How To Clean Your Guitar – Two methods explained

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Learning how to clean your guitar is the best way to preserve your instrument. It’s an easy task but it can be time consuming if you don’t know how to do it right.

That’s why we’re going to see two methods in this page. The first one is more designed for casual guitar players and can be done very quickly. The other takes a little bit longer. If you’re a professional, the latter will probably be better for you.

1. Misconceptions

 

Dust On Fretboard - How To Clean a Guitar like that?
One of the hardest guitar parts to clean is the fingerboard. That’s why it’s better to remove all the strings before, to have access to all the instrument.

Let me get back on a few misconceptions first. It is true that cleaning your guitar helps protecting your instrument and make it shine like a brand new one. BUT, it will not automatically make it sound better. What will improve the sound is the way that you play, the techniques you learn, and the equipment you’ll get – new amp, strings, pedals…

A second misconception is about cleaning. The thing is: you don’t have to be a real maniac. Of course it’s better to make your cleaning regularly, but it’s really not a big deal if you don’t have time to do it. A little bit of dirt never killed anyone (I hope!).

That being said, let’s move on to the first method.

2. First method.

2.1. Preparation.

For this method, it’s not mandatory to remove the strings from your guitar, as it can be a long process. First you need to equip yourself with a cotton or chamois cloth and some kitchen paper. You will also need a microfiber cloth, water and some duct tape.

2.2. Cleaning.

Duct Tape Guitar
Put some duct tape to protect the inside from getting dirty

Why duct tape? To protect the pickups or your guitar inside. If you’re cleaning an electric guitar, it’s better to put some duct tape on the metallic pickup first. Same for a hollow body, apply some tape to protect the interior. It takes about one minute and it’s worth the time.

All done? Good. Now we’re going to clean the strings and the guitar neck. Use your cotton or chamois cloth to do it. You’ll notice that there is a lot of dirt on your strings. It is absolutely normal. Cleaning your hands before playing will not prevent it but it will reduce its amount.

Now, we’re going to use the microfiber cloth and some water. Pour a little bit of water on the cloth just to humidify it. If it’s completely soaked, wring it out until no more water comes out of it. The idea here is to clean your guitar body and neck (the back). Don’t forget the headstock of course.

Finally, use the kitchen paper – or toilet paper – to wipe the water. If you have lemon oil, apply some on your guitar body and the back of the neck. Remove the duct tape. Guitar’s all clean. Well done.

3. Second method – Acoustic Guitar

Before we dive into the explanation of the method, it’s important to check that you have all the necessary equipment to clean your guitar. Let’s see:

Microfiber Clothes
A set of microfiber clothes
  • Two clothes for cleaning (preferably made of microfiber): one for the dust and dirt, and one for the polishing part. If you don’t have anything like that, you can use old t-shirts or kitchen clothes.
  • A sharp and long object (a flat-blade screwdriver would do): this will help you remove the dirt accumulated near the frets. Be careful not to damage your fingerboard. 
  • Lemon oil: supermarkets should have it. If not, go to a health food store. Also, you can create your own oil, which reduces the cost, but can be time consuming.
  • Guitar polish: you can find them online or at your specialized music shop. The basic rule is to not invest in something too cheap to avoid damaging your guitar.
  • Duct tape: yes, again.

The method we’re going to see involves removing the strings so that we can clean everything on the guitar. If you’ve never taken all the strings off your instrument before, there’s a few security steps you should take.

  1. First, put the guitar flat on a table, or anywhere stable – preferably a place where you can work easily. Something like that:Guitar on a table
  2. Release the strings tension one by one until they’re all loosened up. You can even invest in a peg winder, which will make the job easier.
  3. Depending on your guitar, you may have bridge pins (the white little knobs you can see on the picture above), or not. If you have them on your instrument, you can use a bridge pin puller or something similar, pliers for example. Take those bridge pins out one by one and then, remove all the strings from your guitar.

Alright, all done and secured. Do you need to replace your strings? Check out the different types of acoustic guitar strings!

Now, let’s move on to the cleaning part. Here’s a video explaining the whole process:

And here’s the method explained step by step:

Dunlop 654 Formula 65
The Dunlop 654 Formula 65 is one of the best guitar polish for the body, neck and headstock. Don’t use it on the fretboard. Use a specific guitar polish or lemon oil instead.
  1. Before anything else, let’s put some duct tape above the sound hole to protect the inside from getting dirty, just like in the first method. 
  2. Use one of your clothes to remove the dust and dirt from your guitar. Do it everywhere: head, fingerboard, neck, saddle, pegs, guitar body, etc.
  3. With the sharp object you chose (screwdriver or knife), remove all the dirt trapped under the frets. Pay attention not to damage the fingerboard as the frets can get loose if done incorrectly. In case you are not sure, ask a professional or skip this step.
  4. Take the second cloth and apply a bit of lemon oil on it. Use it on your guitar to clean the dirt on the fingerboard and saddle (if made of plastic, you can also apply lemon oil, but water and a regular cleaning product should be enough).
  5. Remove the excess of lemon oil with the cloth you just used – normally you should have some dry area on it.
  6. Now we’re going to apply some guitar polish. I recommend you the Dunlop 65 Formula 65. You can get it on Amazon right here.  The idea here is to apply some polish on your cloth (take the one you just used) and clean the body, neck, and headstock with it. It will give a nice shiny look to your guitar, and you will feel like you have a brand new instrument. 
  7. (optional step) If you have dirt or rust you find hard to remove on the pegs and frets, take an old toothbrush or eyeliner brush (for the frets) and apply a bit of penetrating oil such as the WD-40 on it. That should do the trick. Clean the metal with it but be careful not to drift on the fingerboard or headstock. 

That’s it. Your guitar should be all clean and pretty.

However, for really dirty guitars, it can take some time to make the instrument shine again like in its first days. If that’s the case, I would recommend you to take it to a professional. Furthermore, buying all the products and tools would make you spend a lot of money.

To discover 5 do’s and don’ts for cleaning your guitar, click here

If you need any advice or if you encounter any trouble regarding the two methods I’ve described here, please let me know in the comments below. Do you use another way to clean your guitar? I would like to know it as well!

Thanks for reading, and happy cleaning.

2 comments

  1. I never knew until now there was a cleaning product for guitars.
    This is so good to know. I have a beautiful 30 years old ovation guitar and I have always just used a clean cloth and now I know there is a great product out there, I will go check it out
    Thank you

    1. A clean cloth is better than nothing. Some people never clean their guitar and I must admit, I was one of them too.

      There are tons of different cleaning products you can get. Sometimes, just a regular wood cleaning product can be enough. It depends on your guitar.

      I recommend the product mentioned in the article, for safety.

      And by the way, I would like to see that Ovation! Must be quite the guitar!

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