I am little ashamed to admit this, but I have left my guitars far too dirty in my early days. 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 my sins, and to cleanse my cleaning spiritual awareness, I have written a detailed guide on how to clean your guitar: strings, neck, fretboard, tuners. Everything you need to know to perfectly clean your guitar or your kids guitar.

How to Clean Guitar: A Quick Check List

This is a quick short list of what to do while cleaning your guitar. Later in the article, we would dive deep and go in detail on how to fulfill these steps.

If you are complete beginner who is looking on a tutorial on how to clean the guitar, then it is advised that you should read the entire article.

  1. Wash your hands – Sometimes the most obvious step is the most forgotten. If your hands aren’t clean then how are you going to clean your guitar?
  2. Remove the strings – This will make the cleaning of the body a lot easier. If you do not remove the strings then you are most likely to break them while cleaning the guitar.
  3. Clean inside the guitar – This is the most ‘unnoticeable area’. You would want to clean as this is where the dust parties at night.
  4. Clean the fretboard; neck of the guitar. That is where the most dust is located
  5. Clean the rest of the body – you want to deep clean the body until your mama is proud.
  6. Polish the guitar – This is a not a mandatory step. If you want to shine your guitar then you might do so once in a while.
  7. Clean the hardware of the guitar – this includes the bridge, tuners, pickups etc.
  8. Attach 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’ 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 is. I would recommend placing the guitar on a table for ease, but you can even clean it on your lap – it would make your lap dirty though. 

The whole process would take an hour, so keep that in mind before attempting to clean your guitar.

Cleaning Guitar Cover
Guide To How To Clean Your Guitar

How to Clean the 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 be the done quickly – however, cleaning the strings while its 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 estate to sit comfortably.

Steps:

  1. First, you need to get yourself a cloth. I would not recommend cleaning with an average household dirty cloth, so it is best to have a separate cloth of cleaning the guitar.
  2. Then, you need to 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.
  3. Then, pinch a string in the cloth – as shown in the picture at the right. And slightly pull up while having a tight grip.
  4. 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.
  5. If you want to go a step forward, then flatten the cloth and place it under all of 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. 
Cleaning String
String Cleaning

How to Clean the Strings – By Removing Them from the Guitar

Now this is the procedure what I would recommend. Your strings are going to get out of tuned anyway so why not just remove them at the first place and clean the guitar and the strings more properly.

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.  

 

Steps:

  1. First of all, you would want to place the guitar vertically between your legs – just to make the winding process easier.
  2. Then you need to pick a string winder, and wind the string. Make sure that the string is getting looser and not getting tighter. And then then 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.
  3. Then you need to pop out the pigs with the back of the winder. However, sometimes you might have difficulty in popping them out. Then just use a pair of pliers to pull the pigs up. Then repeat the process for every pig.
  4. Then simply remove the strings from the pig area.
  5. Now head up to the head of the guitar, and just unravel each of the strings.
  6. Then just clean the strings like you would normally would with the help of a clean cloth.
String Winder
Removing Strings

How to Clean the Inside of a Guitar:

If you’re cleaning up an acoustic guitar. Then you defiantly would want to clean inside the acoustic guitar. 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 had removed the strings. If not, you might want to read on how to remove the strings and then come back here.

  1. First of all, remove the strings
  2. Turn the guitar upside down with sound hole facing the ground.
  3. Then shake the guitar for a few minutes until large debris fall out – its always a good idea to do this outside as this part will be messy.
  4. Then, you would want to take your vacuum cleaner and attach a small hoe to it. Personally, I use this hoe as it is small and gets the job done.
  5. The next step is to blow air inside the sound hole with your vacuum. This would loosen all the dust inside the hole. And then, suck them up with the vacuum cleaner. This way, all of the dust should be gone.
Inside Guitar
Using a vacuum to clean inside of the guitar

Alternately, 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 Fretboard:

Fretboard is one of the dirtiest part of the guitar. Despite only being a thin strip of hardwood, it is also one of the most important components of a guitar. It is the place where your body meets the strings. Fretboard is also the part of the guitar which comes in contact with your body the most – that is why it becomes 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 am going to list a few things not to clean the fretboard board.

A Very Dirty Fretboard You Should be Ashamed Of

Fretboard is one of the dirtiest part of the guitar. Despite only being a thin strip of hardwood, it is also one of the most important components of a guitar. It is the place where your body meets the strings. Fretboard is also the part of the guitar which comes in contact with your body the most – that is why it becomes 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 am going to list a few things not to clean the fretboard board.

Materials That You Can Use To The Fretboard:

  1. 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.
  2. Vegetable Oil Soap. If you do not have a guitar cleaning agent, then this would do the trick. Such as Murphy’s oil soap.
  3. 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 While Cleaning The Fretboard:

  1. 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 defiantly not as a cleaning agent.
  2. 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, but sometimes it’s best to use the products which are meant for a certain job; guitar cleaning agents.
  3. Sand Paper or anything rough. You would never want to rub your guitar with something rough in nature. Not only they destroy the finish of the guitar but also disturbs the wood and ultimately the sound produced by it. Yes, some guitars 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 would not take you more than 10 minutes– even if you have never done it before.

 

How to Clean Rosewood, Ebony, Pay Ferro – Unfinished Fretboards:

These boards are made up of dense hardwood. These fretboards are not only dense but extremely hard as well. And since, they are all rough slabs of hard wood – their cleaning process is more or less the same.

 

  1. Remove the strings – the most obvious and primary step, but by now you most probably have removed the strings.
  2. Remove the neck (if you can). The reason is what we don’t want the fluid or the dirt to soak up in there. That might damage the neck. If you can’t remove the neck, you can always cover it up with a cloth or a masking tape. And if you are working with an acoustic guitar, then cover the sound hole with a cloth as well.
  3. Spread the cleaning fluid – preferably murphy over it.
  4. Then take a steel wool, and start scrub the fret with soap. However, since we are working with a rough material, do not scrub directly against the grain. As that would damage the material of the fretboard.
  5. Then you would want to wipe the fretboard with a paper towel or a clean cloth.
  6. Then repeat the process with every fret.
  7. After that, you can apply thin strip of oil on the fretboard. This step is not mandatory
  8. At the end, wipe each of the fret with a paper towel.

How to Clean Maple- Finished Fretboards:

Now, the cleaning process for a maple fretboard is a little different. Although maple is a strong, resilient wood but guitarist like maple for being beautiful. They want their wood to be bright, vibrant and smooth. That is why they are also more susceptible to showing of 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.

 

Steps:

  1. Remove the strings if they are not removed.
  2. Remove the neck.
  3. Spread your cleaner onto the fretboard.
  4. Use a clean cloth and scrub the board. Do not use steel wool to scrub aggressively as abrasive stuff can damage the board.
  5. Wipe the fretboard again with the clean cloth.
  6. Scrub each fret individually.
  7. 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.

Cleaning Guitar
A Very Dirty Cloth

How to Clean the Guitar Body:

It is inevitable that your guitar body will become dirty. If you have placed it without a cover, or even by simply playing it – even with clean hands 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 approach to clean. Therefore, you need to know what 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.

Clean Guitar Body

Can I Use Lemon Oil or Household Cleaners To Clean My Guitar?

No.

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. Or else you will be ruining the health and life of your guitar.  

How to Clean a Glossy or Poly Finished Guitar:

The majority of the guitars available in the market have glossy finish. The finish is either made up of polyurethane or polyester – this is what gives the guitar a glossy protective layer. This finish is the easiest to clean as it already has protective player to it. Therefore, you can be flexible with your cleaners for this kind of guitar finish.

 

You can simply use Dunlops (add link here) to clean this part of the instrument. Dunlops have great cleaners that easily remove dirt and grease from your guitar. It is not advisable to directly spray on to your guitar, therefore you should always spray on a clean cloth, and then scrub that cloth onto the guitar.

 

This dunlop’s kit has a great polish in it. It will give a make your guitar as you just got it from the guitar. A good thing about 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 to be exact. 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 extensively.

Therefore, the best way to clean this guitar is simply wiping it with a dry cloth – that is all.

However, you can use a damp cloth only if it is really necessary to do so, otherwise I would not even recommend that.  

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 might not even have one if you are new into music. This finish is a 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 the Hardware of the Guitar:

You need to be a tiny bit of careful while cleaning this section of the guitar. The hardware of the guitar includes; bridge, pickups, tuners, 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 onto the hardware, as this could corrode the hardware.

However, if the 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 on to the hardware of the guitar – that is not advisable. 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 this cleaning agents on the guitar can damage the guitar.

Guitar Knob Cleaning
Cleaning The Knobs
Guitar Hardware Cleaning
Cleaning The Bridge

How to Replace Guitar Strings:

Now, it is best to replace the strings with a set of new ones. If you are replacing an acoustic guitar, then I found this set of strings to be the best for me. They are light-weight and are pretty resistant to corrosion. You would also need a string winder for this process.

Now, on to how to attach strings to the guitar:

  1. First of all, remove, the strings. Just pluck the guitar bridge out with this string winder, and take out the string.
  2. Remove that old string from the tuners
  3. Then, from your new set of strings. Take a string, and place the bald end of the string into the bridge.
  4. Now, push the bridge pin inside the bridge while slowly pulling the string as well.
  5. Take that string. Drag it up and through the eyehole.
  6. Take your string winder, place it on your tune knob, and rotate it anti-clockwise. And have a nice tight wind.
  7. Bend the string across the tuner. Tighten it up.
  8. Cut off the excess string
Pulling String Through Eyehole
Remove The Access String

A Note About Cleaning Vintage Guitar

The thing about vintage guitars is that they hold a significantly lighter and brighter tone than regular guitars. Also, they also very thin. And 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 vintages guitars are 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 type of the 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.

First of all, wash your hands before playing the guitar. It would not transfer dirt from your hands to the guitar. Then, when you’re done playing – wipe the strings with a clean cloth. Lastly, keeping your guitar in a case is also a very good way of keeping your guitar clean.