Cleaning your guitar isn’t just about cosmetics, and getting it wrong can do more harm than good. Knowing how to clean a guitar properly will increase its longevity and save you money on avoidable repairs.
How to Clean Your Guitar Properly
We are going to walk you through some steps to ensure you take the best possible care of your guitar.
Why Cleaning Your Guitar Is Important
A guitar becomes layered with oil and sweat from your arms and hands along with dust in the air around it. Sweat and oil build up most on the top of the body, the back of the neck, and of course, the fretboard. Anywhere that your skin contacts the guitar is a problem area that can’t be neglected. If ignored, it can cause serious problems cosmetically such as rusting your hardware.
A clean guitar looks and feels better, meaning you play better.
Preparing to Clean Your Guitar
Wash your hands — It may sound obvious, but sadly for many guitarists, it isn’t.
Remove the strings — If you are giving your guitar a light dusting, then obviously leave them on. For anything more thorough involving cleaning products, take the strings off. It makes the job easier and prevents any cleaner or polish from getting onto your strings.
What To Avoid
Over-cleaning — Cleaning too often can be as bad as not cleaning at all.
Household cleaners — General cleaning products contain chemicals that are very bad for your guitar. Stick to specialized guitar cleaning products.
Silicone — Avoid any products that contain silicone, because it has an adverse effect on your guitar’s finish.
Cleaning the Fretboard
The fretboard takes the most punishment in terms of sweats and oil build-up from playing. That makes it one of the most important and sensitive areas to clean. Sweat dehydrates the wood and can leave unwanted marks on a fretboard or cause it to crack.
For most common fretboard materials, you can use some steel wool to get rid of any unwanted dirt or grime. As long as you use steel wool, you won’t cause any damage to the frets or the wood. Next, you have to rehydrate the wood and bring it back to as new condition.
Wearing gloves to protect your hands, lightly rub the steel wool in a circular motion on the fretboard. Do this until you have covered the entire fretboard, then wipe away any leftover dirt or grime.
Now apply a cleanser to revitalize the wood. Apply a generous amount to a slightly damp cloth, then wipe down the fretboard firmly. Lemon oil is also a common alternative used to clean the fretboard and is applied in the same way.
This method is fine for most fingerboards; however, a maple fingerboard that has been lacquered should be cleaned with a damp cloth only. Steel wool or lemon oil will remove the lacquer’s shine, leaving a dull finish.
Cleaning the Hardware
Metal is prone to corrosion, and sweat is a highly corrosive substance, so you have to be careful cleaning your hardware. If your hardware isn’t showing signs of rust or corrosion, then a soft cloth and a small amount of polish should keep it in check. If there are signs of rust, then it’s best to remove the hardware and use a stronger cleaner.
Many luthiers swear by Naptha (lighter fluid) or WD40 to give your hardware a deep clean. Apply either to a slightly damp cloth and very firmly rub down your hardware. These substances are very bad for your guitar, so you must remove your hardware before applying them.
How Often Should I Clean My Guitar?
Daily light dusting or dusting after use is a great routine to get into. As far as deep cleaning goes, you have to be more careful. As a general rule, it’s good to go for a deeper clean only when you have to replace the strings. You’d be removing them to clean anyway, and it stops you from doing it too frequently.