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There are many cleaning solutions for guitars out there. While specialized polishing cloths, wax kits, and conditioners can be great for your guitar, they can also be pretty expensive and it's often hard to tell which cleaning supplies are best for your specific instrument. Fortunately, you already have many cleaning supplies at home that can clean your guitar just as well.
Everyday household items like autowax, cue tips, microfiber cloths, masking tape, and vinegar can be used on different parts of your guitar to give it a deep clean. Taking note of your guitar's finish, you can create a cleaning solution that is inexpensive and easy to use from only household items.
Some items like essential oils, alcohol-based products, and furniture polish should be avoided, but there are many great items sitting around your house that can give your guitar the deep clean it deserves. Read on to see which household items work best for your guitar.
Table of Contents
What Do I Need to Know Before Cleaning My Guitar with Household Items?
Before you begin cleaning your guitar with household items, it's essential to know which chemicals are best and which ones might harm it. Depending on the type of guitar you have and its finish, you'll need to use different items to get it clean.
General Items to Avoid for Cleaning Acoustic and Electric Guitars
Not all household items are safe. Any alcohol or silicone-based cleaners can harm your guitar's finish and cause it to become splotchy. You also want to avoid polishes that are made specifically for furniture or wood floors. Even though they are meant to polish wood, they are not meant for your guitar and can damage the finish or make the strings sticky.
Lemon oil is often a popular oil included in professional guitar cleaning kits but should not be used to create your own cleaning solutions. The professional cleaning kits use a highly diluted amount (less than 1%) of Lemon Oil. Any higher concentration will harm your guitar, so it's best to steer clear. This goes for almost any essential oils.
Other chemicals to avoid are bleach, baking powder, or any cloth/ brush that might have rough enough bristles to scratch the finish on your guitar. A general rule to follow would be: If you think it might harm or scratch your guitar, it's best not to use it.
Can I Use Windex on My Guitar?
Windex should not be used to clean your guitar. It's easy to see why some people might want to use household cleaners on their guitars, but many household cleaners contain alcohol, bleach, or ammonia and these are harmful to the wood and polish on guitars. Steer clear of all cleaners, especially Windex.
Ways to Prepare to Clean Your Guitar
Before you clean your guitar, you'll want to get a few things ready.
- Put on a pair of gloves. After deep cleaning your guitar, the last thing you want is to find that there are a bunch of fingerprints on your newly polished finish. It's also helpful to use gloves to make sure the polish and chemicals don't get on your hands. If you don't have gloves, make sure to wash your hands before, during, and after cleaning.
- Remove the guitar strings. Some people worry that removing the guitar strings all at once could damage the neck, but that's not the case for most of them. Removing all of the strings can make it much easier to clean. If you're still nervous about it, try removing only half of them and then repeating the cleaning on the other side.
- Find a space free of dust and any dirt. If possible, place your guitar on a clean table, using a clean blanket or soft towel beneath it. This will help your guitar stay clean and dust-free while you work.
Which Household Items Can I Use When Cleaning My Guitar?
Now that you know which items to avoid, let's talk about the things you might already have sitting around the house that you can use to clean your guitar. Most of these items will work for both electric and acoustic guitars and can be used regardless of the finish, but some will require special care.
|Household Item||Use||Guitar Area||Use on Electric Guitars||Use on Acoustic Guitars|
|Cue Tip||Detail work helps to get little crevices.||Fretboard, bridge, pegs||Yes||Yes|
|Super Fine Steel Wool (0000)||Polish and clean metal on fretboard||Fretboard Only||Yes||Yes|
|Toothbrush||Detail work, helps to get little crevices||Fretboard, bridge, pegs, electronics||Yes||Yes|
|Paper Towel||Remove basic dust buildup||Fretboard Only||Yes||Yes|
|Microfiber Cloth||Gently remove dust, apply cleaning liquid||Whole guitar||Yes||Yes|
|Water||Remove dust buildup (only when applied to a cloth or towel first)||Guitar Body||Yes (caution around electronics)||Yes|
|Auto Wax (Turtle Wax Express Shine)||Polish finish||Guitar Body Only||Yes (depending on the finish)||Yes (depending on the finish)|
|Gloves||Keep fingerprints and smudges off of guitar. Keep chemicals off your hands.||—||Yes||Yes|
|Towel||Gently wipe away dust or apply cleaning liquids||Whole Guitar||Yes||Yes|
|Masking/Painters Tape||Cover the soundhole while polishing or wiping guitar||Sound Hole||No||Yes|
|Paintbrush||Softly remove dust and grime from difficult places||Whole Guitar||Yes||Yes|
|Dish Soap||Remove stubborn dirt (only if diluted)||Fretboard Only||Yes||Yes|
|Duster||Clean inside of soundhole||Sound Hole Only||No||Yes|
|Vinegar||Remove stubborn dirt (only if diluted)||Fretboard and strings||Yes||Yes|
|Sock||Clean inside of the soundhole||Sound Hole Only||No||Yes|
|Lighter Fluid||Remove stubborn dirt and grime (only if diluted)||Guitar Body Only||Yes (depending on finish)||Yes (depending on finish)|
|WD-40||Polish hardware pieces and remove grime||Hardware Only||Yes||Yes|
Before you put any of these items on your guitar, make sure to read on about how to use them. Even something as simple as water could damage the finish and create warping in the wood. Use special care when it comes to older and vintage guitars. These might require more specialized, professional cleaning.
How to Clean Each Part of Your Guitar Using Household Items
Each section of your guitar requires a specific item and process for a deep clean. It's important to pay attention to where you are putting the chemicals and cloths so that you don't accidentally harm any part of your guitar.
How to Clean Your Guitar Strings
Since you'll need to remove your strings before cleaning the rest of the guitar, you may be wondering how to clean them best. But before you decide to clean them, you need to determine if they are worth saving. Depending on how frequently and intensely you play, it might be time to change your strings.
If your strings don't stay in tune, produce a dull tone, are discolored, feel stiff, or feel dirty, it's probably time to swap them out for new ones. In this case, it's not worth spending the time to clean them.
However, if you decide they are worth saving, you can get some of the grime and oil off of them by doing a couple of different things.
As strange as it sounds, you can actually boil your guitar strings to help them release the dirt and oil. Bring some distilled water to a full boil, drop your strings in (one at a time), and then let them rest for 3-5 minutes. You don't want to go longer than this as it may impact the string material's strength.
After you finish boiling them, take them out using tongs and place them on a soft towel. Don't use a paper towel for this as you don't want the fibers to get stuck in the strings. Let them dry for a full 24 hours before placing them back on your guitar.
Another option is to use a microfiber towel. You can either use it dry or get a little water on the towel and then rub it along your strings. This will help release some of the dirt and grime, though it won't necessarily make your strings sound brand new again. It's a good idea to wipe your strings down with a towel every time you play for general maintenance.
You might find that some people recommend cleaning your strings with rubbing alcohol. While it may help get your strings cleaner, this method has the potential to harm your fretboard and make your strings sound screechy. If any rubbing alcohol is accidentally left on the strings, it can transfer to the fretboard while you play and damage the wood.
How to Clean Your Fretboard
Since most fretboards don't have any lacquer on them, it's essential to treat them differently from the guitar's main body. You don't want to use any polish or oil that might make the strings sticky or gunky later on, but there are other ways to get your fretboard deeply cleaned and looking great.
- Microfiber cloth: Use a dry microfiber cloth to wipe down the fretboard, taking care to wipe around the grooves as much as possible. You can also use a cloth after you've finished your other treatments to make sure nothing is left behind before replacing your strings.
- Cue tip: A cue tip can be used to reach those more detailed spots and get into the groves of the fretboard. You can moisten it a little; just don't get it too wet because you don't want to expose your fretboard to too much moisture.
- Extra Fine Steel Wool (0000): One thing you can use to polish and remove grime from your fretboard is steel wool. It's important to make sure you are using very fine steel wool (0000) so that you don't scratch the frets or the wood. Run the steel wool along the frets in a circular motion until they are shiny and clean.
- Toothbrush: You can use a toothbrush in the same way you'd use a cue tip. Rub it along the grooves of the fretboard to get out the extra grime. You can also use it after the steel wool to make sure all of the tiny wool pieces are taken care of.
- Dish Soap: If you find that the dirt or grease isn't coming off very quickly with just a microfiber towel, you can add a small amount of dish soap to your water and then spray or drop it on your towel before wiping. Do not put dish soap directly on your fretboard as this will damage the wood.
- Vinegar: Vinegar will also help break down the grease on your fretboard, but it needs to be diluted. Combine a small amount with your water and spray or drop it onto your microfiber cloth or soft towel, then wipe your fretboard.
Most fretboards are made of rosewood or ebony, and these suggestions will work great for those unfinished wood varieties. If you have a guitar with a maple fretboard, make sure to note if it has a lacquer finish. You'll want to avoid any chemicals (like vinegar or steel wool) that might harm the finish. Be aware that maple also shows more natural wear over time.
How to Clean the Body of Your Guitar
Before cleaning the body of your guitar, it's a good idea to place masking tape or painter's tape over the sound hole. Because the sound hole is unfinished, you don't want to get any unwanted materials inside that accidentally might damage it. You can also use a small balloon and blow it up while inside your guitar to fit the sound hole's diameter.
Once you are ready to clean the body of the guitar, it becomes imperative to understand which kind of finish is on your guitar. Depending on what was used to finish your guitar, you'll need to use specific cleaning items and steer clear of others.
Poly-Finish or Gloss Finishes
The majority of guitars are in this category. They have a polyester or polyurethane finish. This makes them easy to clean and wipe down without worrying about the wood absorbing any materials.
Most of the time, all you'll need for poly-finish or gloss guitars is a good microfiber cloth. Get your cloth a little wet, thoroughly wring it out, and wipe the guitar's body in circular motions until the streaks of grease have subsided. You'll want to do this even if you plan on polishing to give it a good clean first.
If you'd like to polish your guitar, you can use a simple auto wax (yes, like the one you'd use on your car). It works the same for satin or poly finishes, so it's an inexpensive and versatile way to add some polish. Just put a small amount on a soft cloth and rub it in circles around the body of your guitar.
You can do the same thing with standard lighter fluid because it works as a buffer to the finish. Ensure you are in a well-ventilated area and always add it first to the cloth and not straight to the guitar. Also, make sure to test a small area before rubbing it around the whole body of the guitar.
Satin or Matte Finishes
If your guitar has a natural satin or matte finish, you'll want to avoid most polish. Because these don't have the same kind of barrier to the wood, the polish would just seep in and could cause permanent damage.
For a satin or matte finish, you can simply take a microfiber cloth and wipe it down. With more stubborn grease and dirt, you can also use a small amount of dish soap with water and then apply a small amount to your cloth before wiping down the guitar's body. Don't apply any chemicals or cleaning products directly to the wood.
With all polishes, regardless of the finish, keep in mind that you want to keep it on the guitar body only and not on the fretboard, inside the sound hole, or on the hardware.
How to Clean the Hardware on Your Guitar
Once you've finished cleaning the main pieces of your guitar, it's time to focus on the hardware. These pieces collect a lot of unnecessary grime in the groves and can impact your guitar's sound. The type of hardware you need to clean will vary based on whether you have an acoustic or electric guitar.
Electric Guitar Hardware
Most of the hardware can be cleaned using a microfiber cloth. Just wipe the cloth along the metal pieces until the grease has been mostly removed. Once you've done that, you can follow it up with a cue tip or paintbrush to get into the little grooves and crevices. Take care not to get any moisture near the electric components on your guitar.
A cloth works especially well for the tuning pegs, pickup, bar, output jack, pickup selector, and the volume and tone controls. Often, these don't need more than a good wipe and will look polished and new with minimal effort. Look for places that might have received more use or wear and spend extra time polishing those places.
For more stubborn hardware, like the bridge of your guitar, you may want to use a cloth with a little WD-40. To do this, you need to remove the bridge from the guitar body and wipe it down away from your guitar. Place a small amount of WD-40 on the cloth and/or cue tip and rub it along the groves to get the stubborn grime to break down.
Ensure all of the WD-40 is thoroughly wiped into or off the bridge before replacing it on your guitar. If any is left on the bridge, it can damage the finish of the body of your guitar.
Acoustic Guitar Hardware
Acoustic guitars have less hardware than electric guitars, but their hardware can be treated pretty similarly. The tuning pegs, pickup, and the bridge can usually be cleaned with a nice microfiber cloth and a paintbrush, toothbrush, or cue tip to get into the groves.
If the bridge is gunky, you can take it off of the guitar and clean the groves using a damp microfiber cloth or WD-40. Take care when using WD-40 to apply it to the cloth first and then use a fresh cloth to wipe away any excess before replacing it on your guitar.
How to Clean the Inside of Your Acoustic Guitar
Though some people might find cleaning inside the sound hole of your guitar unnecessary, it can be a good step to making sure your guitar produces the clear sound it is meant to deliver. Dust and dirt (or even marbles or paper clips) can disrupt the sound.
To clean the inside of your guitar, you can use a microfiber cloth, soft towel, or even a sock on your hand. Take the cloth of your choice and wipe inside the sound hole. You don't need any water, but if you find it's particularly dirty, you can lightly dampen the cloth and use it to get the extra dust. You can also use a household duster to pick up some of the dust in the sound hole.
Take care not to get the cloth too wet as the inside of your guitar is unfinished and could warp with too much moisture.
Day-To-Day Cleaning to Maintain Your Guitar
Now that you've done the hard work of deep cleaning your guitar, you may be wondering which household items you can use to maintain the cleanliness of your guitar day-to-day. You'll find that with just a few steps before and after each use, your guitar can stay much cleaner and require less frequent major cleanings.
Before Playing Your Guitar
The number one thing you can do to help keep your guitar clean is to wash your hands with soap and water every time before you play. Your hands naturally carry a lot of oils and dirt and it's easy for those to get stuck to your strings and guitar while you play. Washing your hands will reduce fingerprints and further accumulation of dust and grime.
You should also keep a microfiber cloth nearby to wipe your guitar down before playing. This will help remove any dust or oil that may have accumulated since the last time you played.
After You Play Your Guitar
After playing your guitar, the best thing you can do to keep it clean is to store it in a guitar case. It's tempting to have it displayed on a stand, but having the guitar out in the open exposes it to extra dust, humidity, or dry air, which can all affect the sound and performance of your guitar.
Beyond storing your guitar in a case, you should also wipe down your guitar with a microfiber cloth after every use. Wipe the:
And make sure any fingerprints you can see are wiped away.
If you follow these before and after cleaning recommendations, your guitar should only need a deep clean every six months to a year, depending on frequency and type of use. Obviously, if you are sweating under stage lights and rocking out every night, you might need more frequent deep cleans.
Special Considerations When Cleaning Your Guitar with Household Items
While it's tempting to try different household items and see how effective they might be at cleaning your guitar, steer clear of any chemicals or cleaning supplies that aren't proven to work for each part of the guitar. Something that may seem harmless, like furniture polish, can actually cause irreversible damage to your guitar.
Don't ever eat or drink when playing your guitar or while cleaning it. Any food or water near your guitar has the potential to get on it and damage various parts of it accidentally.
You also need to make sure when you are wiping your guitar that you are using a soft towel or microfiber cloth. Paper towels can work for some areas, but you don't want to use them near sections of the guitar with small parts that might get caught or clogged with the fibers.
How to Clean A Guitar with Household Items, Final Thoughts
There are many options when it comes to cleaning your guitar. You can invest in some expensive professional cleaners, but it's not necessary to do so. With some basic household items, you can have your guitar cleaned and detailed in no time.
Though it's tempting to dive right in and start wiping down your guitar, it's essential to understand which household items are best to use on each section of your guitar since they all need different things. You also need to understand what kind of finish is on the body of your guitar so you can treat it appropriately.
The most valuable household items for cleaning your guitar will be a microfiber cloth, water, and a cue tip. With these three items, you can polish and detail most of the prominent areas of your guitar with little effort. Be careful not to get too much moisture around your guitar, though, because it can begin to warp the wood.
Each guitar is unique and special, and some older, vintage guitars might not be good candidates for cleaning with household materials. But if you have a more popular, general guitar brand, chances are you can skip the professional kits and get it looking great with just a few items you already have at home.
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