I am a little ashamed to admit this, but I have left my guitars far too dirty, too often. When I bought my first beginner classical guitar – I would rarely clean my guitar and it would eat all the dust in the room and then it would cry. Therefore, to atone for my sins, and to cleanse my cleaning spiritual awareness, I have written a detailed guide on how to clean your guitar: strings, neck, fretboard, and tuners. Everything you need to know to perfectly clean your guitar or your kid’s guitar.
How to Clean Guitar: A Quick Check List
This is a short list of what to do while cleaning your guitar. Later in the article, we will dive deep and go into detail on how to execute each step.
If you are a complete beginner who is looking for a tutorial on how to clean the guitar, then it is advised that you should read the entire article.
- Wash your hands – Sometimes the most obvious step is the first to be forgotten. If your hands aren’t clean then how are you going to clean your guitar?
- Remove the strings – This will make the cleaning of the body a lot easier. If you do not remove the strings then you may break them while cleaning the guitar.
- Clean inside the guitar – This is the most ‘unnoticeable area’. You would want to clean as this is where the dust parties at night.
- Clean the fretboard; neck of the guitar – That is where the most dust is located, as well as other unwanted material such as old skin 🤢
- Clean the rest of the body – you want to deep clean the body until your mama would eat off of it.
- Polish the guitar – This is not a mandatory step. If you want to shine your guitar then you might do so once in a while.
- Clean the hardware of the guitar – this includes the bridge, tuners, pickups, etc.
- Reattach the strings – Obviously, you need to reattach the strings otherwise the guitar won’t make any sound 😉.
How to Prepare Your Guitar for Cleaning
At some point, you would need to clean your guitar – no matter how ‘safe’ you have kept it from dust.
First of all, wash your hands with soap.
Then locate a well-lit area so you can easily find out where the dust and the dirt are. I would recommend placing the guitar on a table for ease, but you can even clean it on your lap – it may make your lap dirty though.
How long does it take to clean a guitar?
The whole process should only take an hour, so keep that in mind before attempting to clean your guitar.
How to clean guitar strings
There are two ways you can clean guitar strings – while they are still on the guitar, or after removing them. We’ll dive into both ways.
Clean guitar strings without removing them from the guitar
You can clean the guitar without removing the strings, however, it is not recommended. Leaving the strings up could damage the strings while cleaning the guitar, and make the cleaning process a lot.
But if you are in a hurry and just want the job to get done quickly – however, cleaning the strings while they’re attached to the guitar can make your strings go a little out of tune, and then you will have to retune them. It is also advisable to do this part on the floor, rather than on a chair as then you have more space to work.
- First, you need to get yourself some cloth. I would not recommend cleaning with an average household dirty cloth, so it is best to have a separate cloth for cleaning the guitar.
- Apply a cleaner to the guitar. Personally, I use GHS Strings. It does a pretty good job in the cleaning department and makes the strings shiny.
- Then, pinch a string in the cloth – as shown in the picture below. And slightly pull up while having a tight grip.
- Now, rub the entire length a couple of times in a forward and backward movement. Not more than 3 times. And repeat then repeat the process for the rest of the strings.
- If you want to go a step forward, then flatten the cloth and place it under all of the strings. And move the cloth up and down a couple of times.
This process is okay, but if you do not remove the strings it will make the rest of the cleaning a lot more difficult.
Clean guitar strings by removing them from the guitar
This is the preferred method. Since your strings will get out of tune anyway while cleaning; you might as well just remove them in the first place and clean the guitar and the strings more thoroughly.
You could also attach new strings to the guitar. If you play the guitar regularly, or even twice a week. Then you would want to attach new strings to the guitar. And every guitarist should know how to tune their guitar themselves.
- First of all, you would want to place the guitar vertically between your legs – to make the winding process easier.
- Then you need to pick a string winder and wind the string. Make sure that the string is getting looser and not getting tighter. Repeat this process for every string. A good indication that a string has been unwounded successfully is that when you try to play the string, you would hear the note going down.
- Pop out the pigs with the back of the winder. If you have difficulty popping them out, use a pair of pliers to pull the pigs up. Then repeat the process for every pig.
- Then remove the strings from the pig area.
- Now head up to the head of the guitar, and just unravel each of the strings.
- Then clean the strings as you would normally with the help of a clean cloth.
How to clean the inside of a guitar
If you’re cleaning an acoustic guitar. Then you definitely would want to clean inside the of it. Dust, debris, picks, wood chips – all kinds of things dwell inside the cave of your acoustic guitar. They do not only make your guitar sound worse, but they’re the reason why your guitar also smells bad due to the mixture of dust and moisture accumulated inside it. But, don’t worry – I will show you how to clean up that area in a quick simple cheap way.
If you are following this guide, then you would have removed the strings. If not, you might want to go back and do that first before moving on 😁.
- Turn the guitar upside down with the sound hole facing the ground.
- Then shake the guitar for a few minutes until large debris falls out – it’s always a good idea to do this outside as this part will be messy. That or, be ready to vacuum!
- Then, take your vacuum cleaner and attach a small hose to it.
- Blow air inside the sound hole with your vacuum. This loosens all the dust inside the hole.
- Suck everything up with the vacuum cleaner.
Alternatively, you can also try to clean with a cloth if you don’t have a small vacuum cleaner. However, I do not suggest this as it can damage the inside of your guitar, nor would it clean properly.
How to clean a guitar fretboard:
Despite only being a thin strip of hardwood, the fretboard is one of the dirtiest parts of the guitar.
It is also one of the most important components of a guitar. It is the place where the body meets the strings. The fretboard is also the part of the guitar that comes in contact with your body the most – hence why it is one of the dirtiest components of the guitar.
If this isn’t cleaned well, not only you would not want to play your guitar, but the notes would also sound funny. Before I explain how to clean this area, I will list a few things not to clean the fretboard board with.
Materials you can use to clean the fretboard
- I would highly suggest buying a cleaning fluid for this. Personally, I use Nomad’s Guitar All in One. It not only cleans and shines the board but also gives it a nice fragrance. Plus, it applies wax to it which increases its longevity.
- Vegetable Oil Soap. If you do not have a guitar cleaning agent, then this would do the trick. Such as Murphy’s oil soap.
- Paper towel, cloth, microfiber. If you have nothing of the above items available. Then you can also clean the fretboard with these items.
Materials you should NOT use to clean the fretboard:
- Nail Polish Remover. I have seen many beginners cleaning their guitars with this. Nail polish removers are meant to strip off any kind of lacquer or finish. It is great for removing stuff like glue but definitely not as a cleaning agent for your precious guitar.
- Pledge or Wood Polish Spray. These sprays contain solvents that are harmful to the finish of the guitar. Although lemon oil is great for reviving dead and dried-out fretboards, sometimes it’s best to use the products which are meant for a certain job; guitar cleaning agents.
- Sand Paper or anything rough. You would never want to rub your guitar with something rough in nature. Not only would it destroy the finish of the guitar but also disturb the wood and ultimately the sound produced by it. Yes, some guitarists do use sandpaper to ‘strip’ the finish from a fretboard according to their liking. But if you are a beginner, then I would recommend you to stay away from them.
Once you have gathered the appropriate materials, you would want to place your guitar on a large flat surface. The whole process of cleaning the fretboard should not take more than 10 minutes– even if you have never done it before.
How to clean rosewood, ebony, pau ferro – unfinished fretboards:
These boards are made up of dense hardwood. Since they are all rough slabs of hardwood – their cleaning process is more or less the same.
- Remove the strings – the most obvious and primary step, but by now you most probably have removed the strings.
- Remove the neck (if you can) – The reason is that we don’t want the fluid or the dirt to soak up in the neck because it may cause damage. If you can’t remove the neck, you can always cover it up with a cloth or masking tape. And if you are working with an acoustic guitar, then cover the sound hole with a cloth as well.
- Spread the cleaning fluid – preferably murphy over it.
- Scrub the fret with soap and steel wool – Since we are working with a rough material, do not scrub directly against the grain. As that would damage the material of the fretboard.
- Wipe the fretboard with a paper towel or a clean cloth
- Repeat the process with every fret
- Apply a thin strip of oil directly onto the fretboard – This step is optional
- Finish up by wiping each fret with a paper towel.
How to clean maple finished fretboards
The cleaning process for a maple fretboard is a little different.
Maple is a strong, resilient wood that guitarists love for its beauty. They want their wood to be bright, vibrant, and smooth. But because of these characteristics, maple finish is also more susceptible to showing dirt and dust.
The finish on maple reacts with the wood and gives the wood a nice smooth touch that is why we need to preserve the finish while cleaning a maple fretboard.
- Remove the strings
- Remove the neck
- Spread cleaner onto the fretboard
- Use a clean cloth to scrub the board – Do not use steel wool to scrub aggressively as abrasive stuff can damage the board.
- Wipe the fretboard again with the clean cloth
- Scrub each fret individually
- Spray the guitar detailer onto the cloth and, and polish the entire neck with it
However, if the board is completely lacquered, then you simply want to spray the guitar detailer and scrub the guitar.
How to clean the body of a guitar
It is inevitable that your guitar body will become dirty.
If you leave it outside of a cover, or even by simply playing it frequently, you are going to make your guitar dirty. Luckily, cleaning the body of the guitar is the easiest process of entire maintenance.
However, you need to be careful about the finish of your guitar.
Each finish requires a bit different cleaning approach. Therefore, you need to know what the finish of your guitar is. If you do not know the finish of your guitar, simply google the name of your guitar and check online.
Can I use lemon oil or household cleaners to clean my guitar?
Always refrain from using lemon oil or any sort of household cleaner to clean your guitar. These solvents contain substances that erode and degrade the finish. It is always a good idea to use cleaning products made for their targeted use.
How to clean a glossy or poly-finished guitar
The majority of the guitars available in the market have a glossy finish. The finish is either made up of polyurethane or polyester – this is what protects the guitar and makes it shine. This finish is the easiest to clean as it already has a protective layer on it. Therefore, you can be flexible with your cleaners for this kind of guitar finish.
You can simply use Dunlops to clean this part of the instrument. Dunlops has great cleaners that easily remove dirt and grease from your guitar. It is not advisable to directly spray onto your guitar, you should always spray on a clean cloth, and then scrub that cloth onto the guitar.
This Dunlop kit has a great polish in it. It will give make your guitar shine like it is brand new. A good thing about the polish is that it provides a protective barrier for some time – so your guitar will stay clean for a lot longer.
How to clean a matte or satin finished guitar
I remember when I had my first satin guitar. I had no idea what it was or how to keep it clean.
After long hours of playing, shiny spots developed over the areas where I used to hold the guitar with my hands, and soon the body wore down as well. After researching a bit, I realized the sins I had committed with my satin-finished guitar. You never want to use a cleaning agent on a matte or satin finished guitar as it just wears down the guitar – and I had used it extensively 😞.
Therefore, the best way to clean this guitar is simply to wipe it with a dry cloth – that is all.
Damp cloth also works, though only if it is really necessary to do so.
How to clean a nitrocellulose-finished guitar
This type of finish on a guitar is rare these days. And I am pretty sure that you probably do not have one if you are new to music. This finish is usually found on high-end guitars, by Gibson or Fender. A nitro-finish is a bubbly finish as the finish leaves the wood porous and open on the surface.
This finish is susceptible to time and will wear out as your guitar ages. Again, you might not even want to use a damp cloth to clean the guitar. Simply use a dry cloth to clean this type of finish as well.
How to clean guitar hardware
The hardware of the guitar includes; a bridge, pickups, tuners, and frets.
They are typically made up of metal and metals are prone to corrosion. Furthermore, the sweat developed from playing the guitar contains salt, and salt also aids in corrosion and can cause your guitar to rust over time.
The best way to clean the hardware is with a soft cloth.
Scrub the hardware with a soft cloth and remove all the dust with it. Then, apply very little polish onto the cloth and then scrub the parts of the hardware with it. The polish not only removes dirt but also shines the hardware. It adds a protective layer to it. Again, you can use Dunlop’s polish.
Just be careful to not leave any polish residue on the hardware, as this could corrode the hardware long term.
If you find your guitar hardware is heavily inflicted with rust then you might want to invest in WD-40.
This spray can help to remove corrosion and rust. Do not spray directly onto the hardware of the guitar. Take a toothbrush, apply WD-40 to it, and then clean the hardware with it. It is also advisable to remove the hardware before cleaning it, as getting cleaning agents on the guitar can damage the guitar.
How to replace guitar strings
Ideally, it is best to replace the strings with a set of new ones. You will want a string winder for this process:
- With your new (or old) set of strings. Take a string, and place the bald end of the string into the bridge.
- Push the bridge pin inside the bridge while slowly pulling the string as well
- Take the string and drag it up and through the eyehole
- Using your string winder, place it on your tune knob, and rotate it anti-clockwise. Until you have a nice tight wind.
- Bend the string across the tuner. Tighten it up.
- Cut off the excess string
A note about cleaning vintage guitars
The thing about vintage guitars is that they hold a significantly lighter and brighter tone than regular guitars. They also tend to be very thin.
Vintage guitars are very vulnerable to oils, waxes, polishing, and cleaning agents. Therefore you need to avoid using polish or water to clean your guitar. The best way to clean vintage guitars is by placing the guitar close to your face, blowing air on it, and then immediately wipe the guitar down with a clean cloth.
But if you really want a cleaner for your guitar, then you would want to invest in Gibson’s Vintage Reissue Restoration Kit. This kit has everything you need to clean a vintage guitar.
How to keep your guitar clean
Now, when you have cleaned your guitar – you would want to keep it clean.
Unless you’re the type of person who likes to keep their guitar strings rusty and like the sound of rust or old guitar. There are a few basic steps you can take to keep your guitar clean:
- Wash your hands before playing the guitar
- Wipe the strings with a cloth when you are done playing
- Keep your guitar in a case when you are not using it