What Do You Use to Clean a Guitar: A Complete Guide

by Madonna

Cleaning your guitar regularly is crucial for maintaining its appearance, playability, and overall performance. A well-maintained guitar not only looks better but also sounds better and lasts longer. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the materials you need for cleaning, the step-by-step process to clean different parts of your guitar, and essential tips for ongoing maintenance. By following these guidelines, you can ensure your guitar remains in top condition for years to come.

Introduction to Guitar Cleaning

Regular cleaning of your guitar is essential to preserve its aesthetics and functionality. Dirt, sweat, and oils from your hands can accumulate on the guitar’s surface, strings, and hardware, leading to corrosion, diminished sound quality, and a less pleasant playing experience. By incorporating a cleaning routine into your guitar care, you can protect your investment and enjoy optimal performance.


Materials Needed

Before you start cleaning your guitar, gather the following materials. Many of these items are common household products, while some are specifically designed for guitar maintenance.


1. Common Household Items

Soft Cloths: Microfiber or lint-free cloths are ideal for wiping down your guitar without scratching the surface.


Water: Distilled water can be used for light cleaning and dampening cloths.

Glass Cleaner: Ammonia-free glass cleaner can be used sparingly on certain parts of the guitar.

2. Guitar-Specific Products

Guitar Polish: Specially formulated polishes designed for guitar finishes.

String Cleaner: A product to clean and lubricate the strings.

Fretboard Conditioner: Depending on the type of wood, a conditioner like lemon oil for rosewood or mineral oil for other types.

Pure Carnauba Wax: For polishing the guitar body.

String Removal

Removing the strings is an important step before you start cleaning your guitar. This allows you to access the fretboard, pickups, and other areas that are otherwise difficult to clean.

Loosen the Strings: Gradually loosen each string using the tuning pegs until they are slack.

Cut the Strings: Once loosened, you can cut the strings near the bridge or the tuning pegs.

Remove the Strings: Carefully remove the strings from the tuning pegs and bridge.

Be sure to dispose of the old strings properly to avoid any injury from the sharp ends.

Body Cleaning

To clean the guitar body without damaging the finish, follow these steps:

Dust Off the Surface: Use a soft, dry cloth to remove any dust and loose dirt from the guitar’s surface.

Dampen a Cloth: Lightly dampen a microfiber cloth with distilled water. Ensure it is not too wet, as excess moisture can damage the guitar.

Wipe Down the Body: Gently wipe the guitar body in a circular motion, being careful around the electronics and bridge.

Apply Guitar Polish: If your guitar has a gloss finish, apply a small amount of guitar polish to a clean cloth and buff the surface. For a satin finish, avoid using polish and stick to a dry or slightly damp cloth.

Use Pure Carnauba Wax: For added protection and shine, apply a small amount of pure carnauba wax. Buff it with a clean, dry cloth until the body shines.

Fretboard Care

The fretboard requires special attention, as different wood types need different treatments:

Clean the Fretboard: Use a dry cloth to remove surface dirt and grime. For stubborn dirt, a damp cloth can be used, but avoid soaking the wood.

Condition the Wood: Depending on the fretboard material, use an appropriate conditioner:

Rosewood and Ebony: Use lemon oil sparingly. Apply a small amount to a cloth and rub it into the fretboard. Let it sit for a few minutes, then wipe off any excess.

Maple: Typically, maple fretboards have a finish that does not require conditioning. A damp cloth should suffice.

Polish the Frets: Use a dedicated fret polishing cloth or a fine-grade steel wool (0000 grade) to gently polish the frets. Be cautious to avoid scratching the fretboard wood.

Hardware Maintenance

Cleaning the hardware is crucial to prevent corrosion and maintain functionality:

Remove Dust and Grime: Use a dry cloth or a soft brush to remove dust from the hardware components like the bridge, tuning pegs, and pickups.

Clean and Polish: For metal parts, you can use a small amount of metal polish or a mixture of distilled water and a tiny drop of dish soap. Apply the cleaner to a cloth and gently polish the hardware. Ensure no liquid seeps into the electronics.

Lubricate Moving Parts: If necessary, apply a small amount of lubricant to moving parts like the tuning pegs to ensure smooth operation.

Avoiding Harmful Products

Certain products can damage your guitar’s finish and components. It is important to know what to avoid:

Alcohol-Based Cleaners: These can strip the finish and damage the wood.

Silicone-Based Products: They can leave a residue that is difficult to remove and may harm the finish over time.

Heavy Waxes: These can build up and create a sticky surface.

Furniture Polish: Often contains ingredients that are not suitable for guitars and can damage the finish.

Always use products specifically designed for guitars or those recommended by guitar manufacturers.

Polishing and Finishing

The final steps in your cleaning routine should focus on polishing and finishing to protect the guitar and enhance its appearance:

Polish the Body: Use a high-quality guitar polish suitable for your guitar’s finish. Apply a small amount to a clean cloth and buff in a circular motion until the surface is shiny and smooth.

Inspect the Finish: For guitars with a gloss finish, ensure there are no streaks or residue left behind. For satin finishes, a simple wipe down with a dry or slightly damp cloth is sufficient.

Reinstall the Strings: Once the guitar is thoroughly cleaned and polished, reinstall new strings. This not only completes the maintenance process but also enhances the guitar’s sound.

SEE ALSO: What to Use for Guitar Pick?

Guitar Storage

Proper storage is essential to prevent dust accumulation and maintain appropriate humidity levels:

Use a Case: Store your guitar in a hard case or a padded gig bag when not in use to protect it from dust and physical damage.

Maintain Humidity: Guitars are sensitive to changes in humidity. Use a humidifier or dehumidifier in your storage area to keep the humidity level between 40-60%.

Avoid Extreme Conditions: Keep your guitar away from direct sunlight, heat sources, and cold drafts, as extreme temperatures can damage the wood and finish.

Maintenance Tips

In addition to regular cleaning, these ongoing maintenance tips will help keep your guitar in optimal condition:

Wash Your Hands: Always wash your hands before playing to reduce the transfer of oils and dirt to the guitar.

Wipe Down After Playing: Use a clean cloth to wipe down the strings and body after each playing session to remove sweat and oils.

Use a String Cleaner: Apply a string cleaner regularly to prolong the life of your strings and maintain their sound quality.

Check Hardware: Periodically inspect the hardware for signs of wear and tear. Tighten any loose screws or components as needed.

Tune Regularly: Keeping your guitar in tune not only ensures it sounds good but also maintains proper tension on the neck and strings.

By incorporating these practices into your guitar care routine, you can ensure your instrument remains in excellent condition, both visually and functionally.


Cleaning your guitar is a vital part of maintaining its appearance, playability, and longevity. By using the right materials and following the proper steps, you can keep your guitar looking and sounding its best. Regular cleaning and maintenance, combined with proper storage and handling, will help protect your investment and allow you to enjoy your guitar for many years to come.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced guitarist, understanding how to clean and care for your guitar is essential. Take the time to develop a routine that includes cleaning, conditioning, and regular checks to keep your instrument in top shape. Your guitar will not only perform better but will also continue to inspire you with its beauty and sound.


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