • The string:
    • The bowstring is attached to the ends of the bow.
  • The riser
    • The riser is the middle section of the bow
  • The nock
    • The nock is the mid-area of the bowstring where you place the back of the arrow when shooting
  • The limbs
    • The limbs are the ends of the bow where you attach the bowstrings
  • The grip
    • The grip is on the riser (middle section of the bow) where you hold the bow
  • The arrow rest
    • The arrow rest is in the middle of the riser are where you position the arrowhead (front part of the arrow) to shoot

Another reason why cleaning the bowstrings of a longbow is simple is because the string does not go through pulleys or cables.

Compound bows

Other bows, such as a compound bow, will require more time because you need to disassemble parts of the bow because some parts move.  In addition to the basic parts of a traditional longbow, the compound bow includes:

  • Cams
    • Cams are the circular wheel parts at the ends of the bow and is what defines the compound bow.  Cams are mechanical and make it easier for the archer when drawing the bowstring.  There are four types of cam systems: single, binary, hybrid and twin cams.
  • Cables
    • The cables pull the string and are connected through the cams.  This causes the cams to draw the bowstring.
  • Cable guard
    • The cable guard is the part that keeps the cables from making contact with the riser.  The purpose of this is so that the arrow is not affected when shooting.
  • Cable slide
    • The cable slide is a small part that is used with the cable guard for the same purpose of keeping the cable away from the arrow when shooting.

If you are not experienced or familiar with the parts of the bow, it is best to mark all measurement information before removing anything.  The riser also includes some parts, such as the sight, rest tick and stabilizers, and it is best to mark them before you disassemble it.

If you are knowledgeable with the components of a compound bow, you can remove the pieces before beginning to clean the bow.  But before you begin, it is recommended to inspect your bow for any type of damage.

To clean the hard-to-reach places, such as the riser, sight, stabilizers and cams, you can use a Q-tip; you can use cotton balls to clean the limbs of the bow.  If you see that there is rust on any pieces, you can use a small wire brush to scrub off the rust.

In addition, after removing the bowstrings, it is a good idea to inspect the axles and how smooth they spin.

Once you are done cleaning the bow, you can begin to re-assemble the strings, parts and accessories.

What About the Arrows?

Arrows are made from different materials such as wood, carbon fiber or aluminum.  Additionally, if you are going to clean the bowstring and bow, you might as well clean the arrows.

Cleaning your arrows is good practice especially if you are a competing archer because you want to be presentable at your competitions.

Using the proper arrow with the appropriate bow affects the accuracy of the shot.  If you don’t already know, the basic parts of an arrow are the arrowhead, the shaft, the fletching and the nock.

When an archer is using their arrows for target practice, the arrowheads will get dirty from the target.  If you see dirt on the arrowhead, it can easily be cleaned with alcohol and cotton swabs or gauzes.

Some basic steps to clean the arrowhead are:

1. Get cotton gauze

2. Pour some alcohol on the gauze

3. Rub the gauze on the arrowhead

The shaft of the arrow can also get scratched and can be fixed with some soft glue.  With a small razor blade, you can shape and scrape off any excess glue.

Fletching also get damaged and wear and tear.  Fletching can be removed and you can attach new ones.  (If you are a beginner such as I was, the feathers that you see at the ends of an arrow are called fletching).  It is important to have good fletching on an arrow because that is what guides the arrow through its flight and affects how accurate you shoot at the intended target. 

Bowstrings, Bows and Archery

Sometimes a guide will be of no use unless you are familiar with the topic.  For instance, if you do not know that the bowstring is a part of the bow, you might not understand what needs to be cleaned and why.

The purpose of the bowstring is important to understand because it is the part that projects the arrow.  The end of the arrow (where the feathers are) is placed at the string when you pull the string back.

Depending on how far you pull the string (the draw length) will determine the distance and speed that the arrow will shoot out at.

The concept of shooting arrows with a bow is called Archery.  And, archery has its own terminology that can be overwhelming for a beginner.

Archery can be a sport or a hobby; it can be used for hunting or for target practice.  The basic equipment that is used in archery includes the bow, the arrows and a target.

Bows

One thing to know about bows is that it is the main component needed in archery.  Without the bow, you cannot shoot the arrows.  Additionally, it is important to understand that there are various types of bows such as:

  • Longbow
  • Recurve bow
  • Short bow
  • Compound Bow

Each type of bow also varies in size, weight, purpose, styles, to name a few. 

Longbow

For instance, the size of a longbow is about the height of a person and the bowstring will be long and the shape of the bow and bowstring is recognizable and gives it the appearance of a capital D.  The size best suitable for you will depend not only on your height but on the force it takes you to pull the string back.  This is called your draw length. 

Cleaning the bowstring of a longbow is simple because the string is attached straight from end to end of the bow.

Recurve Bow

A recurve bow is shorter in length as compared to a longbow.  The shape of the ending limbs of a recurve bow curves outwards and point out in the direction of the target.  Because of the shape of the limbs, the bowstring projects the arrow out with more energy and force.  This shoots out the arrow quicker. 

Most of the bowstring runs straight along with the bow, which is the easy part to clean.  However, the ends of the string touch the ends of the bow.

Short Bow

A short bow is similar to a longbow but shorter (of course).  Since it is shorter in length, the bowstring will also be shorter.  This means that the draw length will be short as well.  Because of the size, a short bow is best used when the target is in close distance. 

The shape of a short bow is simple like a longbow and, since the bowstring is shorter, cleaning and waxing the string will be simple.

Compound Bow

A compound bow has pulleys and cables, making it more mechanical than a traditional longbow or recurve bow.  The bowstring runs through the pulleys and cables allowing the arrow to shoot out with greater power.  A compound bow has more parts attached to it; therefore, cleaning it and maintaining the compound bow will require more knowledge.

Important Things to Remember

While the basic steps to keeping your bowstrings clean is simple, the amount of time it takes varies because there are different styles of bows.

  • The simple two-step process is an easy method if you own a fairly new bow and do not use it regularly.  The two-step cleaning process can be used on a simple traditional longbow because of its plain shape.
  • If you are a practicing archer and use your bow frequently, the bowstrings and bow will show more wear and tear signs.  It is best to inspect your bow and bowstrings frequently to determine when it is necessary to clean and re-apply wax.
  • The three-step process uses a serving thread.  You pull the thread up and down the bowstring and it will take off dirt, grime and wax.

In addition to knowing how to clean the bowstrings, re-applying wax to the strings is necessary and keeps it durable.  When you see fuzz around the string, you should apply some wax to it.  Otherwise, the more you use the bowstrings without adding wax, the more likely the bowstring can break.

Cleaning and waxing the bowstrings can also be done while you clean the bow and arrows.  The cleaning process will be different and will require additional steps on a more mechanical bow because of the moving parts. 

Cleaning the bowstring of a longbow can be simple enough for you to try on your own.  However, if you are not comfortable cleaning an advanced bow, you can always take it to a professional.

Peter Sontrop

I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy field archery and target shooting with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.

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