How To Clean And Oil Your Fretboard

Take a close look at your fretboard. Is there grime and oil built up on the frets? If you don’t clean or at least wipe down your fretboard often, it is likely very dirty and needs cleaning. It is a good idea to clean your fretboard every so often to keep your fretboard clean and smooth. You can certainly let your instrument deteriorate like Stevie Ray Vaughn or Willie Nelson, but a well-kept instrument will look great and feel great on your fingers.

In this article, I will go over how to clean and oil your fretboard to get rid of all the built of gunk and keep it looking nice!

Why clean and oil your fretboard?

You may be asking yourself, is it really necessary to clean and oil my fretboard? The answer is yes, and here is why:

  • Our fingers are very oily, and this oil can break down your guitar’s finish.
  • A dirty fretboard can deteriorate your strings, causing you to restring your guitar more often.
  • If you don’t clean and oil your fretboard often, your frets may dry out and crack, forcing you to repair the guitar’s neck eventually.

While cleaning your fretboard removes grime and gunk that has built up over time, oiling your fretboard helps to hydrate the wood and keep the finish looking great.

How often to clean and oil your fretboard

You don’t need to clean your fretboard often. Instead, I recommend deep cleaning and oiling your fretboard every 2-6 months, depending on how often you play. But clean off the frets every time you restring the guitar and wipe down the strings after each practice session. Don’t forget to properly clean the head, body, and hardware from time to time as well!

What you’ll need

Here is what you’ll need to clean and oil your guitar’s fretboard:

  • Clean rag or microfiber cloth
  • Degreaser
  • Guitar fretboard polish or oil
  • Fine-grade steel wool
  • String winder (optional)

Step-by-step guide: How to clean and oil your fretboard

Here is a step-by-step guide for cleaning and oiling your guitar’s fretboard.

Step one: wash your hands!

It is important to wash your hands any time you are handling your guitar, let alone when you are trying to clean it. Doing so prevents the dirt, sweat, and oil on your hands from getting on your fretboard and corroding the strings.

Step two: remove the strings

The best time to clean your fretboard is when the strings are off. This way, you have full access to the frets and can deep clean them. If you are planning to change your strings already, this is a good excuse to clean and oil the fretboard as well.

Unwind the strings by hand or using a string winder and remove the strings from the bridge, then discard them in the trash or recycling unless you plan to replace the same strings after cleaning.

Step three: Wipe down the fretboard

Use a clean rag or microfiber cloth to wipe down the fretboard. If there is any stubborn gunk that won’t come off, wet the cloth with warm water and gently scrub the dirty areas.

Step four: Use fine-grade steel wool to get rid of any hardened grime

If it has been a while since the last time you cleaned the fretboard, you may need to call in some backup. If you let the oily grime sit for too long on your fretboard, it will harden, which makes it much harder to remove. Gently rub your fretboard fine-grade steel wool and the gunk should come off more easily.

Remember to be gentle and only use FINE-GRADE steel wool, otherwise, you risk damaging the finish on the fretboard or scratching the frets.

Step five: degrease the fretboard

After removing the filth from your fretboard, you want to use a degreaser to get rid of all the excess finger oils on your guitar. My favorite degreaser is ColorTone Naphtha. This stuff works perfectly and is safe to use on almost any fretboard.

Dab a small amount of the degreaser on a rag and wipe down the fretboard. Remember, when it comes to naphtha, “less is more”.

Step six: Oil the fretboard

Once you have cleaned your fretboard to perfection, finish it off with some polish or oil. These finishers are designed to hydrate the wood and prevent cracks from forming. They also make the fretboard look sleeker and will bring out the finish even on a worn-out fretboard.

The type of wood your fretboard is made of is very important when oiling your fretboard. For example, maple fretboards are generally sealed and finished, so they should not be oiled.  Always use an oil that is safe for your guitar, as household products can damage the finish on your fretboard.

Pour a small amount of your chosen oil or polish on a cloth and gently spread it around the fretboard. Allow the guitar to sit with the oil on it for 20-30 minutes before replacing the strings.

What happens if you don’t clean and oil your fretboard?

If you don’t clean and oil your fretboard at least 2-3 times a year, your guitar strings will wear out faster than they would otherwise due to the amount of sweat and oil on the fretboard. Eventually, the dirt and sweat will harden and form solid gunk on the fretboard that will be very hard to remove and will likely start to deteriorate the finish on the fretboard. The frets themselves will also eventually begin to corrode if you do not clean your fretboard.

Finally, oiling your fretboard may seem like an aesthetic choice, but it is actually crucial for the longevity of your fretboard. A fretboard that has not been oiled will dry out eventually and may even crack.

Best oil to use for your fretboard

There are three main types of wood used for fretboards: maple, ebony, and rosewood. Maple fretboards often come pre-finished, so you do not need to oil them as the fretboard is already sealed. 

Use pure linseed or mineral oil to polish unfinished maple, ebony, and rosewood fretboards. My top picks for fretboard oil are ColorTone Fretboard Oil and MusicNomad F-ONE Fretboard Oil Cleaner & Conditioner. You can use any fretboard oil, but make sure it is petroleum-free and safe to use on instruments. If in doubt, always contact a guitar technician to ensure the product is safe.

If you have any questions about keeping your instrument clean, feel free to contact me, I am always happy to help!