There are many ways to clean a guitar. Some methods work better than others, but other methods can destroy your guitar.
So, in this article, we will go over a couple of ingredients that are great to clean your guitar with. We will also list the ingredients that people THINK work well on guitars but really wreak havoc.
We have separate articles that dive deep into most of the ingredients that you are about to see. We have studied and tested them and combined all of our data into this one article.
So, without further ado, here are the ingredients you can and can’t use to clean your guitar.
What you can and can’t use to clean your guitar
Here is an overview of the things you can and can’t use on your guitar. We will dive deep into each of the ingredients after this section
What you can’t use
- Dish soap
- Baking soda
- Hydrogen peroxide
What you can use
- Water (in some cases)
- Vinegar (with water)
- Mild Soap
- Microfiber cloth
- Compressed air
This is the basic overview. However, there are some ways you can safely use some of the ingredients in the “what you can’t use” section. That’s why we will take a deep dive into every ingredient.
What you can’t use
Here are the things we don’t recommend you use on guitars based off our experience.
Alcohol is a harsh chemical. Although it works great to disinfect, it might work too well on guitars. Alcohol can burn through your guitar’s finish, warp the wood, and discolor it. That’s why alcohol is not recommended. To learn more about this check out our article here.
If you are looking to stay sanitary and get rid of some bacteria off your guitar, I would get some alcohol wipes that are lightly damp with alcohol and start rubbing. Once you are done wipe off the rest. It shouldn’t hurt to use a little but it shouldn’t become a habit. Over time it will ruin the finish. In regards to cleaning dirt and grime, I would recommend something else.
For more information on alcohol and wood see here. (it talks about alcohol on wood furniture)
Dish soap is made to be tough on grease. The issue for us guitarists is that it’s also tough on guitar finishes. Dish soap is also strong enough to break down and weaken the fibers in the guitar’s wood. For those reasons, it’s not recommended to use dish soap on your guitar. For more information on dish soap see here.
If you want to get stubborn dirt off your guitar, there is a way you can use dish soap. If you mix it with lots of water (a little more than double) then it will dilute the intensity and still do a decent job of removing stubborn dirt. However, some don’t feel comfortable doing this (including me) since at the end of the day there are those harsh chemicals in there even when it’s diluted. Since there are other better options people like to stay away from using this method. If you were to do this method, don’t let it become a habit.
Baking soda is a strong chemical. Rubbing a rough chemical like baking soda into a guitar can cause scratches. It’s also strong enough to burn through the finish and damage the wood like the other things mentioned. For those reasons baking soda is not recommended to use to clean your guitar. see here for more on baking soda and wood.
A safe way to use baking soda is to dissolve it in a hot water. This will dilute its intensity and still clean decently. However, just like dish soap, it scares most people to even go near baking soda. Also, it’s not worth it to take the risk if there are cheap and effective options out there (which we will get to). If you use this method, don’t let it become a habit.
Like the other things mentioned above, Windex and Pledge are harsh chemicals used for heavy-duty cleaning. It will burn the finish and ruin the wood.
Hydrogen peroxide is a bleaching agent that can strip away the fibers of the wood and ruin the guitar’s finish. That’s why we don’t recommend using hydrogen peroxide on guitars.
General Rule of Thumb
Now, I’m sure there are other things out there that people are having questions about (aside from the 5 things listed above). So, as a rule of thumb these are the major things you should look out for that are most probably harmful to your guitar.
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Oil-based cleaners
- Abrasive cleaners
- Harsh detergents
The effects of using harsh ingredients
We touched on each of the ingredients above, but I think we need to reiterate the horrific effects these ingredients can do to your guitar. Most of these ingredients mentioned above are all harsh and end up doing the same things to your guitar. We will go over those things to let you know what you are getting into when you go near these ingredients.
So, here is what can happen to a guitar in contact with harsh ingredients.
Ruin the finish
The finish of a guitar is a thin layer that protects the guitar’s raw wood from being exposed. It also serves as the shine for the guitar. Harsh ingredients can burn right through the finish which can affect its shine and destroy the wood’s protection
Discolor the guitar
The harsh ingredients also have the capability of fogging/clouding or even discoloring the finish. Even though these ingredients may do a great job of cleaning the dirt you see, they can make the guitar look extremely ugly in the long run.
Damage the wood
If these ingredients reach the wood of the guitar it can strip away its fibers and weaken the wood. This can increase the chances of the wood cracking. Other ingredients can seep into the wood and warp it.
Leaves a residue
A lot of these strong ingredients can leave a residue. Especially the oily and thick ingredients.
What you can use
Sometimes the dirt you find on your guitar isn’t so stubborn. All it might need is a splash of water. Water is ok to use on guitars.
However, there are ways to do it, failing to do it correctly can cause you to waterlog the guitar’s wood. See here on how exactly to clean your guitar with water and what to watch out for.
For example, when cleaning the inside of a guitar, you should stay away from water. Since it’s unfinished inside there, it’s easy for water to seep into the wood and warp and waterlog it.
Vinegar with water
Make sure to use white distilled vinegar mixed with water. Vinegar is great for cleaning. Since it’s acidic you do need to be cautious. Make sure to remove any excess after cleaning and don’t use it too often. To proceed with this method safely see here.
Mild soap with water
Notice we said MILD soap. Like mentioned earlier, harsh ingredients like the ones used in dish soap can kill your guitar. Even mild soap is strong that’s why we recommend mixing it with water. This way you get some cleaning substances in there that are not too strong.
Microfiber cloth is basically needed when cleaning a guitar. Almost every one of the ingredients mentioned will need some type of cloth to wipe the guitar down with. The best cloth to wipe your guitar down with is microfiber. Its softness will ensure you will clean your guitar without scratching it. Anything rougher than a microfiber cloth can be too much for a guitar to handle. Surprisingly even paper towels are too rough.
A microfiber cloth on its own can get rid of dust and not-so-stubborn dirt (although it is recommended to use some sort of cleaning substance with it)
This method is used for removing things like dust or anything not stubborn. Because of this reason, I would simply go with the microfiber cloth option instead of getting a compressed air machine. But it’s an option nonetheless.
For more on cleaning alternatives see here.
The Methods We Recommend
Here are the methods not only we recommend, but it’s the most accepted and loved ways to clean and shine a guitar.
Specific guitar cleaner
There are cleaner that was made specifically for guitars. The manufacturers were careful to get in enough cleaning substances while still making it safe to use on your guitar. You can check out one here. To use it you simply spray some on a soft cloth and clean whatever you can.
Polishing can clean your guitar but it’s mostly used to get a nice shine. DO NOT use just any polisher. Polishers like furniture polish and car polish are too harsh to use on guitars. There are polishes made specifically for guitars for you to safely get a nice shine. See how to safely polish your guitar. For satin guitars see here.
There you have it! There is what you can and can’t use on your guitar. It’s hard to list everything but we gave a pretty good general rule of thumb to give you a good idea about ingredients and whether you can use them or not. But, if you are in doubt about other ingredients that we didn’t mention, please contact a professional or use a different method.
On the other hand, you can use the safe ingredients we listed above. Make sure not to apply too much and drench your guitar. This could lead to swelling. Even the methods you’re allowed to use need to be done with care. Always keep that in mind.
Lastly, we listed the methods we highly recommend. It’s cheap and effective. I’m not sure why someone would use a different option unless you’re really stuck.
You can refer back to this page when you’re unsure about certain ingredients, hopefully, I covered it for you.
In regards to string cleaning, check out our ultimate string cleaning guide.
To learn what you can and can’t use on guitar strings, see here.
I hope you enjoyed!