How To Clean Your Acoustic Guitar At Home In 10 Simple Steps


A hand cleaning the acoustic guitar with a microfibre cloth

Most aspiring guitarists begin their journey with an acoustic guitar.

It is usually our first of many; our first guitar, first love, and first instrument.

Whether you have a classical nylon string or a flat top steel-string guitar, you must learn how to maintain it.

This is to ensure you get many years of playing and enjoying your beautiful guitar.

Cleaning and maintaining your acoustic guitar is simple…

But the right tools need to be used to achieve the greatest optimization.

Related: Keep your acoustic guitar in good condition.

How Do Guitars Get Dirty?

There are 3 main pathways dirt can get on your acoustic guitar.

1. Dirty Hands

It is the number one enemy for your guitar and the most common one.

When you pick up your axe and strum away, you transfer the natural oils and general dirt from your hands to the strings and fretboard.

This can lead to your fingers turning black or green after playing the guitar.

Related: Why do my fingers turn black when playing guitar

2. Sweaty Hands

If you play in gigs or for extended periods (2-3 hours at a time), and you are left with black, gray, or green fingers. This point may be for you.

Some people have a high level of acidity in their sweat.

This high level of acidity in their fingers will be transferred into the fretboard and strings when playing.

Related: The Best Solutions For Acidic Hands When Playing Guitar.

3. The Stand

Many of us store our guitars on a stand either for easy access or aesthetic reasons (or both).

Like any other object in your home, it will accumulate dust and dirt.

This can have a detrimental effect on the intonation of your guitar.

So, no matter how much care you take to not scratch or bump your guitar, it will get damaged if you do not clean it regularly.

10 Simple Steps To Cleaning Your Acoustic Guitar At Home

There are 10 simple steps you can use to clean your acoustic guitar at home:

Step 1 – Clean Your Hands And Your Work Space

Before you begin, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly and have a clear workspace.

I know these may seem obvious. But cleaning the guitar with dirty hands will be counterproductive.

Furthermore, cleaning the guitar in a crowded space may lead to damage to your beautiful instrument.

Step 2 – Gather The Correct Material To Clean Your Guitar

The materials that you will need to give your guitar a good clean are:

MaterialsPrice (USD)Where To Buy It From
Guitar Neck Rest$22.99Amazon
Microfibre cleaning cloth. Use an old fleece sweatshirt or a sock.FreeYour home
Paper Towel$0.48Walmart
clippers, bridge pin puller, and peg winder all in one tool$6.49Amazon
A solvent such as lighter fluid or Zippo (these are flammable, so be careful)$9.17 Amazon
Fretboard Conditioner (Safe on all unfinished fretboards)$9.49Amazon
0000-grade fine steel wool (if your guitar has a matte finish)$8.92Amazon 
New Strings$7.99 

Related: best acoustic guitar strings for sore fingers 
Amazon
Warm WaterFreeYour Home
Fine grade sandpaper (if your guitar has a gloss finish)$6.20Amazon
Total$71.73Home / Walmart / Amazon

Step 3 – Prepare and Clean The Fretboard

Lay the guitar ensuring the guitar neck is supported, with a guitar neck support, or you run the risk of breaking it.

There is a high chance that your acoustic guitar’s fretboard is made of either Rosewood or Ebony.

This means there is no protective finish as the timber is left untreated. As a result, dirt and grime builds-up.

If left unattended, the build-up of dirt can lead to damage to the fretboard.

If you’re one of the lucky ones to have a maple neck, it will be sealed and protected.

Nonetheless, it is still safe practice to clean the fretboard to improve playability.

When we play the guitar, we transfer sweat, dead skin, and the natural oils in our hands to the fretboard.

This grime accumulates near the fret wires. This affects the guitar’s tone and the life of your strings.

To clean the fretboard:

Step 3a – Remove The Strings

To remove the strings, clip them near the bridge using the string cutter.

Then, remove the ball ends and remove one end of the string at a time.

Finally, unwind the pegs and remove the rest of the strings.

Step 3b – Clean The Fretboard

I usually give the fretboard a simple once-over clean with warm water and a rag.

Nothing too strenuous as I use this tactic to lift most of the loose grime.

Then, I dry it with a paper towel.

Be careful not to press too hard with the paper towel, or you can scratch the fretboard.

Work on a section at a time and don’t work the whole neck at once.

If you haven’t cleaned the guitar in quite some time or you sweat a lot, you’ll most likely have a hard time removing the grime with only water and a cloth.

In this case, use the lighter fluid.

Caution:
lighter fluids can be very harsh on the wood and on your respiratory system.

If you choose to use it, use only a splash and never apply directly to the wood.

Instead, add the dash of the lighter liquid to the cloth.

Ensure you also protect yourself by undertaking this task in a well-ventilated area.

When applying the lighter fluid, let it sit for approximately a minute.

Then clean the fretboard with a clean, dry cloth.

Most persistent build-ups occur in the fret wires.

A dedicated scraping tool, such as a credit card or a pick, can help with this…

But be careful not to press too hard, or you can scratch the fretboard.

Step 4 – Polish And Condition The Fretboard

Step 4a – Polish The Frets

Once you are satisfied with cleaning your fretboard, you can move on to polishing the fret wires.

The best tool for this next step is a ball of 0000-grade fine steel wool.

When polishing, be sure to move in the same direction as the grain in the fretboard to prevent unwanted marks and scratches.

A good tip is to use an eraser after polishing to eradicate any marks left behind. This is especially true if using steel wool.

Be extra careful using the steel wool on a maple neck.

As any polishing of the neck itself will leave you with an unwanted matte finish.

Step 4b – Fretboard Conditioning

It is always good to use a fretboard conditioning product after cleaning the fretboard.

Especially if you used any solvents.

This is because solvents tend to draw out natural oils contained within the timber.

If these oils are left unattended, cracks can develop in the fretboard.

Although fretboard conditioners come in small bottles, they should last you for a couple of years.

This is because you don’t need a great deal when applying it.

To use the conditioner, add a small amount onto the fretboard with a clean rag.

After you wipe it, let it sit for a couple of minutes, and then thoroughly clean the fretboard with a dry clean rag.

Note:
For $29.99, you can buy on Amazon the MusicNomad Total Fretboard Care kit.

This kit contains everything you will need to polish and condition your fretboard and frets.

The kit includes the fretboard conditioner, the frets polish, x3 grip fretboard guards, and a microfibre cloth.

Don’t Forget The Bridge.

Although the bridge is part of the guitar body, the chances are that the bridge is made of the same wood as the fretboard…

So, make sure you wipe down the bridge and apply conditioner, as the bridge is an unsung hero.

After all, it does handle a lot of tension from the strings.

Step 5 – Prepare To Clean The Guitar’s Body

Like the fretboard, the guitar’s body sees residue build-up from sweat, oils, and dirt.

If this is left untreated for long periods, the quality of the guitar will suffer.

Furthermore, the cleaning process becomes more strenuous.

Inspect The Guitar

Before you begin cleaning, make sure to inspect the body of the guitar as this is where chips and scratches are found.

If you find a chip or exposed timber, avoid applying moisture to the area as it will be absorbed and cause swelling.

Step 6 – Clean The Guitar’s Body

Grab a clean, dry rag.

Make Sure this is not one you used on the fretboard.

Scrunch it up into a ball and begin to polish the guitar’s body in a circular motion.

As you do this, make sure to inspect the area you were polishing to ensure that the grime is coming off.

If not, you may need something more robust, such as a solvent.

Using Solvents

If you find that the dry cloth is not enough to get the persistent grime off, damp the cloth with warm water.

Make sure not to get it near any exposed parts.

If you find that warm water has little to no effect, then it is time to bring in the big guns – solvents.

I find Zippo to be most effective as it will remove the grime by breaking down the oils.

Simply apply a tiny little bit of Zippo to the rag and clean the guitar in a circular motion.

Leave it for a couple of minutes before passing a clean, dry rag to all the areas where Zippo was applied.

Note of caution
This solvent is flammable, harsh to the wood and your respiratory system.

So, make sure you apply only a little bit to the cloth and not directly to the wood.

Furthermore, ensure you are in a well-ventilated area.

Step 7 – Clean The Neck

Since you have cleaned the guitar’s body, you can’t forget the back of the neck.

The neck sees the most friction and action of the guitar.

Thus, you want to ensure that it is smooth as you execute chord transitions and regular run-ups.

It usually takes a few simple wipes up and down the neck to get it back to its pristine condition.

If you want to go above and beyond and smooth up the neck, there are many ways.

Matte Finish

If your neck has a matte finish, use the fine-grade steel wool and gently rub the rear of the neck in the direction of the grain.

Do this until the neck feels silky smooth.

Gloss Finish

If your guitar has a gloss finish, use fine-grade sandpaper that is 600grit wet and dry sandpaper.

Use the same method as the steel wool and rub with the grain.

Step 8 – Polish The Guitar’s Body

Now that the cleaning of the fretboard, neck, and body are out of the way, we can polish the guitar’s body.

I recommend that you don’t use any polishing product if you don’t need to.

This is because the compound will eventually affect the guitar’s finish causing the body to soften.

So, with that in mind, I would recommend simply using a dry polishing cloth.

Perform the same circular motion you used to clean the guitar’s body with your dry polishing cloth.

If you use a guitar polishing product, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and apply it in small amounts.

Once you have applied the polishing product, go over the polished area with a clean rag to eliminate any excess dirt.

Step 9 – Clean The Hardware

Keeping your guitar’s hardware clean is essential.

It is a minor job, but the importance is significant as the tuning keys must maintain stability over time.

I usually grab a dry cloth and wipe down the tuners after every play as it is the highest point of the guitar, which

sees a lot of dust settle on top of it.

If need be and the tuners have had grime build-up, use metal polish and polish the tuners’ spool, button, and housing.

Avoid getting any of the polish on the headstock, but if unavoidable, make sure to clean it off immediately.

Step 10 – Install The New Strings

Once your whole guitar is clean and polished, it is time to put your new strings on your guitar.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xxeRFEP1Y4&t=10s

Cleaning your guitar will ensure:

  • A better-looking guitar
  • A guitar with a better feel, and
  • A long-lasting guitar

In addition, maintaining your guitar regularly means you will no need to take it to the shop and pay for a service you can provide yourself.

Finally, learning how to maintain your instrument correctly is a great skill to have.

What Household Items Can I Use To Clean My Acoustic Guitar?

You can use a few household items to clean your guitar.

But, if you can, always opt for professionally and specifically made products.

These products have been designed to prolong the guitar’s life span and protect its finishes.

1. White Vinegar

This is a safe product that can be used to clean your guitar without damaging its finish.

Avoid any household cleaning products that contain:

  • silicone,
  • heavy waxes,
  • lacquer thinner, or
  • bleach.

All-purpose cleaners and furniture polishes will also damage the finish on your guitar.

To clean the guitar with the vinegar, simply add a small amount to a microfibre cloth.

Then in a circular motion, apply the vinegar.

2. Boiling Water

I do not recommend you re-use the old strings.

This is because old guitar strings lose their elasticity, tuning stability, the freshness of the sound, and they become brittle.

Related: How long do guitar strings last if not played?

Yet, if you want to reuse them give them a clean to try and give them a new lease of life.

To do this, take off the strings, coil them up, and place them in boiling water for five minutes.

Let them dry out and string them back up.

Ensure that there is no water left on the strings, as you don’t want them going rusty.

3. Water And Dish Soap

  • Add a drop of dish soap to a cup of warm water
  • Dip a clean cloth in the mixture and wring out thoroughly
  • Wipe each string several times
  • Grab a clean and dry cloth and dip it in plain warm water, wring it out. Wipe the strings again
  • Grab a third dry cloth and dry out the strings

You may leave the guitar strings on…

But make sure not to leave any soap on the strings or the fretboard after you are finished.

Clean Your Guitar Daily

An excellent habit of getting into is to clean your guitar after every play.

A simple wipe-down of the guitar will keep it looking good…

But make sure the fretboard is maintained to a good standard.

Simply wipe down the strings after every play with a cloth, cotton ball, or an old sock.

You’ll be amazed at how much of a difference this will make in the long run.

Related: Keep your acoustic guitar in good condition.

Conclusion

I know that cleaning your guitar is not the most riveting experience out there.

No doubt all you want to do is play your beautiful instrument.

But it is a job that needs doing at least a couple of times a year.

Cleaning your guitar is not only to benefit its aesthetics…

But it is also to improve playability and dodging the possibility of expensive damage, or worse yet, irreversible damage.

Happy playing!

Alex Hatzidakis

Alex Hatzidakis, a Melbourne local, has played the guitar for over 17 years and toured with several bands over the years. Now, Alex is content with adding to his guitar collection and spends his time writing and recording music for himself and others.

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