How to Clean Guitar Strings: Step by Step with Tips
Cleaning your guitar strings is easy and can extend their life as well as feel more comfortable to play.
In this guide, I will explain:
- Why you should regularly clean your guitar strings
- What you can and can’t use to clean your guitar strings
- How to properly clean your guitar strings
- FAQ on cleaning guitar strings
To learn more about guitar strings and how different coatings and metals can impact how long the strings last, check out my Ultimate Guide to Guitar Strings here.
Why You Should Clean Your Guitar Strings
When you put on a brand new set of guitar strings, the crisp and bright tone you hear is due to the strings being completely fresh.
Over time, guitar strings become dirty and grime builds up. This build-up changes how the strings vibrate and affect the tone.
In the below photo, you can see grime building up in the grooves of a guitar string:
By cleaning your guitar strings, you can remove a lot of this grime and extend the life of your strings.
You should regularly clean your guitar strings to prevent grime from building up and oils from degrading your strings.
Even something as simple as washing your hands before you pick up your guitar can make a difference over time.
How Often Should You Clean Guitar Strings
To get the most out of your guitar strings, I recommend cleaning your guitar strings after every playing session.
Once you finish playing your guitar, wipe the guitar strings down following the steps shown below.
If you really want to keep your strings in pristine condition, I also recommend giving your hands a quick wash under soapy water before you start playing.
This might seem like overkill, but washing your hands will remove a lot of oil and dirt that would immediately transfer to your strings.
If you clean your hands before each playing session and wipe your guitar strings down when you’re done, you’ll significantly extend the life of the strings and prevent your tone from becoming dull.
How to Clean Guitar Strings Without Any Products
There are a lot of string and fretboard cleaning products you can use to clean your guitar strings.
But let’s look at how you can quickly and easily give your guitar strings a good clean without using any cleaning products.
All you need is a rag or cloth. A microfibre cloth is recommended to prevent lint from getting caught in the grooves of the guitar strings.
Take the cloth and slide it under one of your guitar strings as shown below:
This will make sure you clean the entire surface of the string. A lot of grime builds up behind the string, so this method is crucial to properly cleaning the string.
Pinch off the string to completely wrap the cloth around it.
Now slowly slide the cloth up and down the entire length of the string a few times. Really hold the cloth tight against the string to make sure it properly grabs the string to remove any build-up.
Tip: if you slide too fast up and down the string the cloth won’t be able to pick up all of the grime. You may even burn your finger from the friction.
In the photo below, you can see how much grime and corrosion has been removed after following this method:
Depending on how often you clean your guitar strings, you may need to repeat this multiple times on each string. If you regularly clean your strings, you may not notice anything coming off, but it will keep them clean.
Here is what the cloth looked like after quickly wiping down all six strings:
By removing the above grime and build-up, the string will feel better under the fingers and have better contact with the frets.
Repeat the above steps on each string and if a lot of grime comes off, repeat it again until you don’t see anything coming off on the cloth.
Note: you may need to retune your guitar after cleaning the strings as grabbing and pulling each string may push it out of tune.
What Can You Use To Clean Your Guitar Strings
The above method does a great job of cleaning your strings. Simply wiping the strings down after each time you play your guitar will significantly extend the life of the strings.
But what about all these string cleaning products?
Some products I feel are worthwhile as they make the cleaning process easier. Other products I feel make very little or no difference at all in keeping your strings clean.
Let’s look at different products you can use to clean your guitar strings if you want to go a bit further than a simple wipe down.
Guitar String Cleaning Tool
If you feel the above method of wiping down each individual string is too much of a hassle, there are a couple of options to speed up the process.
The first option is the Nomad Tool (link to Amazon with details):
This tool simply takes a microfibre cloth and attaches it on a flat stick so you can clean all of your guitar strings at once.
Alternatively, the String Cleaner by ToneGear packs two microfibre cloths in a plastic casing so you can clean both sides of the strings at once:
I personally prefer using a cloth and wrapping it around each individual string, but if you want something quicker, one of the above options will work well.
Guitar String Cleaning Products
A lot of guitarists swear by guitar string cleaning products such as GHS Fast Fret:
If you imagine wiping your guitar strings down does 80% of the job of cleaning your strings, using something like Fast Fret bumps that up to 90-100%.
For some guitarists, 80% is good enough and the extra 10-20% you would get from Fast Fret isn’t noticeable. For other guitarists, that extra 10-20% makes a big difference in how the guitar strings feel.
If you haven’t tried a guitar string cleaning product like Fast Fret before, I recommend giving it a go. You’ll quickly figure out if it is right for you or not.
Rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol is a great cleaning product, but it is not recommended for cleaning guitar strings.
While rubbing alcohol will do a great job at removing grime from your guitar strings, it can potentially damage your fretboard.
Keep in mind that rubbing alcohol is a solvent so if you have a lacquered fretboard, the alcohol can eat away at the lacquer.
If your guitar strings have any type of coating (explained in this guide), the rubbing alcohol will eat away at the coating and reduce the life of your guitar strings.
In most situations, using rubbing alcohol to clean your guitar strings isn’t worth the risk. I have seen other sites state that rubbing alcohol causes your guitar strings to become squeaky. This is incorrect as rubbing alcohol evaporates and does not stay on your strings.
The squeaky sound you hear after using some cleaning products is the sound of clean strings – similar to what you hear with a brand new set of strings. If you don’t like the sound of finger squeak as you play (who does?), you may want to look at using a string lubricant as covered later.
Guitar String Lubricants
Some guitarists like to lubricate their guitar strings with a product like Finger Ease:
The idea is that lubricating guitar strings help to reduce the squeaking noises you hear as your fingers move on the strings.
While keeping your guitar strings is important to get the most out of them, I feel that guitar strings lubricants are mostly ineffective.
I have tested a few guitar string lubricants out over the years (including Finger Ease) and while there was a noticeable difference after applying it, the benefits quickly disappeared.
If you like the feel of your guitar strings after using a lubricant, go for it. But for most guitarists, the benefits aren’t worth the cost. A string cleaner will give you more benefits than a pure lubricant.
Cleaning Guitar Strings FAQ
Here are some common questions about cleaning guitar strings. If you have a question not covered in this guide, let me know here so I can include it.
What household items can you use to clean guitar strings?
Any cloth you have at home will do a good job of cleaning your guitar strings. Material that won’t lint such as microfibre cloth will do the best job.
There’s no need to use items like vinegar or household oils to clean your guitar strings. Wiping the strings down with a cloth will keep your guitar strings clean and extend their life.
Can you clean guitar strings with WD-40?
Do not use WD-40 to clean your guitar strings. While WD-40 was designed to be used on metal and should work fine on guitar strings, it can cause issues when in contact with wood. Even if you’re careful not to let any of it come into contact with your fretboard, it isn’t worth the risk.
WD-40 can ruin the finish of your fretboard. If you want to use an oil to clean your fretboard, use lemon oil (unless you have a maple neck). Keep petroleum-based oils (like WD-40) away from your guitar.
Should I boil my guitar strings?
Some bass guitarists boil their strings to squeeze some extra life out of a set. When you consider how much more bass guitar strings cost, it makes sense to try and make them last as long as possible.
Boiling guitar strings is unnecessary and time-consuming. The hassle of carefully removing your strings, boiling them, then replacing them on your guitar isn’t worth the benefit.
Don’t boil your guitar strings. If they’re at the point where they sound dull and are dirty, buy a new set.
How do you lubricate guitar strings?
To lubricate your guitar strings, apply the product directly to the strings, then lightly wipe off the excess with a clean cloth.
Using a lubricant on your guitar strings is completely personal preference. Some guitarists feel it improves the feel and life of the strings while others feel it makes the strings sticky.
If you want to use oil on your guitar strings, use a specifically made product like Fast Fret and avoid anything not designed to go on guitars.
How do you remove corrosion from guitar strings?
If you leave your guitar for a long time without touching it, you may notice that the strings start to corrode.
Most of the corrosion can be removed by wiping the strings down with a cloth following the method in this guide. You can also use a guitar string cleaning product to remove more of the corrosion.
To avoid your guitar strings corroding, wash your hands before you play and wipe the strings down after you finish. Cleaning your guitar strings regularly prevents moisture and grime from building up and corroding the strings.
Find out more about guitar strings in my Ultimate Guide to Guitar Strings here. It covers everything you would want to know about guitar strings such as gauges, metals, coatings, and more.
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