How to Properly Clean an Acoustic Guitar

Cleaning the acoustic guitar

When you view your acoustic guitar as an investment you want to properly care for it. I know I do. And I’m not talking about simply wiping it down with a cloth. I’m talking about a proper, deep clean that would make your mama proud.

Here I’m going to walk through not only the best practices for cleaning an acoustic guitar, I’m also going to share with you the best products to use and, more importantly, which products not to use.

Caring for Your Guitar | The Basics

Before we dive into the proper cleaning methods I think it’s important to first lay the foundation for proper guitar care. If you follow these simple rules, cleaning your guitar will be an enjoyable experience.

To start, it is highly recommend that you store your acoustic guitar in its case when you’re not playing it. I know how tempting it is to want to display your guitar on a wall or on a stand in your room but unless you use a room humidifier for your guitar it’s best to keep it in the case. Not only does this keep the guitar properly humidified, a case also naturally protects your guitar from accidental scratches and dings.

The second “rule” to help with proper guitar care is to change your guitar strings at appropriate intervals. I use the phrase “appropriate interval” because it’s different for everybody. For me, somebody who plays his guitar regularly every week (although perhaps not every day), I change my strings once every 2 months or so. The more often I play, the more often I change the strings. The reason this is an important aspect of cleaning your guitar is because strings gather finger oils, dead skin cells and dirt over time and if not changed will transfer all of this gunk to your fretboard.

Finally, it is recommended that you wipe down your guitar after each playing. I personally keep a soft rag in my case that I use to wipe smudges off the finish and clean my finger oils off the strings. It takes me all of 10 seconds to wipe it down while I’m putting my guitar away but that 10 seconds goes a long way when I’m ready to do a proper cleaning with my guitar.

Step 1: Cleaning the Fretboard

When it comes time to deep clean my guitar I usually set aside about an hour for the process. The first thing you’ll want to do is remove all of your strings. I’ve heard some people express concern over this being a strain on the guitar neck, which is used to supporting over 200lbs worth of tension, but most guitar manufacturers agree that it won’t damage your guitar to take off all the strings at once.

Once all the strings come off it becomes quite clear which part of your guitar needs the most attention – the fretboard.

A dirty guitar fretboard

Photo by PremierGuitars (link below)

More than likely, your guitar fretboard consists of a beautiful, unfinished rosewood. Cleaning this rosewood and the frets isn’t difficult but there are a few tips that can make it go faster.

Super fine steel wool used to clean guitar fretboardsSteel Wool & Conditioner: the easiest way to get rid of most of the gunk buildup on your fretboard is to get some good guitar conditioner and 0000 super-fine steel wool (the package I linked to here is less than $5 and should last you for a really long while). It’s important that you only use super-fine steel wool as anything other than this can scratch and damage your fretboard.

Fretboard conditioner isn’t absolutely necessary (you can just use the steel wool by itself) but it helps the process along. Not only that, conditioner also helps to hydrate the natural wood to keep it from cracking. I use Hydrate by Planet Waves for this process and it works well. Dunlop makes fretboard polish that I’ve used before and works just as well.

Once you’ve finished scrubbing the fretboard with the conditioner and steel wool, make sure to vacuum or wipe away any excess particles from the wool.

Old Toothbrush: believe it or not, there is a good use for your old toothbrush! I usually reapply some fretboard conditioner and buff it in using the old toothbrush. Unlike steel wool, you can apply as little or as much pressure as you want using a toothbrush without fear of damaging the fretboard, which is nice.

When you’re finished make sure to wipe down the fretboard with a paper towel or a guitar cloth, removing any excess conditioner. The result should be a beautiful, deep-colored wood with shiny silver frets that will make you smile!

Note: for those who don’t feel comfortable using steel wool on your guitar, the toothbrush can work just fine polishing the fretboard while it’s recommended you use the Planet Waves Fret Polishing System to polish the frets without touching the wood.

Second Note: if you have a fretboard that does have a finish (they aren’t common, but they do exist), please disregard all of this information and treat this wood as I share in step 3 below.

Step 2: Cleaning the Bridge

After you finish the fretboard you can move onto the bridge, which is cleaned similar to the fretboard. Remove the saddle and nuts, using the conditioner and toothbrush from above to give the bridge a good scrub. I also take this time to clean the dirt that has accumulated all around where the bridge is glued to the soundboard of the guitar.

Cleaning the bridge of the guitar

I use Q-tips (cotton swabs) to clean inside the saddle slot as well as inside the string holes. Follow this by wiping it down with paper towel or guitar cloth and you’re good to go!

Step 3: Cleaning the Finish

The final stage of cleaning your guitar is the part that will go most noticed by those around you – cleaning the finish on your guitar. Over time you’ll get sweat smudges and dirt spots, which if they aren’t properly cleaned on a regular basis could damage the finish on your guitar. Don’t just use anything to clean and polish the finish, however.

What NOT to Use

Although products like Pledge and other furniture cleaners are used to clean wood, it is absolutely not the right product for cleaning your guitar. If you’re not going to use a guitar-specific polish, check on the back to make sure that what you’re using doesn’t contain lemon oil, alcohol or silicone – all of which can permanently damage your guitar finish.

Which Guitar Polish to Use?

The truth is that water works just fine to help polish your guitar. You don’t have to get all fancy with store-bought polishes if you don’t want to. Just lightly wet your guitar cloth and add a little elbow grease.

You can use Turtle Wax to polish your guitar finishThat said, I still do use a wax polish and you’re likely going to want to as well. While there are plenty of guitar-specific polishes on the market, most professional guitarists (and even guitar manufacturers) recommend something as simple as automotive wax. I know it sounds crazy but if you don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll believe it when high-end maker Taylor Guitars tells its guitarists to use Turtle Wax Express Shine on its guitars. The reason it’s so popular is because it works well on both glossy and satin finishes.

During the time that I am cleaning the finish on the body of my guitar I also take the time to clean the neck and headstock of the guitar.

Step 4: Final Touches

Before I restring the guitar there are just a couple little things that I personally like to do. You won’t find these in any other cleaning guide but I think it’s important!

First of all, while I have my sound hole wide open, I like to clean the inside of the guitar which accumulates dust and cobwebs. Don’t use water to do this (the wood inside is unfinished and water will damage it). I usually take a paper towel to grab the dust bunnies that have inevitably collected along the edges.

Second, I like to make sure that my battery is changed (I have an acoustic-electric) and I check to make sure that the nut on the quarter-inch plug is tight. This requires me to stick almost my entire arm into the sound hole, something that is absolutely impossible if there are any strings on the guitar.

That’s it! Restring the guitar and enjoy how beautiful it looks and feels.


 

Additional Resources

 

13 Responses to How to Properly Clean an Acoustic Guitar

  1. James says:

    Have a question instead of a comment and sorry if it seems dumb but I want to make sure. I have a bottle each of PRS guitar cleaner and polish and up until recently PRS exclusively made electric guitars, can those be used on my acoustics as well?

    • Josh Summers says:

      Good question, James. The answer is that you’re focused on the wrong detail. It doesn’t matter whether or not it is an electric or an acoustic. What matters is what kind of finish is on the guitar. Check what kind of finish the cleaner should be used for (it should say on the bottle) and then compare that with the finish on the guitar you wish to clean.

  2. […] hurt your guitar) and grab some guitar cleaner and steel wool. You can find more details on how to clean a guitar here but it’s really quite […]

  3. Jonstitch says:

    Just got my 4th Acoustic guitar (Fender) I’ve played guitar for nearly 40yrs and found this cleaning info Brilliant! Well explained and easy to do I would recommend this info to any guitar player, at the moment ime showing learners how to play for a Charity organization in Bolton England. Than you!!!

    • PickerDad says:

      Seconded by me !!!
      We must be in the same age group; I’ve playing about 45 years I too never had proper instruction in cleaning and maintaining my instrument back then, through the mists of time. Thank you Guitar Adventures .com for covering the subject thoroughly. And thank you Internet (Internet is a sentient network, right? 🙂 ) How did we ever survive without it?

      I too recommend this article to young players. I also keep bookmarks of “how to change strings on a steel string acoustic guitar” and another for changing nylon strings.

  4. Marinet says:

    Hi! Do you have an email? I have an acoustic guitar and I’d like to show you a picture of my saddle. I was hoping you know a few ways on how I can restore it.

  5. […] kits are pretty inexpensive, small, and very useful. You can even share with them this simple guide on cleaning your guitar if they’re not too sure what to do with the […]

  6. […] Back when I was working at a guitar store I would always use the guitar string changing as an opportunity to do an all-out “tune up” of the guitar. […]

  7. […] I say this to everyone who is changing strings no matter if it’s on a classical guitar, acoustic guitar or electric guitar: take advantage of the time you have without strings to clean your guitar. (click here for a comprehensive guide on how to clean your guitar) […]

  8. Elias H Mason says:

    What kind of guitar is pictured in the first image? Thanks!

  9. Elias Gorgees says:

    Hello there my dear ! May I ask a bit of a dumb question…
    I have a classic guitar from my teenage times which I stupidly drew on its surface with non-erasable board marker would you please tell me how to clean it without damaging my guitar ?? Thanks in advance.

  10. Elijah Hoyt says:

    Thank you very much for this detailed yet simple instruction. I had never thought about using steel wool to clean my frets and always used a toothbrush, which as you stated works, but using the wool, i was able to get it much cleaner.

    I do have a question… So since the inside of the body is not finished, would it be a bad idea to use a guitar wood conditioner in the interior wood? Or would it have the same effect as you stated water would do?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *