Keeping your guitar clean is very important. Over time, it collects dust, sweat, dirt, and grime. If it’s allowed to build up for very long, it will cause the guitar to become discolored and hazy. Human sweat has high acid, which eventually causes the guitar to deteriorate. If you play outside a lot, it also gets exposed to pollen. Accumulated dust also causes it to break down. Fortunately, there are many methods of cleaning your guitar. It is a process so you may want to schedule a day for it.
The Basic Way
What you can use:
- A little bit of water
- Glass cleaners
- Pure carnauba wax designed specifically for cleaning guitars
- An old, clean clothe or anything that’s mostly free or free of lint
- Furniture polish
- Any house cleaners that are heavily waxed, contain silicone, or lacquer
- Paper towels, they often leave scratches
Remove the strings. If the strings get anything damp, oils or polishes on them, it could very seriously damage them and it wouldn’t be easy for you to strum. Be sure to remove a few at a time so that you don’t risk damaging the guitar’s neck tension. In fact, most experts recommend cleaning the guitar every time you change your strings.
It’s best to start with the fretboard and neck. This is the part that holds up the strings. The fretboard and neck are pretty easy to clean. All you need is to lightly dampen your cloth with water or distilled vinegar. Make sure to wring out the excess as much as possible so that your guitar doesn’t become saturated. If you have some really dirty spots on your fretboard, you can use #000 or #0000 steel wool. However, you will need to cover up your pickups because steel wool tends to scratch that. This only needs to be done once or twice a year.
You’re now ready to clean the guitar’s body-the sides, front, and back. You can use your damp clothing to do so. Rinse your clothe regularly so that the dirt doesn’t spread and wipe with circular motions. For those stubborn smudges, fingerprints, and dirt spots, you should be able to just huff and wipe. If that doesn’t get the job done, you can go ahead and grab some mild detergent and mix it with your water. Afterward, you will need to grab a clean, dry cloth to remove the streaks.
Clean your bridge. This is the part that supports the strings from the bottom. Just use the same method as the fretboard. For the more difficult corners, you can use something like a small cotton ball, Q-tip, toothbrush, or pipe cleaner.
Shine your tuning keys. These are the knobs on the top of the neck. Just grab another clean clothe and spray it with glass cleaner. Lightly polish the keys until they shine again.
Step 6 (optional)
If you’re going to polish the guitar’s finish, use pure carnauba wax only. Spray or polish on a clean cloth and then gently wipe down your guitar with it. If you’re going to do this, make it about once a year. However, if the guitar is vintage or satin finish, this is not recommended at all. It leaves satin looking blotchy and all vintage guitars need is the basic cleaning listed above.
An Unorthodox Way to Clean Your Guitar
A few other tools you can add:
- Two polishing cloths
- One paper towel
- Fretboard Conditioner. Most guitar shops have it. You can also order it online.
- A straight-edged razor
- Fine Grit steel wool
- Non-tack and non-stick tape, for example, Blue Painter’s tape
It’s recommended to do the dirtiest parts first and the cleanest ones last.
Start with the fingerboard as this can really build up oil and grime.
Step 1 (somewhat optional)
Scrap the dirt from the fingerboard with the razor. (red) This can be quite unnerving so if there is anything else that you can use to remove it, you can skip the razor. However, if there’s something like a bunch of dried grime in the corners, you’re probably going to need something like the razor. Always be sure to hold the razor straight up and down to your fretboard. If you do it at an angle, you could end up scraping some of the wood off. Whatever you do, never apply any pressure and move back and forth very gently. Once you’re done, you can blow away any dust.
Before grabbing the steel wool, you want to tape the guitar’s top, the bottom of the fretboard, and the top of the sound hole. Then you can grab your steel wool and, like with the razor, use very gentle back-and-forth motions. You can do so until the fretboard is restored to its original shine.
You are now ready to remove the tape. Take one of the polishing clothes-one that you wouldn’t mind throwing away afterward is best. Since it’s going to be used to wipe off the gunk you scrapped off from your fretboard, it’s going to accumulate a lot of abrasiveness. Lightly dust over the top of your guitar and up and down your fingerboard.
Now, you will use the fretboard conditioner. All you need to do is spray just a tiny bit of it onto the paper towel and rub it back and forth on the fretboard. You can also use small circular motions on the bridge. After that, you will need to let it sit for a minute or two to dry. Once it dries, wipe off with a clean paper towel. (Red) Be careful that you don’t let it get on the guitar’s finish! Use only once or twice a year.
You are now ready to polish the body. Give it a couple of light spritzes over the guitar’s body. Be sure to have your hand about six to twelve inches away. Don’t panic if you get any on the fretboard. Wipe with a clean micro-fiber cloth.
Note: If you want to flip the guitar over, remove the bridge pins first. Otherwise, they will fly off and probably get lost.
Cleaning the Strings
Cleaning the strings is just as important as it makes them last longer and saves you money. It’s also helpful in reducing the amount of gunk on the fretboard and the back of the neck.
Tools you’ll need:
- Washcloths, terry clothes are especially recommended because they’re said to do the best job of grabbing onto the dirt and gunk on both the fretboard and strings
- String cleaners, such as GHS Fast Fret. Though even high-grade cleaners can’t reverse severe rust. If your strings are very old or dirty.
*Note: If possible, it’s recommended that you wash or sanitize your hands before playing.
The Quick Method
*Note: This recommended if you’re about to go into the spotlight or have something else you really need to do.
Fold the washcloth into a neat double square.
On top of the strings, rub it up and down the neck and bridge about three to four times.
Repeat Step 2 on the back of the neck.
The Usual Method
*Note: This may knock the strings slightly out of tune so be sure that they’re still in place when you’re done.
*Note: It is also recommended that you do this while sitting on a couch or the floor. If you try to do it while sitting in a chair, you risk dropping your guitar.
Pinch the strings one at a time in your clothing. Make sure that your hold is secure but not too tight. Pull slightly upward.
Now rub the string’s entire length up to three times.
After you’ve covered the first two steps on all of your strings, flatten and slip the washcloth under all six of them. You can use the soundhole as your guide.
Slide it all the way up and down the neck up to three times. First, slide it to the nut and then back down to the bridge.
Now carefully take the washcloth out from under the strings. Now is the time to get any areas that are especially dirty.
Give the entire length of the back of the neck two or three last good rubs.
A Couple of Other Ways
If the strings are nylon, you need a spray water bottle and micro wool, towel, or rag. If they’re steel, then you’ll need a string cleaner solution, such as Fast-Fret, and 70 percent to 90 percent alcohol with the micro wool, towel, or rag.
Fold the rag into a double square, spray one side. Then slide one half of the wet side under the strings and then fold the other on top.
Slide it up and down the neck of the guitar. Be sure to get the nut and bridge area.
*Note: This is for steel strings only! Nylon ones are self-lubricated.
- Lubricant, such as GHS Fast Fret. Or some cheap and more readily available household products, such as Vaseline or baby oil works, too. (red) Never apply the lubricant directly onto the strings as this causes excess grease.
- Clean rag. If the strings are super-dirty, be sure to use a new one.
After you apply the lubricant on it, slide and fold your rag under and over your strings. Apply pressure while going in an up-and-down motion on the neck. When you’re done, the strings should look shiny, oily and feel smooth. That’s it, you’re done.
Other Notes and Conclusion
Clean the guitar strings as often as you want to. You can do so right before, during, or after you play. If you play often, it’s recommended that you do so shortly before or after every session. In doing so, you significantly slow down its wear and tear.
If you’re playing in a humid or a super dusty environment, it may be wise to clean the strings during your performance. Particularly when you’re on a break or stop for water, you might want to grab the rag and give the strings a quick wipe.
If you’re due for an open-air gig, you may want to clean the strings before your performance. That way, you won’t have to worry about your finger oils mixing with the air particles.
Just before you play, applying a dollop of hand sanitizer is actually recommended over washing your hands. This is because hand sanitizers evaporate the oils as well as the bad germs.
If the strings start to have tuning problems but your guitar is otherwise fine, chances are, it’s time to change the strings. If you play often, you will probably need to change the strings on at least a weekly basis. It depends on your tone preferences. Most experts say that guitar strings are usually at their best up to about their first ten hours or play time. Some advertisements claim otherwise but you need to remember that advertisements tend to give general estimates.
Some have said that isopropyl alcohol works well on guitar strings. However, when you do use it, you will probably get this shrill shrieking from the strings. It also dries out the wood on the guitar so if you’re worried about any of it getting on the fretboard, it’s not for you. It is also not recommended to use isopropyl too often. Little bits of it inevitably get on the fretboard and that can cause damage. Instead, it’s recommended to stick to something like lemon oil.
It is possible to remove mild cases of rust. All you need is a guitar string cleaner such as Planet Waves and a microfiber cloth.