Maintenance is one of the most important parts in keeping your acoustic guitar in good shape. You should know how to take care of your acoustic guitar so that it can last for many years.
There are many ways to clean an acoustic guitar at home. You can apply some basic methods of cleaning or any other methods from your favorite guitar technicians; however, there is no need for you to spend loads of money just because everything sounds perfect in theory.
Whether you’re a beginner learning to clean your acoustic guitar for the first time, or a seasoned professional, We will give you actionable tips that will make the cleaning and conditioning process of your acoustic guitar simple and more efficient, while giving your guitar’s fingerboard, body and neck improved stability, smoother playability, and a brand new appearance. We’ve prepared a list of 11 simple steps to clean your acoustic guitar without going anywhere and they’re perfect for beginners.
Reasons Why Do Guitars Become Dirty
Guitars are often cherished and well-maintained instruments. They are regularly wiped down and polished, and their strings are changed every few months. However, after years of use, even the most diligently cared-for guitar will start to show signs of wear and tear. One of the most common problems is a dirty guitar.
There are a few reasons why guitars become dirty. The most common one is simply because they are used a lot. Think about it – every time you play your guitar, your hands are touching the strings, the frets, and the body. Every time you pick up your guitar case or move your guitar around, it collects dust and dirt. All of this adds up over time and can leave your guitar looking less than its best.
When you are just strumming or fingerpicking, you transfer the natural oils and general dirt from your hands to the strings and fretboard.
Also, Some people have a high level of acidity in their sweat due to lactic acidosis or other reasons. This high level of acidity in their fingers will be transferred into the fretboard and strings when they are playing. They may observe their fingers turning black or green after playing the guitar.
Another thing which makes your guitar dirty is the improper storage condition. Many of us store our guitars on a stand either for easy access or aesthetic reasons (or both).
This can have negative effect on the intonation of your guitar because of the high humidity and variable temperature . Like you should never store your guitar on garages and basements especially on the summer months due to high humidity.
So, it doesn’t matter how much effort you are putting to not scratch or bump your guitar, it will get damaged if you do not clean and maintain it properly.
11 Steps to Clean Your Acoustic Guitar At Home
1. Clean Your Hands and Workspaces
If you’ve ever gotten ink on your hands while writing or cleaning a pen, you know how easy it is for a little bit of ink to transfer from your hands onto other objects . The same thing can happen with dust, or even small particles from sanding or filing down wood.
If there’s any residue on your workspace, it could transfer onto the guitar you’re working on—and that’s not what we want!
Before cleaning your favorite Acoustic Guitar, you need to wash your hands thoroughly and have a calm workspace which is free from outside obstructions.
Cleaning your hands is important otherwise you will end up transferring dust and dirt so it will make the entire purpose of cleaning your Guitar irrelevant.
Also, it is suggested not to clean your Guitar in a crowded space because it may lead to damage to your favorite instrument.
2. Arrange the Correct Materials for Cleaning Your Guitar
Below are the list of things, which you will need to clean your acoustic guitar at Home. However, not all of them will be necessary. It depends on how dirty your guitar is. However, Microfiber cloth and Mineral Oil are something which you need often to clean your Guitar.
- The most important thing that you will need is a Pack of Microfiber Cloth. Make sure you have invested in good quality microfiber cloths. Microfiber cloths are soft enough not to scratch the finish on your guitar while still being absorbent enough to pick up dust and debris.
- You need a Paper Towel or Leather Sheet which you can easily get from Walmart.
- Wire-cutter, String Winder. Bridge Pin Puller All In One Tool is needed to remove the strings.
- 0000-grade fine steel wool (If your Acoustic guitar neck has a matte finish).
- Fine grade sandpaper (if your guitar neck has a gloss finish).
- Mineral Oil to clean the Fretboards .Toothbrush may be needed.
- Use Distilled water when cleaning the strings of your guitar. Distilled water is purified by boiling off impurities, so it won’t leave behind any residue or minerals that could cause corrosion over time. Just remember not to let any water touch the wood part of your guitar!
- Zippo Solvent (Naptha) for deep cleaning.
3. Preparation and Workbench Setup
Workbench setup is very much necessary not only for your guitar cleaning but also if you have multiple guitars and you need to change strings ,clean and maintain them from time to time, then it’s highly recommended to use a proper workbench.
There are two key things in this workbench setup .
One is Work mate which has an anti-slip surface to improve traction while cleaning or repairing your guitar.
Another is neck support cradle which is necessary while cleaning your guitar neck. You can also adjust the angles depending upon your requirements.
4. Remove Strings
If you want to remove the guitar strings , you need to snip off the old string with wire cutters.
Then remove the ball-ends and remove one end of the string at a time.
The pins must be removed using pin pullers and remove the rest of the strings.
5. Clean , Oil and Condition the Fretboard
Before cleaning the Fretboard part, make sure you have removed all the strings from your acoustic guitar and put Low -tack Paper Tape to the bridge to prevent it from moving since there is no string tension involved.
After that, you need to Protect the body of the Guitar from any mess and excess oils while cleaning the fretboard using a Leather Sheet. The size of the leather sheet should be more or less same as that of your Guitar’s Body . If you don’t have any leather sheets , then it’s fine to use any Paper Towel available at your home. Remember, we are recommending this step just to protect the surface of the body. The advantage of using Leather Towel is that it is much more robust and reusable. You can also use Low-tack Paper Tape to prevent the debris from coming under the leather sheet.
Now it’s time for cleaning and polishing your Fretboard.
The process of cleaning your acoustic guitar’s frets involves two steps:
1. You will need to use a dry, lint free cloth to clean the surface of the fretboard.
2. You will need to apply a light coat of oil on each fret before you perform your cleaning.
To perform this method, you will need:
A dry, lint-free cloth
An old toothbrush or other small brush
Some light Mineral Oil (Baby oil etc..)
The first step is to remove any excess dust or dirt from your instrument using a dry cloth or microfiber cloth. Make sure that you are using a microfiber cloth as it will not damage your instrument like other types of clothes might do so make sure that they are made from 100% polyester or nylon blend material so they will not scratch your guitar’s finish when used on it.
The second step is to apply the Oil generously on the rag or microfiber cloth and wipe it along the fretboard. You should do it generously. Avoid adding too much oil that is running off the fingerboard onto the neck. The point is that you need to saturate the Fretboard.So apply little by little and re-wet if it’s necessary.
Then let the oil sit for 5 Mins so that oil can penetrate in a better manner. After that, Use another microfiber cloth to wipe away oil from your guitar fret board. It will only take few seconds for you to wipe away excess oil from your instrument’s surface with this cloth. Using microfiber cloth will ensure that all dirt and grime will be removed without damaging any part of your guitar’s body or neck.
If your Fretboard has gunks, then instead of using microfiber cloth to wipe oil along the fretboard, you can use a tooth-brush to apply oil gently on the corner or any other place where it has accumulated gunks.
Make sure, after adding oil, you need to wait for 5 mins. Don’t do it quicker than that otherwise oil won’t be able to penetrate into the fretboard.
Now, how many times do you need to perform this to make your fretboard shiny? Well, there is no specific answer. It all depends on how dirty your Guitar is.
You should not use any type of cleaner which contains any harsh chemicals such as bleach or ammonia which will eat away at the finish on your instrument causing severe damage to your Acoustic Guitar Fretboard.
6. Cleaning the Bridge
If you want to make your acoustic guitar sound its best, you need to take care of the bridge. This is the part of your guitar that rests on top of the soundboard and holds the strings in place. When this part gets dirty, it can seriously decrease the performance of your instrument.
To clean your bridge, first use a dry, lint free cloth to wipe down all sides of the instrument. Then use your guitar’s polishing cloth to polish away any dirt that remains on the surface. If you see any tarnish, just wipe it away with a clean cloth until it disappears.
7. Clean and Polish the Body of the Guitar
You can use Gibson Polish to Polish your Guitar Body.
Apply the polishing oil on the Microfiber cloth and start with a small area of your guitar. Start Polishing in a circular motion in order to avoid too much pressure on a particular zone.
If your guitar is not very dirty, then you can use a Dry Microfiber cloth to clean dirt and contamination from your Guitar Body. That will be enough. However, if your Guitar Body has attracted a lot of dust and contamination, then probably you need to use solvents like Zippo Lighter Fluid which contains Naptha , suitable for removing grime and deep cleaning your Guitar Board.
8. Clean the Neck of the Guitar
After you are done with cleaning the body of the Guitar, now it’s time to clean the neck portion of your acoustic guitar. Here , you need two important things depending upon whether you have gloss finish or matte finish.
Hold your Guitar properly and start sanding down the neck portion of your acoustic guitar gently and try to push it evenly along the whole neck of your acoustic guitar. When you find all those white things are coming, then just turn over the sandpaper and follow the same process. Below are our recommendations
Fine grade sandpaper (if your guitar neck has a gloss finish)
0000-grade fine steel wool (If your Acoustic guitar neck has a matte finish)
Use those to rub gently through the rear of the neck in the direction of the grain.
Do this until the neck feels silky smooth.
9. Clean Machine Head and Guitar Tuners
Now it’s time to clean and polish your guitar’s oxidized hardware parts. You can use the same Guitar Polishes which you used earlier to clean your fret wires, pickups etc..
There are several ways to clean guitar tuners and machine head. The most common way is by using a soft cloth or cotton swab. You can also use a toothbrush, q-tip, or even a toothpick to clean the dirt from the grooves of the machine heads.
Before you start cleaning your guitar tuners and machine heads, make sure that they are clean enough to avoid scratching them while cleaning. If there is any dirt on your guitar tuners and machine heads, wipe them off first with a soft Microfiber cloth before you start cleaning them with alcohol or other solvent.
It’s not a difficult thing to do. Just remember using a soft Microfiber cloth with a very light amount of guitar polish to clean your Guitar Hardware parts.
10. Install The New Strings
Please follow this instructional guide from Fender to install the new strings on your Guitar.
11. Put Your Guitar Away
You may be tempted to keep your guitar out on display like keeping it in upright position or just simply hanging it without any cover. the most effective way to keep your guitar clean and healthy is to put it away in a hard case. This will extend the longevity of your instrument for many MANY years.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Clean My Guitar With Water?
A damp (not wet) rag should not cause any issues with most guitars – but, it’s not going to do too much, in my opinion.
However you can use damped cloth in a small amount of warm water to clean the guitar’s body. But Most of the dirt on a fingerboard is from dust ,oil off our fingers. So you need a (gentle) solvent like Naptha to clean that off. Personally, I use Mineral Oil for that (or, in a pinch, Olive Oil).
You can also use Boiling water if you are planning to reuse your old strings. Just remove and coil them up and put in a jar of boiling water for 5 mins..
Can I Clean My Guitar With Sanitizer ?
Sanitizers contain alcohol, which is not good for your guitar finish. Your guitar is not going to be carrying any virus unless you put it in some place where there is high chance of getting affected. Also, your guitar is not a living organism, it seems unlikely that any virus would survive very long on the guitar.
So instead of using sanitizer, you can use damped cloth in warm water to clean your guitar.
Can I Use Alcohol To Clean My Guitar Body?
Alcohol is excellent at destroying the finish on guitars! So you should never use Alcohols to clean your Guitar.
When you use an alcohol-based cleaner on your guitar, it dries out the wood and leaves behind residue—which can lead to cracks and warping in the instrument.
How Often Should You Clean Your Guitar?
A good habit of is to clean your guitar after every play. Like just cleaning the top surface of the guitar using Microfiber cloth which hardly takes 5 minutes of your time.
But make sure the fretboard is maintained to a good standard.
Once in a week or at-least once in every month , you can clean your guitar properly using the materials discussed above.
You’ll be amazed at how much of a difference this will make in the long run.
Cleaning your guitar will ensure:
- A better-looking and shiny guitar
- A guitar with a better feel, and
- A long term playability
In addition, maintaining your guitar regularly means you don’t need to go to shop and pay for the service which you can do it on your home by yourself without breaking a bank!
Also, learning how to maintain your instrument be it guitar, violin, keyboard correctly is a great skill to have.
Cleaning your guitar is not only to benefit its aesthetics but also to improve long-term playability and reducing or potentially eliminating the future irreversible or costly damages.