Are you cleaning your guitar strings correctly? Although it’s easy to do, one mistake can lead to a catastrophe.
As a beginner, I was just happy my strings were playable. After some experience, I learned that dirt and grime can build up on your strings and deaden the sound. I took a look at my strings and realized they were filthy. That’s when I knew I needed to do something about it.
So, I looked around and tried a couple of techniques and listed 3 of the best ways to clean your guitar strings.
Aside from that, we will talk about other things like what you can use, when to change them, how to prevent it, and more.
Stick with me and I guarantee you will know everything you need to know about string cleaning.
What you will need to clean your strings
Here is everything you are gonna need before you start cleaning your strings
- A certain string cleaner or alternative
- Paper towel
Now that you have everything you need, onto…..
How to clean guitar strings
Here is exactly how you can clean your guitar strings.
Step 1: Cover anything you don’t want the cleaner to get to
Now, we highly recommend using a specific string cleaner. It’s safe and effective. But if you use an alternative like alcohol (we will speak about more later) then you need to be more careful. You don’t want to get alcohol on anything else on your guitar.
Also, make sure you don’t get anything on your fretboard. A lot of fretboards are unfinished leaving the raw wood exposed. Getting liquids on it can warp the wood and potentially get cracks. So try to use a paper towel to cover the fretboard or make sure no liquid comes in contact with the fretboard.
Step 2: Apply some of your cleaner to your cloth
You don’t need to drench your cloth You don’t want the cloth dripping all over the rest of your guitar. Just make sure to apply enough of your cleaner to get your cloth moist.
This way you are getting just enough to clean what you need to without damaging other parts of the guitar that don’t need the moisture (like the electronics, unfinished wood, fretboard, soundboard, etc.)
Step 3: Start wiping the strings
Once your cloth is lightly moistened, start wiping it onto your strings to clean them.
Now, there are different ways to wipe the strings. Some ways are more effective but harder, other ways are easier but may be less effective. Some are riskier when it goes to getting it on the fretboard some are less risky.
We will speak about these wiping techniques next. Chose the one that you feel most comfortable with.
Step 4: Remove any excess moisture
Once you feel like you’ve done a thorough wiping, make sure you remove any excess moisture. Like any metal, contact with moisture for long periods of time can cause the metal to oxidize and eventually corrode. This can end up making the sound of the string start to deaden.
Step 5: Remove any moisture that falls on the guitar
Once you’re done cleaning everything before you go make sure you haven’t left any moisture on any other parts of the guitar. Especially if you use something like alcohol which can burn through the finish of a guitar. If you use a simple cleaner it wouldn’t be as bad as alcohol but it’s still better to dry it
Guitar strings wiping techniques
Simply taking your cloth and wiping it up and down isn’t good enough, because you wouldn’t be reaching the bottom side of the strings (the side of the strings facing the fretboard). It’s important to clean the bottom side since when winding the strings also turns the strings.
So, we will list the techniques that are able to clean all around each string.
This technique is the simplest technique that most people use. All you do is hold the lightly moistened cloth in your hand and pinch a string and start wiping up and down and repeat for each string.
This technique is also pretty simple. Simply slide the cloth in between the strings and the fretboard. Then take the 2 sides sticking out and fold them onto the strings and start wiping. This way you are reaching the top and the bottom.
I found this one a little less tedious since I was able to do all the strings in one shot as opposed to pinching each string. However, although the cloth is touching the bottom part of the strings, it was hard to actually apply pressure. In the pinching method, I was able to apply an equal amount of pressure all around the string.
String cleaner tool
This is a certain product made to copy the 2 methods (the folding method) and do it better. Basically, you apply your cleaner and clamp it on the strings and start wiping back and forth. With this method you don’t have to worry about taking off the strings or worry about getting anything on the fretboard. Check out one here
Since it’s clamped on you are getting an equal amount of cleaning on all sides.
Take off the strings
The last technique is simply taking off the strings. With this, you have all the freedom in the world to wipe and clean it as efficiently as you want. The issue is some might not want to go through the hassle of taking the guitar strings on and off. But if you are using a very strong cleaner I would highly recommend taking off the strings. Better safe than sorry.
Interesting and different ways to clean guitar strings
Here are other ways to clean your guitar strings. These methods are more heavy-duty and are good options for when your strings are in big trouble!
Heat is a great way to remove stubborn things. One time I was cleaning a pot with stubborn remnants. The method that finally helped me remove the stubborn pieces in the pot was by boiling water in it.
The same is true with guitar strings (especially since they’re both metals). By boiling them you can remove a lot of dirt and grime.
However, don’t try this too often as this method may weaken the strings a bit.
White vinegar is also great for metals. Since it’s acidic it’s a great cleaning agent.
Simply remove your strings (you don’t want the vinegar getting on your fretboard) and let them sit in white vinegar for however long it needs. Once it’s finished take them out and wipe them clean. Check out an article here to learn more about vinegar and metal
Baking soda with a toothbrush
Baking soda is also a great cleaning agent. It’s actually funny, the same pot I used to clean with hot water, I also tried using baking soda. It also helped. Same with strings. A toothbrush will also help get in between the windings.
If your having trouble keeping the baking soda on the strings you can put some on the toothbrush and wet it a little.
Make sure you don’t rub baking soda on any finished wood. It can scratch the guitar. To remove scratches see here.
How to prevent dirt from getting on your guitar strings
Before we explain how to prevent dirt from getting on your guitar strings, we first need to know how it gets there to begin with.
So, how do guitar strings get dirty?
There are a couple of ways guitar strings can get dirty. Here are the main ways:
- Accumulation of sweat and oils- Most of the grime you see comes from your own fingers. Since many strings are round wound, the dirt and oil from your fingers can get caught between the winding.
- Environmental dust and debris- Dust in the place your guitar is in can get caught in the windings as well. Especially if it’s left out in the open.
- Rust and corrosion- As we know, metal gets rusty usually through moisture. If you aren’t careful with the moisture that comes in contact with your strings, you may eventually start to see rust build up on your strings
Now, here are ways you can prevent it
Wash your hands
Since most of the dirt and grime that’s on your guitar comes from your fingers, it will be beneficial to wash your hands before playing.
Constantly wipe your strings down
When I say wipe them down I don’t mean to clean them all the time with a specific cleaner. I just want you to give it a simple wipe with just a rag.
This can do two things: if you wipe it every so often it will prevent a buildup and it will take away any moisture. And like we said, moisture on strings can eventually lead to rust.
If you want you can use something specific to wipe down your strings. Check one out here.
Keep in a clean or covered spot
Since most windings are round wound, the small dust and debris around your guitar will get stuck in the winding. That’s why it’s extremely beneficial to store it well. That’s why it would be a great idea to get a case.
What cleaner to use for guitar strings
In this section, we will go through what you can use to clean the guitar strings.
There are cleaners made specifically for guitar strings. They are made to clean effectively while also being safe. This is the most famous thing to use when cleaning guitar strings. Here is one you can try out.
Can I use water to clean my guitar strings?
Yes. Water can be used to clean guitar strings. However, It wouldn’t be so effective for heavy-duty cleaning. It would be great for a simple wipe-down. If you do use water, make sure to wipe the excess moisture since moisture can lead to corrosion.
Can I use alcohol to clean my guitar strings?
Yes. Alcohol can be used to clean guitar strings. It can clean dirt and grime and disinfect. However, many complain that it can cause some squeaking. Also, it is a strong ingredient. Getting the alcohol anywhere else on the guitar can cause problems. Learn more about alcohol and guitars here.
Can I use vinegar to clean my guitar strings?
Yes. Vinegar can be used to clean guitar strings. Vinegar is great for cleaning metal. That’s why dirty screws are first placed in vinegar.
Since vinegar is acidic it can harm the rest of the guitar. So be careful when using this method as well. There is a safe way to clean the guitar by mixing vinegar and water see here.
Can I use WD40 to clean my guitar strings?
Yes. WD40 can be used to clean guitar strings. Their website even suggests that it will protect the strings as well. You can check that out here.
Can I use hand sanitizer to clean my guitar strings?
Yes. Hand sanitizer can be used to clean guitar strings. Hand sanitizer is made up mostly of alcohol. So the same rules apply here.
Now, after all said and done, this all applies to the strings only! The guitar body is a whole different story. For that, see what you can and can’t use on a guitar.
For a deeper perspective on what you can use on your guitar strings, see our article here.
How often do you need to clean
The answer to this may vary based on how much you play and how well you store it. But generally, you can clean it every month or so. If you play very frequently you can clean it more frequently. If you don’t store it well you may be needing to clean it more frequently.
Also if you have coated strings you can clean them less often. Coating is what some strings have to prevent dirt and grime from sticking to begin with. If you don’t want to deal with lots of string cleaning and dirt, I would get coated strings.
For the more heavy-duty techniques like boiling, using alcohol, or vinegar make sure you don’t clean it too often.
In regards to how often you should clean or polish your guitar in general see here.
When to change your strings
There are a couple of indications that will let you know its time to get new strings. Here they are:
- Dull sound
- Difficult playability (feels sticky, rough, or slippery)
- Difficulty playing in tune
- Visible wear and tear
If you are experiencing this, you probably need new strings. Check out best acoustic guitar strings. Before you buy new ones, I would clean them one more time to see if the issues go away.
Sometimes it’s too dirty where its not even worth saving.
What can dirt do to your guitar?
There are a couple of consequences you may have to deal with if you don’t clean your strings. Here they are:
- Reduce the sound quality in the strings (like its brightness and clarity)
- Reduce the life span of the strings
- The dirt can make it harder to play. Sometimes it can feel rough, sticky, or slippery.
So, there you have it. There is everything you need to know when it comes to string cleaning. For your next string cleaning, you can refer back to this page for some help.
Just to recap we spoke about how to clean them, different wiping techniques, what cleaner you can use, how to prevent it, and more. This should be everything.
Please feel free to reach out if you have had success with any other method or technique. We would love to hear!
I hope you enjoyed!