So you're wondering how to clean an acoustic guitar? You're in the right place!
In my latest YMI guide, you will learn the following:
- When should you clean your acoustic guitar?
- Are any special tools required for cleaning your acoustic guitar?
- How to clean your acoustic guitar
And much more!
Keeping a guitar clean, dust-free, and looking sharp is one of the key responsibilities of a guitar owner.
This instrument is your tool as well as your toy, so making sure it stays in top condition is essential!
That's exactly why we created this guide to help you keep your acoustic guitar clean for years to come.
So, if you want to keep your guitar clean and sparkling, read on to learn more about how to do so!
When Should You Clean Your Acoustic Guitar (And Is It Easy)?
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll already know how big I am on basics and fundamentals.
That’s not only referring to scales and simple chords, but also maintenance and care for your instrument! If you want to sound your best, you need to look after your acoustic guitar.
Not only will keeping your guitar clean help it look and sound good, it’ll also prolong its life, too.
Sweat can be acidic, and that change in pH can wreak havoc on your guitar’s finish, which will eventually lead to cracks and the painful death of your instrument.
It’s not only your strings that are affected by a build-up of dead skin, sweat, and grime.
Your fretboard and the body of your guitar can also attract layers of dirt, and just as with your strings, it can lead to a dull tone as your guitar isn’t able to resonate as effectively.
Your car doesn’t get the same service every time you take it to the shop, right? Every 5000 miles you might get a simple oil change, then every 10,000 miles you’ll get a more in-depth service.
This is a great analogy for cleaning your acoustic guitar – every time you change your guitar strings, make sure you give the fretboard a good wipe down to prevent too much grime from building up to begin with.
For a deep cleaning, I recommend that you do this every 6 to 12 months depending on how much you’re actually playing.
Can You Use Household Products To Clean Your Acoustic Guitar?
PUT DOWN THE PLEDGE! There is absolutely no place for household cleaning products in the cleaning of your guitar. You’d be amazed at how many guitars have been pretty much destroyed by the use of domestic cleaning chemicals.
Unlike electric guitars, the majority of an acoustic guitar’s tone comes from the wooden soundboard.
The vast majority of household cleaning chemicals contain silicone, and that’s great if you want to stop your table from absorbing water, but on an acoustic guitar it can clog the natural pores in the wood, which can have a profound impact on how your guitar sounds over time.
So, what can you use? There are tons of great, guitar-safe cleaning and finishing products on the market, made by people who know guitars. Personally, I’m a big fan of this 4 Step Guitar Cleaning Kit from Fender Custom Shop.
The products in this kit are compatible with all guitar finishes, and include a fingerboard treatment, an anti-static quick cleaning solution, a heavy duty cleaning formula, and a special guitar polish.
How Much Does It Cost To Clean Your Acoustic Guitar?
Cleaning your guitar doesn’t have to be expensive. There’s no need to take it in to a luthier, and you don’t need to spend a fortune on fancy equipment, although there are a few tools that I will tell you about later that can help to speed up the process and get a more professional finish.
If this is going to be your first time cleaning an acoustic guitar, the basic products you’ll need include lemon oil, which shouldn’t cost much more than $10, and you’ll want a quality carnauba based polish, which is also available for around $10.
I think it’s often better value to buy a cleaning kit, where you’ll get the entire range of products for under $40 in most cases. Some even come with special tools!
What Tools Do You Need To Clean Your Acoustic Guitar?
My dad always told me to use the right tool for the right job. Cleaning your guitar aligns perfectly with this theory. Some of the tools you might have around the house, and others are a little more specialist, but are readily available on Amazon.
By using these lint-free rags you’ll avoid having fluff and fuzz stuck to your guitar when polishing. Alternatively, an old t-shirt works pretty well, too. It’s tempting to use paper towel, but not only is this wasteful, it’s also not very efficient.
For cleaning frets, a toothbrush is perfect. Although, if your frets are starting to oxidize, you may need something a little more heavy duty – fine steel wool does a great job at removing pitting from metal.
If you’re going to use steel wool, be sure to use a fretboard guard to protect the rosewood from damage. This fingerboard care kit from Music Nomad has everything you’ll need to clean grime away.
Household items like Q-Tips are also pretty handy to have for getting into nooks and crannies, especially if you’re trying to avoid damage to lacquer
How To Clean Your Acoustic Guitar In 5 Steps
Step 1: Get Prepared
This step may seem simple, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to properly prepare before taking care of any guitar maintenance, including cleaning your acoustic guitar.
First, gather all of your tools and cleaning supplies. You’ll need a couple of soft cloths or old t-shirts, a toothbrush, Q-Tips, fretboard conditioner or lemon oil, a cup of water, and some guitar polish.
Next, clear a surface or workbench big enough to lay down your guitar and still fit your tools and supplies. I always recommend having something supportive underneath the neck of your guitar.
It’s not a good idea to put your full weight on a musical instrument under any circumstances, but if you need to do any kind of rigorous cleaning there will undoubtedly be some pressure on the neck – an old pillow should work just fine.
Finally, make sure you’ve got time to finish the job in one sitting. Letting polish settle on parts of the guitar, then leaving it for a time before starting again can result in an uneven finish.
Step 2: Dirty Work First
I would always recommend starting with the dirtiest areas first, that way you won’t be dropping gunk and grime on to freshly polished surfaces.
The neck and fretboard are typically the areas where you’ll find the most build-up, and that’s to be expected. It’s almost impossible to do this job properly without removing your strings, so go ahead and do that next.
The general consensus is that it’s safe to remove all the strings at once, although if you’re skeptical, or afraid to do so, at least take the strings off three at a time and clean half the fretboard before moving on.
Once your strings are off, go ahead and rub the fretboard down with a damp (not wet) microfiber cloth, making sure that there’s no obvious moisture left by wiping down again with a dry cloth.
Take your toothbrush and get to work on the corners where the frets meet the fingerboard - this will help you to remove any large dirt particles.
Now it’s time to get scrubbing! Starting at the nut and working down, take your fingerboard guards and place them over the fret you’re working on.
Add some FRINE, or whatever brand of fret polish you prefer to a dry cloth and work it into the fret itself. This will remove any oxidization, leaving a smooth and shiny finish. Remove any excess with a Q-Tip and a clean cloth before moving on to the next fret.
Some people like to use a naphtha soaked Q-Tip instead of proper fret polish.
If you do go down that road, I’d suggest you exercise caution, not only is it toxic (and extremely flammable) it can also end up drying out and even cracking your fretboard if you don’t take care to hydrate it with an appropriate oil or conditioner.
Step 3: Work The Body!
The next step in the cleaning process is to take care of the body. Once again, get your damp (not wet) cloth, and gently wipe the surface of the body before wiping off with a dry rag.
The edge of the sound hole can be a magnet for dirt, but cleaning this area does require some caution, so don’t go crazy just yet. If you reach inside just a little too far, you’ll be introducing cleaning products to raw, untreated wood, which can cause warping and distortion.
Q-Tips are your friend once again! Using a tiny amount of cleaning solution, moisten the Q-Tip and gently run it around the sound hole and finish with your dry cloth.
The edges of your pick guard can get surprisingly grimy, too. Take a fresh Q Tip, again with some cleaning solution and rub it around the perimeter.
The final trouble spot is usually the bridge and saddle – by now you know what to do! A toothbrush or Q Tip will help to clear any obvious dirt from hard to reach areas here.
Now you’re ready to dampen a microfiber cloth with cleaning solution and get to work on the body. Making small circular motions, work your way around the body until it’s all been cleaned.
Once the body is done, you can clean the back of the neck and the headstock, too.
Step 4: Finishing Touches
Now your guitar is clean, it’s time to protect. Just like waxing your car, polishing an acoustic guitar protects it from the negative effects of future dirt, grime, oils, and acids.
The fretboard should be finished with fretboard conditioner or lemon oil. Whether its rosewood or maple, it must be kept hydrated to prevent cracks.
Same goes for the body, finishing with polish not only helps it to look good and resist smudges, it can also help to prolong the life of lacquer to prevent damage to the underlying wood.
Step 5: Guitarists….. Reassemble!
Once you’re happy that you’ve cleaned and finished the whole guitar, it’s time to restring and retune. I think it’s a great time to throw a new set of Elixrs on there. Buying a multipack will mean you’ve always got a fresh set on standby.
If you’re not planning to put new strings on, at least give the old ones a clean, the Fender Speed Slick makes light work of this task.
My Closing Thoughts On Cleaning Your Acoustic Guitar
Cleaning your guitar may seem arbitrary, but once again it’s a fundamental part of owning and caring for a musical instrument. A clean guitar helps you sound your best, and that’s what matters at the end of the day. If you’re anything like me, you might find the whole process kind of therapeutic, too!
If this is something you’re looking to avoid doing too often, make sure to just give your guitar a wipe down with a clean cloth after every time you play (although this is a great habit for all guitarists to get into).
I’m going to close this article with a caveat.
Friends, never, I repeat NEVER, try to clean and polish a matte guitar with anything other than a dry cloth.
It’s not ideal, but you can really ruin the finish. Above all else, if you have a vintage guitar of any value, don’t even dream of trying to clean it yourself (unless you’re a master luthier, in which case, why are you even reading this!?).
Patina is one of the key factors in the value of a vintage instrument, and a well-meaning, but foolish attempt to clean and refinish it could render it worthless!