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How to Clean a Recurve Bow (Plus what not to do)

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I own 2 older recurve bows and I wanted to clean them up and bring out their original beauty.  I figured this was a great opportunity to learn all I could about cleaning a recurve bow and share my findings.

To clean a recurve bow after regular use simply wipe down with a soft cloth to remove lightweight dirt, smudges, or moisture.  For deep cleaning you can use an automotive polishing compound to remove stubborn grime. Follow up by using a quality furniture polish and a soft cloth.

How you clean your recurve will be dependent on whether you’re doing regular maintenance cleaning or if you’re trying to bring a bow back from the dead.  Let’s talk about both as well as some things you shouldn’t do.

Cleaning a Recurve Bow

A clean bow is a happy bow.  There’s a few good reasons to have a clean recurve.  One is that keeping the dirt, grime, and moisture off from the bow will make it last longer.  Another good reason of course is that it makes your bow look better!

Most recurve bows are constructed of wood and fiberglass laminated together and  covered with a protective finish. There are some other materials out there such as solid fiberglass and even carbon fiber.

These methods will work no matter what your bow is made of, but I’m going to concentrate on wood bows because they are the most common.

How you clean your bow will depend on whether you’re doing regular upkeep or if it needs a deep clean.

Cleaning after use

After you shoot your bow it’s good to get into the habit of cleaning it before you put it away.  Regular upkeep like this doesn’t take long and it’ll keep your recurve looking nice for years to come. 

Once you’re done shooting, it’s as simple as taking a clean soft cloth and wiping your bow down.  It only takes a moment and keeps the crud from setting in. A microfiber or terry cloth works great for this.

You don’t need to remove the string, but you can if you prefer.

A couple of times a year I like to give the bow a little bit of extra attention and polish it up.  Furniture polish such as pledge works great for this on wooden bows and really brings out the shine and beauty of the wood.

Deep cleaning

So your bow hasn’t been properly cleaned in a while, or maybe you bought a used bow and it looks like it’s seen better days.  You might need to use a little more elbow grease and some different products to bring it back to life.

To remove more stubborn dirt and grime that have taken up home on your bow you’ll need to be a bit more aggressive.

If the bow is just dirty

Using an automotive polishing compound works surprisingly well at removing stubborn dirt and grime.  The paste kind works best as it provides a little substance that you can work over the surface of the bow.

Follow the directions on the package and try it out on a small inconspicuous spot first if you’ve never used it before.

After working the bow over with some auto polish and wiping clean with a clean cloth, you can then go to the furniture polish and get a good finishing shine that will also protect your bow.

For Recurve Bows in Rough Shape

Maybe you were given an old recurve or picked one up cheap.  Unfortunately people do all kinds of crazy things to their bows beyond just not taking good care of them.

If you have a recurve like this you might have to pull out the big guns to get it cleaned up.

PROCEED WITH CAUTION – what I explain in this section are much harsher cleaning tactics so be careful as you could damage the bow’s finish.

You’ve been warned, now that being said, sometimes you need to risk it to get the gunk off.

Tape residue is a common thing to find on a bow.  First you’ll want to just use your thumb and some elbow grease.  You can remove a decent amount of the adhesive just by rubbing.

After that you may need to use something a big more caustic.  Be careful here if you’re worried about ruining the finish. A few products to try are goo gone and goof off, both work well but don’t overdo it.

Those products will also work well at removing stubborn dirt, markings, and even things like marker.  If you’re really brave you can use some watered down laquer thinner, but use this as a last resort as it will start to take the finish off from your bow.

Ok, so you cautiously removed all the stuck on residue and crud from your bow and the finish is intact but looks really dull.  Now you can try a couple different things to bring back the shine.

The first and less dangerous thing to try would be rubbing compound, like the stuff you find in the auto care section of your favorite big box store.  Follow the directions, it’s just like using it on your car. Don’t over work any one area.

In some cases you may need something a bit more aggressive.  For this you can try some emery cloth or very fine grit wet sandpaper and go over the bow lightly.  Now go to the rubbing compound to smooth out the marks left by the emery cloth. 

The idea here is to work from most aggressive down to the finest method.  So after the rubbing compound you can use an automotive wax or haze remover. 

Now finish things up with the furniture polish. If things went well and you were careful your recurve should look like a whole new bow.

Sometimes, a bow might be a lost cause.  I don’t mean for you to get rid of it, but the finish might be too far gone to save.  This will require a full restoral which is far beyond the scope of this article.

Things NOT to do

So hopefully you read through how to clean your bow and took note of the section where I said to use caution.  Also, if you’re afraid of damaging your bow you should let a professional perform a deep clean and/or restoral for you.

That being said, here’s a few things you definitely DON’T want to do

  • Use rough grit sandpaper
  • Use straight lacquer thinner or paint thinner
  • Use steel wool (some people say 0000 is ok)
  • Scrape at the bow with any sort of tool
  • Be overly aggressive with any method

Inspect Your Bow and Wax the String

When you’re cleaning your bow, whether routinely or a deep clean, it’s a good idea to look it over.  Inspect it for any damage, especially things like broken tips, cracked limbs, and things like that.

You definitely don’t want any surprises while you have your bow at full draw, so a simple once over when you’re cleaning could save you some pain in the future (literally).

In addition to inspecting your bow, be sure to wax your string every now and then.  This could be a whole new topic on it’s own, but I’ll keep it brief here and just say that periodic waxing will help your string live a longer, happier life.

Storing a Recurve Bow

Once your bow is all clean and shiny and happy, it doesn’t make much sense to just throw it in a closet and close the door.  Or even worse, stick it in a dark damp basement, oh the horror!

Take care of your bow by storing it someplace dry, preferably room temperature but a little cooler or warmer isn’t going to hurt it. Just avoid extreme temperatures for storage.

Even better would be if you had a nice case or bow sleeve that you could put the bow in before storing it away.  This will prevent anything from accidentally scratching or dinging it and keeps the dust off.

How to Hang a Recurve Bow

Alternatively, some people really like to display their recurve or have it hanging ready to use.  This is perfectly fine and makes a great conversation piece in your living room too.

If you want to hang your bow, do so from the riser and limbs. DO NOT hang it from the string.  In fact if you’re hanging it up for long term storage it would be best to unstring the bow first.  In the short term it’s perfectly ok to leave it strung.

I would suggest using something with a little cushion for the riser or limbs to rest on in order to avoid dents or scratches.  This could be as simple as covering some wooden brackets with felt, or wrapping a couple of pegs.

Jason Brooks

I've been involved with archery for over 25 years off and on and am always interested in learning as much as I can. I've taken part in local tournaments and even 3D course setup.