How to Clean an Acoustic Guitar with Household Items Safely

Have you recently invested in the best acoustic guitar for beginners and want to know how to clean it using household items? We have the right guide for you. Here you are going to learn how to clean an acoustic guitar with household items, plus which ones to avoid.

If you don’t know how to clean guitar strings and you’re entire guitar properly, you’ll soon have to find out how much does it cost to restring a guitar and other maintenance payouts. Not cleaning your guitar can lead to maintenance problems which will end up costing you money in the long run.

We’re going through everything you need to know in this guide, from finding out what type of wood your guitar is to a step-by-step process for cleaning it. Let’s get cleaning!

Guitar Wood

Not all guitars are made from the same wood but there are three common ones which most beginner guitars will be crafted from. If you have a vintage guitar or an electric guitar, the finish and wood may be different as well. The type of wood your guitar is made from will make a huge difference when it comes time to clean it.

Rosewood

Rosewood is the most common type of wood for your guitar to be made of. It’s typically Indian rosewood that is used which is rich and dark brown in color. It will give your guitar a warmer tone. Rosewood is typically left unfinished. What this means is that there isn’t a layer of lacquer added to the top of the guitar fretboard. The rosewood of the guitar contains natural oils so there is no need for it to be finished.

Ebony

Both Asian and African ebony are popular wood for an guitar to be made from and these can also be left unfinished just like rosewood. Ebony will be dark than rosewood, almost black in color. The sound will be clean, smooth and balanced.

Maple

Modern guitar manufacturers love making instruments from maple. A maple fretboard is a sustainable choice and is widely available on the market today. It is also a material that is very resilient and is lighter in color, being almost yellow.

Maple doesn’t have a lot of natural oils like the other types of wood so it has to be finished off with a layer of laquer. This prevents the acoustic guitar fretboard from being damaged or becoming warped. A maple wood guitar will have a bright sound.

Why Does the Guitar Wood Matter?

What your guitar is made from will make all the difference to what cleaning products will be most effective and which ones could end up damaging your instrument. Before you start cleaning the guitar body make sure you find out what it is made from. If you can’t tell from the look then look into the brand and model to find out more. Once you have this information you will be able to make a more informed choice into the household items which will work best for you.

Household Items to Clean Your Guitar

Now that you’ve identified what type of wood your guitar fretboard is made from, we can move on to the household items which can be used to clean it. Below we have listed all of the things you may have lying around the house which can be used to clean a guitar without causing damage.

Water

Yes, you read that right. Water is the number one household item you will need to clean your guitar. It’s freely available, doesn’t contain any chemicals and won’t damage your guitar in any sort of way (unless you leave it soaking wet of course!).

The key with water is to not soak your guitar. It has to be used sparingly and never put water directly onto a guitar fretboard. Instead, grab a microfiber cloth and lightly dampen it. Then use that to clean the fingerboard, one fret at a time. Dry the guitar down completely afterwards so there’s no sort of moisture left anywhere.

Water is a great tool for giving a guitar a light clean. If you’ve left it a bit longer and your instrument is grubby, it may need some help.

Distilled Vinegar

If you’ve ever thought about using finger to clean a guitar fretboard, it all depends on the type you use. Distilled vinegar is the only one you should use ona guitar body and it has to be used carefully and in small amounts. Full strength vinger is an absolute no-no.

Distilled vinegar can be used in the same way that you’d use water. Dab a small amount onto a cloth or dip a Q-tip in it to clean the frets. Never pour it directly onto your frets, no matter what type of vinegar it is.

Lemon Oil

Lemon oil is a perfectly safe household item to use on any unfinished fretboard. This is because lemon oil will naturally restore the oils in the guitar wood as well as cleaning it at the same time. You should remember that you only have to clean your fretboard twice a year or so, depending on how much you play. Lemon oil is a great cleaner but be careful not to add too much to the guitar fretboard. Use it in small amounts.

You can use lemon oil for both oiling and cleaning a guitar that is made from rosewood or ebony every couple of months as long as they are unfinished. If you have a finished fretboard then you don’t need any sort of oiling, so lemon oil won’t be necessary in this case. Make sure that you check any manufacturer’s advice when it comes to cleaning your guitar. Some brands recommend that lemon oil isn’t for us on their models. Lemon oil should also not be confused for lemon juice. It’s a different blend containing oil and lemon at a low concentration.

Lighter Fluid

You may find this one quite surprising but a lot of guitarists and luthiers actually use lighter fluid to clean their guitars. Once again you want to avoid placing it onto your frets directly. Instead, get your microfiber cloth and then use a small amount to rub down the frets.

Vegetable Oil Soap

Never confuse vegetable oil soap with actual vegetable oil. This is a household item which is a soap that has been made from water, vegetable oil and coconut. It’s completely natural so is safe to use as a fretboard conditioner and on wood. It will give the guitar a nice shine.

Mineral Spirits

Mineral spirits are a mild cleaner that won’t damage the finish of your guitar. It’s worth a try if you have anything sticky stuck to the instrument. Make sure that you don’t leave mineral spirits on the guitar for long periods of time. Excessive rubbing with the wrong type will also damage the wood. Mineral spirits are a quick alternative and should be used sparingly.

Naphtha

Naphtha can be difficult to apply to a guitar in small amounts because it evaporates quickly but that’s exactly the result you want. Use a small amount at a time as a way to remove excess oil from your fretboard. It’s useful to clean up the dirt that comes off your hands as you play the guitar. Make sure to only use naphtha if you have the right oil to use straight after because otherwise it will end up drying the fretboard out.

Household Products Not to Use

Just because there are some household products that work well for cleaning a guitar, it doesn’t mean that all of them will. Here are some of the items we would recommend you never use to clean your guitar.

Olive Oil

It may be tempting to rub some olive oil on your guitar because of its conditioning properties but please, don’t! Not only will it be slimy to begin with, afterwards it goes sticky and it will make it really difficult and uncomfortable for you to play your guitar.

Olive oil is essentially a food item which means it can go off and go bad over time. It will leave your guitar a bit smelly and can potentially damage the frets.

Bleach

Bleach is an excellent cleaner of most things, but it’s definitely not one for cleaning your acoustic guitar. It will strip the dirt off, yes, but it won’t stop there. It’ll also take off the color and the top layer of the wood. Unless you want to lighten the color of your guitar or thin down the neck, avoid bleach at all costs.

Full Strength Vinegar

If the vinegar you have at home isn’t distilled, it shouldn’t be going anywhere near your guitar. It’s far too strong. It may clean quite well but the chances of it damaging the frets of your guitar is going to be high.

Acetone

Acetone is a great one for removing any sort of sticky residue off the guitar body. However, it will damage the guitar frets because it’s too abrasive to be used on the instrument. If you’re completely stuck for a guitar cleaner you can use a small drop in some distilled water but it’s really not recommended to do so.

Sandpaper

Sandpapers main use to wear away rough wood. So using it on your guitar is going to have the same effect. It may remove the gunk and grime that has built up there but it will also take a chunk of your fretboard with it. It’s best to avoid it.

Ammonia/Isopropyl Alcohol

Any household cleaner that contains either isopropyl alcohol or ammonia will be dangerous to use on an acoustic guitar. Almost every type of these cleaners will have an abrasive agent which is there to scrub away the dirt. The problem with this is it will also scrub away the guitar finish too.

Steps for Cleaning an Acoustic Guitar

Now that you know what to use and not use on your guitar, it’s time to learn the steps for actually cleaning it. Below are the steps you will need to do so.

1. Remove the strings

There’s a big debate on whether to remove all the strings at the same time or to do them in halves. Some experts claim that removing all the strings at the same time will affect the tension of the guitar. others say that is won’t do any damage. If you’re worried about the string tension then we would recommend to remove only half the strings, replace them and then repeat the process over again.

2. Cleaning

Take a microfiber cloth or a soft flannel and soak it with warm water. Wring it out as much as you possibly can. If you don’t have access to a cloth for this part of the cleaning process then an old t-shirt will work fine because of the soft texture that won’t scratch the guitar. When you are cleaning we would always suggest you move from the top to the bottom in a downwards motion. This will allow the cloth to dissolve any dirt that is sitting on the surface. However, it won’t help you get rid of stains or sticky substances. Before the water dries and leaves marks take a dry cloth and clean the surface of the guitar.

3. Steel wool

Many guitar users will question the use of steel wool as part of the cleaning process of an acoustic guitar. We would recommend running your hand down the fretboard to feel for any dirt that the water wipe down failed to remove. These are the areas that steel wool will come in handy. You should only use a superfine steel wool at a 0000 grade. Anything harsher will scratch the guitar wood. You may also want to use a mineral oil or a fretboard conditioner along with the wool so that the wood is protected as you clean.

Cut out a small piece of the wool so that it can fit onto the tip of your finger. Find those particularly grimy patches and gently wipe away with the fine steel wool. Never rub or scrub at the guitar because this will cause damage. Be mindful of when the dirt has been removed so that you can stop cleaning and not damage any of the wood of the guitar. Any fibers from the wool that remain behind can be brushed away with a soft paintbrush.

4. Q-tips

Take a q-tip and dip it into warm water. Then you can use it to remove any dirt that is in hard to reach places such as the saddle or along the frets. If this doesn’t do the job then use one of the household products we listed above along with the water. Remember to always use a dry cloth afterwards to remove any excess moisture from cleaning. The cloth should be dry and microfiber are the best. If they leave any fibers behind grab your paintbrush again and brush them away.

5. Feed the wood

Cleaning a guitar removes some of the natural oils that are present in the wood. This can result in the wood becoming dry that will then become cracked and can be damaged easily. Even if you are just wiping down the instrument with a damp cloth, some of those essential oils will be removed. Wait for your guitar to dry off completely and then apply a small amount of oil to the wood to feed it. You can use linseed oil as the best choice. Mineral oil and almond oil will also be effective.

If your guitar doesn’t have any build up of dirt then the oil will be enough to clean and feed the wood of your guitar. The oil will need to absorb into the wood for a few hours or even a day or two before you replace the strings. Don’t use to much oil because this will make the fretboard far too oily.

If you find that the oil is not soaking into the wood then you have used too much. Wipe it away with a clean and dry cloth so that you remove as much of the excess oil as possible. You may have to do this a few times until the fretboard isn’t oily anymore.

Conclusion

Now that you know how to clean the guitar using household items there will be no excuse for having a grubby instrument ever again. It’s great to know there are inexpensive items around your home that can be used to maintain the playability and cleanliness of your guitar. Make sure to do the right research for your brand and model of guitar before using any advice in this article.

FAQs

Can I clean my acoustic guitar with water?

Yes, you can clean your guitar using water. You will also need a soft cloth along with a cleaner and a polish that is suitable for the wood of your instrument.

Scroll to Top