How to Properly Clean a Guitar

Guitars will get dirty over time due to the build-up of dirt and grim from our oily fingers. You should always wipe down your guitar after playing. But even so, your guitar will need a deep cleaning from time to time. Knowing how to properly clean a guitar to prevent your finish from fading and your hardware from rusting is imperative.

In this article, I will walk you through all the necessary steps to clean your guitar, tips for keeping your guitar clean, and discuss why it is so important to clean your guitar in the first place.

Why clean your guitar?

It is important to keep your guitar’s strings, fretboard, body, and hardware clean. Doing so will extend the life of your guitar and prevent you from having to repair or replace components of the instrument. Oily and sweaty fingers can also deteriorate the guitar strings faster, meaning you will have to change them more often. Sweat and oil from your skin can also cause your guitar’s finish to fade more quickly.

Simply wiping down your strings and body will help prevent the guitar from getting dirty. But still, once to twice a month, I recommend deep cleaning your guitar to ensure it stays in pristine condition.

What you’ll need

  • Microfiber cloth or a clean rag
  • Wire cutters
  • Screwdriver
  • Degreaser
  • Guitar polish
  • Fine grade steel wool
  • Q-tip
  • Toothbrush

How to properly clean a guitar

Here is my step-by-step guide for cleaning your guitar from top to bottom. I will start with the fretboard, then move on to the hardware and the body.

How to clean your guitar’s fretboard

The fretboard is one of the most important parts of the guitar. It also happens to be the part of the guitar that gets touched the most, so it gets very dirty. If you haven’t cleaned your fretboard in a while, there may be a build-up of oily gunk.

Step one: wash your hands!

Wash your hands before getting started. The last thing you want to do is dirty up your fretboard with your filthy hands right after deep cleaning it.

Step two: remove the strings

You shouldn’t remove all of your strings often because doing so can mess with the tension of your guitar, change the action, and even damage the truss rod. However, sometimes you have to get down and dirty and deep clean your neck. For this, you’ll need to remove all the strings.

Step three: wipe off the surface of the guitar with a clean rag

After removing the strings, wipe down the frets, fingerboard, head, and tuning pegs using a microfiber cloth or any clean rag. Remove as much dust and grime as possible.

Step four: Wipe down frets and fingerboard with warm water

If your guitar is SUPER dirty, a microfiber cloth may not be enough to remove all the muck. Wet the rag with warm water and rub the fretboard, scrubbing the extra dirty areas.

Step five: remove stubborn gunk using a fine-grade steel wool

If there is stubborn grime that just won’t come off with the other methods, you’ll need to use some fine-grade steel wool to clean the fretboard. Remember only to use FINE-GRADE steel wool, as standard steel wool will likely damage your fretboard and finish. Lightly rub the area, and the gunk should come off.

*Do not use steel wool on a maple fretboard.

Step five: use a guitar-safe degreaser if necessary

After removing the gunk and grime from your fingerboard, you may also consider using a degreaser to clean it up thoroughly. I recommend using ColorTone Naphtha as a degreaser, as it does a great job of removing grease and grime and doesn’t damage the guitar if used correctly.

Apply a small amount of naphtha to a clean rag and lightly wipe down the fretboard’s surface. Remember that when it comes to this stuff, “less is more.”

Step six: clean any hard-to-reach areas with a Q-tip

There may be dust built-up in the crevices and cracks in the guitar. Use a Q-tip to wipe down these areas.

Step seven: finish off the fretboard using a finishing oil

Apply a finishing oil of some sort to give your fretboard some extra shine. Fretboard finishing oil keeps your fretboard healthy and hydrated, making it look better and preventing the color from fading.

If you have a maple fretboard, it likely already has a finish, so avoid putting any finishing oil on it.

Step eight: replace the strings

After you have finished cleaning the fretboard, you can replace the strings.

How to clean your guitar’s hardware

Your guitar’s hardware is another area that can get very dirty and rusted if it is not adequately cared for. 

Step one: wipe down the hardware

Use the same clean microfiber cloth or rag to wipe down the pickups, bridge, tuning pegs, controls, and any other hardware your guitar may have.

Step two: remove any dirty hardware

Check the hardware. If you notice any extra dirty or rusted hardware, remove it from the guitar. You may need a screwdriver for this.

Step three: brush the hardware using a toothbrush

Brush the extra dirty hardware with a toothbrush and remove any built-up oil or gunk.

Step four: soak rusty hardware in vinegar

If your hardware is rusty, place it in a tub of white vinegar for 2-4 hours. This should loosen the rust from the metal surface.

Step five: clean off the vinegar

After the hardware has soaked for a few hours, remove it from the vinegar and scrub off the remaining rust using the toothbrush and rag. Any extremely rusty parts may need to be replaced.

Step six: Re-install the cleaned hardware

Reassemble the guitar, placing the cleaned parts back and securing them.

How to clean your guitar’s body

The final part of the guitar that needs to be regularly cleaned is the body. The wood finish can fade, dry out, and even crack if not maintained correctly. Cleaning the body of the guitar is quite similar to cleaning the fretboard, but there are a few unique steps.

Step one: wipe everything down

Use a microfiber cloth or a clean rag to wipe down the body.

Step two: use hot water to remove any grease

Like the fretboard, if there is built-up gunk, wet the rag and rub down the dirty areas. DO NOT use steel wool of any kind on the body.

Step three: use a degreaser to remove any stubborn spots

If you have any extra stubborn spots or just want to remove all the grease from the body, use a small amount of Naphtha to scrub it.

Step four: determine what type of finish you have

Before polishing the body, you should determine what type of finish your guitar is. The two main types of guitar finishes are gloss and satin. Glossy finishes have a high shine, while satin finishes have a more natural matte look.

Step five: polish your guitar

Choose a polish that compliments your guitar’s finish. I recommend using a non-shine, non-abrasive polish. For glossy finishes, I recommend using an abrasive scratch remover polish.

Place a small amount of polish on a clean rag and gently rub it around the guitar’s body.

Tips for keeping your guitar from getting so dirty

Here are a few of my top tips for keeping your guitar clean and avoiding having to deep clean your guitar often.

  • Wipe down the strings and body with a lint-free microfiber cloth after every use.
  • Wash your hands before playing your guitar.
  • Wipe down the fretboard every time you change the strings.
  • Invest in a good quality guitar case and keep the guitar cased when you aren’t playing.
  • Oil your fretboard and polish your guitar’s body.

How often should you clean your guitar?

You may be wondering how often you should clean your guitar. No one wants to spend multiple hours deep cleaning your guitar every month, so how often should you be cleaning it? If you keep your guitar clean and wiped down after use, you probably won’t have to deep clean it very often. I maintain all my instruments and clean them whenever I notice they are getting dirty. 

In general, I recommend deep cleaning your guitar 2 to 4 times a year and keeping an eye out for any dirty, greasy, or rusty areas, and treating them effectively and immediately.