How to Clean Guitar Strings: A Step-By-Step Guide

Regularly cleaning your guitar strings can easily extend the life of the instrument, as well as improve the tone and make it much more comfortable to play. Every guitar player loves that crisp and bright tone you get when you buy brand new strings. That freshness can be achieved with guitar cleaning too. In this handy guide, we’ll go through a step-by-step process to clean your guitar strings, helping out with expert tips along the way.

Why Do Guitar Strings Need to Be Cleaned?

As time goes on and you play your guitar more and more, dirt and grime will begin building up. Leaving this build-up and not cleaning it off will change not only how the strings vibrate, but the tone of the instrument as well. Taking the time to clean your guitar regularly can remove a lot of the dirt build-up that happens, extending the life of your strings.

Regular cleaning guitar strings will prevent and stop dirt from damaging the steel wool.

There’s a simple hack you can use every time you play the will make sure your strings stay in tip-top condition. The first is to wash your hands before you pick the instrument up to play. Hand washing is a good idea because it will keep any dirt on your fingers off your strings. The second is to clean the strings with a cloth once you have finished your session. We’ll cover more on this topic below.

How to Clean Your Strings Without Products

Guitar repairer is cleaning acoustic guitar strings with a cloth

There are a lot of different products that you may want to use to clean your guitar strings. You can find these anywhere, from your local music store to Amazon.com. But it’s so much quicker, easier, and cheaper to clean the strings without using any products at all. You don’t need a guitar string cleaner for the best results. To clean each guitar string individually, see our step-by-step guide below.

  1. To get started using no products for string cleaning, you will need a cloth or rag. Microfiber cloths work best, as the lint won’t get stuck in the grooves as you rub.
  2. Take your cloth and slide it underneath one of the guitar strings you’ve chosen to clean. Pushing the cloth underneath will make sure that the entire string can be wiped effectively. Most dirt builds up underneath the strings anyway, so this is a method that will work the most to clean your guitar strings.
  3. Once you have wrapped the cloth under the string, wrap it all the way around. Now you can easily slide the cloth up and down the length of the string. You only need to do this a few times, though.
  4. Keep a tight grip on the cloth to make sure it is grabbing any dirt as it passes. Be careful not to do this too fast. Going too quickly will stop you from picking up all the dirt, and the friction can actually burn your finger as well.

You may be surprised by how much grime comes off using this really simple and straightforward method. Depending on how much you clean your strings, you may need to repeat the process a couple of times for every string. If you’re a regular cleaning pro, you may notice that nothing comes off the strings, but it’s still important to wipe them down.

Here are a few things to remember when cleaning your strings:

  • Keep repeating the above method until the cloth comes up clean.
  • You may need to retune your guitar afterward because the strings will have been pushed and pulled around.
  • Cleaning your strings off after every session removes the grime not only from your hands but from the environment as well.
  • If you happen to be playing somewhere that is very humid or dusty, then you may want to consider wiping the strings down mid-session.

Lubricating Your Strings

Another part of cleaning your strings will be to lubricate them as well regularly. It’s very much a personal preference if you want to oil them or not. Many guitarists feel that it will improve the life of the strings, while others find it a bit sticky. If you’ve never lubricated your strings before and want to try it, go ahead. It can easily be wiped away afterward. All you need to do is choose a product that is made explicitly for lubricating guitars. Don’t go grabbing the car oil out of the garage – this hasn’t been made for your instrument and will probably end up doing a lot of damage.

Rubbing Alcohol – An Effective Guitar Strings Cleaner?

Rubbing alcohol is a brilliant cleaning product. However, it is not recommended that you use it for guitar strings or for cleaning fretboard nuts. Rubbing alcohol will do a great job of removing dirt from the strings, but it’s not a good idea because it could potentially damage your fretboard. Lacquered fretboards are the most at risk here. The rubbing alcohol will simply eat away at this lacquer, and strip it back down to the bare wood.

The same can be said for any guitar string that has a coating. Rubbing alcohol will keep eating away at this coating, reducing the amount of time you can use those strings for.

How to Clean Guitar Strings FAQs

Here are some of the most common questions that people have when cleaning their guitar strings. If you have any questions not covered in our guide, feel free to get in touch.

What should I use to clean my guitar strings?

A simple cloth or rag will do. Microfiber cloths are the most recommended because they won’t leave lint behind in the grooves of the guitar. Things like lemon oil and steel wool don’t need to be used to get squeaky clean strings.

How do you clean guitar strings and fretboards?

Both your guitar strings and fretboard can be cleaned with your cloth. All you need to do is wrap the cloth around the part you want to clean, get a firm grip of it, and then rub the dirt away. Keep repeating the process until no more dirt appears on the cloth. Remember that if you are doing a serious clean of your guitar, you will probably want to retune it afterward.

Are there any household items I can use to clean my strings?

Any cloth you have around the house will do the job for cleaning guitar strings. Materials that won’t make lint to much are the best for the job, though. There isn’t a need to use other items such as oils or kinds of vinegar to get the strings clean. Simply wiping them with a cloth is all you need to do to extend the life of your strings.

Can I use WD-40 to clean my strings?

WD-40 is a product that you should never be used on your guitar – period! The product was, of course, designed to for use on metal, and the strings, it will work great. Where you will hit issues is with the wood. If you get WD-40 on the woodwork of the guitar, it will ruin the finish of the fretboard. It’s just not worth the risk. If you really want to use an oil on the fretboard, go for an all-natural option such as lemon oil that won’t strip the lacquer back.

Is lemon oil a good option for a fretboard cleaner?

Lemon oil is a fantastic option for cleaning fretboards, but won’t be effective to clean your guitar strings. The reason you can use lemon oil on your fretboard is that it’s an all-natural product. Anyone with a lacquered fretboard will find cleaning it with lemon oil as it won’t strip away any of the coating (and it will smell great too!).

I’ve heard about boiling strings. Is this a good idea?

Boiling your guitar strings is a method that many old school bassists would use to get extra life out of their set. Bass guitar strings are super expensive, so if there’s a chance of squeezing a bit more life out of them, we can understand why someone would try this. However, boiling your strings is entirely unnecessary, not to mention time-consuming. It’s a real hassle to remove all of the strings from the instrument, boil them, and then put them back ready for use. The amount of effort here really isn’t worth the payoff, so leave the old methods to the legendary rockers.

When will I know it’s time to change my strings?

Definite signs of a string needing to be changed are if they break or if the tone has gone. An old set simply won’t stay in tune, so it’s time to get yourself a new lot. You can also change your strings if you want to adjust the playability of the instrument, giving it a new sound with a different tension.

What about if the strings are corroded?

Guitars that haven’t been used in quite some time may have corroded strings. Corrosion on the strings can be removed in the exact same way as you would clean them – with a cloth. There are also cleaning products made specifically for corroded strings that will remove higher levels of rust. It all depends on how bad the problem is. Oxidation like this can is preventable by cleaning your instrument regularly using the tips provided in this guide.

How to Clean Guitar Strings – Summary

Now that you know how to clean your guitar strings, it’s time to put it into your regular guitar maintenance timetable. Try and wash your hands before touching the strings, as well as wiping them day after a session to maintain their tone. Keeping the strings clean will prevent extra stress from being put on the strings, which over time, will cause them to dull. Have fun and happy playing!

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