You are currently viewing How to Clean Guitar Strings – The Key to Longevity and Quality Sound

Last Updated on January 26, 2024 by Justin Thomas

photo reveals owner of guitaristnextdoor.com

Author: Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.

I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have also been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as SongsterrMusicnotesGuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.

I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog (I guess that went the right way…).


Your guitar is more than just a collection of wood and metal—it’s capable of creating melodies that resonate deep within and ignite passions in those who listen. 

But as time goes by, even the most skilled players may notice their sound losing its vibrant shine, clouded by the accumulation of grime and residue. And one major cause for this are guitar strings that have lose their spark..

Don’t fret because guitaristnextdoor.com got the key to restoring your guitar’s clear and awesome sound.

How transform into a Party Jukebox everyone Admires in 5 days?

If they are too far gone then check out our “How to Choose Electric Guitar Strings” guide.

We’ll take you step-by-step through the gentle touch of string cleaning techniques and help you select the perfect tools to breathe new life into your strings. By the end, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to revive your guitars sound!


When to Clean Your Strings

1. After Each Play Session

Cleaning your strings after every play session prevents the accumulation of sweat, oils, and debris, keeping your strings in better condition. It only takes a few minutes and can significantly extend the life of your strings.

2. Before and After Shows or Recording Sessions

Prior to important performances or recording sessions, cleaning your strings is crucial. This ensures that you start with a fresh and vibrant tone. Cleaning before the session removes residual grime and prepares your strings for optimal sound production. After the session, cleaning removes sweat and oils that may have built up during the intense playing, preserving the longevity of your strings.

3. When You Notice a Loss of Brightness, Sustain, or Tuning Stability

If you detect a decrease in the brightness of your guitar’s tone, a decrease in sustain, or difficulty maintaining proper tuning stability, it’s a sign that your strings may need cleaning. These issues can be caused by the accumulation of dirt, oils, and sweat, which dampen the vibration and affect the overall performance of your instrument. Cleaning your strings in such instances can restore their brilliance and improve their functionality.

Remember, these guidelines serve as general recommendations. Depending on how often and intensively you play, you may need to clean your strings more or less frequently. It’s always a good idea to develop a routine that suits your playing style and hygiene preferences.


What Tools and Products to Use

When it comes to cleaning guitar strings, it’s important to use suitable tools and products to ensure effective and safe cleaning. Here are some recommended options:

  • Clean and Dry Microfiber Cloth or Paper Towel: Microfiber cloths are excellent for cleaning guitar strings because they do not leave residue or lint behind. However, ensure the cloth or paper towel is free from abrasive particles that could scratch the strings.
displays a Microfiber cloth
  • Guitar String Cleaner or Lubricant (optional): Various commercially available guitar string cleaners and lubricants are designed to clean and maintain guitar strings. These products are formulated to remove debris, condition the strings, and improve their playability. Examples of such products include Fast-Fret String Cleaner, Dunlop Ultraglide, and Dr. Stringfellow. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the best results.

Dunlop 6582 UltraGlide 65 is a solid guitar string cleaner that most music stores carry.

Regardless of your chosen method or product, remember to handle the strings carefully and avoid applying excessive pressure or force during cleaning. This helps protect the integrity of the strings and prevents any accidental damage to your instrument.

What to Avoid

  • Household Cleaners with Harsh Chemicals or Abrasives: It’s important to avoid using household cleaners that contain harsh chemicals or abrasives, such as bleach, soap, vinegar, or any other strong cleaning agents. These substances can be corrosive and may cause damage to the strings, as well as the guitar’s finish or coating.
  • Metal Polishers or Cleaners: A metal polisher or cleaning solution is specifically designed for polishing metal surfaces. However, using them on guitar strings can be harmful. These products can strip away the protective coating on the strings, resulting in a loss of tone and potentially causing premature wear.
  • Wet or Damp Cloths: Using wet or damp cloths directly on the strings is not recommended. Moisture can lead to rust or corrosion, especially on metal strings. Excessive moisture can also seep into the guitar’s hardware or wooden components, potentially causing damage. Always ensure that your cleaning cloth is clean and dry before using it on your guitar and its strings.

How to Clean Your Strings Effectively

To clean your guitar strings effectively, follow these steps:

  • Position your guitar: Place your guitar on a stable surface, such as a table or stand, or wear a neck strap to free up your hands for cleaning.
displays a safe surface for a guitar
  • Slide the cloth under and over the strings: Slide the cloth or paper towel under the strings near the bridge or bottom of the strings. Ensure that it covers the entire width of the strings.
displays a cleaning cloth and a guitar
  • Fold the cloth over the strings: Fold the cloth or paper towel over the strings, sandwiching them between the layers of the cloth. This allows the cleaner or lubricant to come into contact with both sides of the strings.
displays a cleaning cloth wrapped on guitar strings
  • Slide the cloth along the strings: Gently slide the cloth or paper towel along the strings from the bridge towards the nut, covering the entire length of each string. Repeat this motion several times to effectively clean the strings.
displays guitar string cleaning
  • Apply pressure: Apply light pressure to the cloth or paper towel as you slide it along the strings. This helps to remove any grime or dirt that may have accumulated on the top and bottom of the strings.
  • Repeat for each string: Repeat the cleaning process for each individual string, ensuring that you clean all of them thoroughly.
  • Prepare the cleaner or lubricant:(optional) Spray or apply a small amount of your chosen guitar string cleaner or lubricant onto a clean cloth or paper towel. Be careful not to use too much, as excessive moisture can be detrimental to the strings.
  • Apply string cleaner (optional): apply string cleaner to each string separately. Dunlop 6582 UltraGlide 65 and GHS Fast Fret are one of the best string cleaners out there.
displays how to clean Clean guitar strings with Dunlop 6582 UltraGlide 65
Dunlop 6582 UltraGlide 65 in action.
  • Wipe off excess cleaner or lubricant (if you used lubricant or string cleaner): After cleaning each string, use a dry cloth or paper towel to wipe off any excess cleaner or lubricant from both the strings and the guitar body. This helps to avoid any buildup or residue.

Is It Necessary to Clean Guitar Stings?

You can play your guitar without cleaning the strings. But regularly cleaning your guitar strings is crucial because it helps preserve their tone. As time goes by, dirt and grime build up on the strings, affecting the vibration and resulting in a dull and muffled sound. 

Clean strings, on the other hand, produce brighter tones, offer better sustain, and provide an overall more pleasing sound. So, keeping those strings clean ensures that your guitar maintains its vibrant and clear tone.

Playability is also greatly improved by regular cleaning. Dirty strings can become sticky, making it harder to slide your fingers smoothly along the fretboard. This friction creates difficulties in playing and bending. Choosing the best strings and keeping them clean ensures a smoother surface, reducing friction and allowing for easier maneuverability and fretting. It’s all about making your guitar-playing experience a breeze.

Let’s not forget about the lifespan of your strings. Corrosive substances like sweat and oils can wreak havoc on them over time, causing rust, discoloration, and a shortened lifespan. Regular cleaning removes these corrosive elements, preventing their negative effects and ultimately extending the life of your strings. It’s like adding some extra mileage to your guitart strings lifespan.

So, how do these strings get dirty? Well, sweat is a primary culprit.

When you play the guitar, sweat from your hands transfers onto the strings, contributing to the buildup of grime. 

The natural oils and greases your fingers produce during play can also attract dirt and create a layer of residue. Additionally, environmental factors like dust and debris settle on the strings, further adding to the accumulation of dirt and grime.

Dirty strings affect not only the sound quality but also the feel and playability of your instrument. They dampen the vibration, resulting in a duller and less vibrant sound. The accumulated dirt can make the strings sticky, making it a challenge to move your fingers along the fretboard smoothly. You maintain a smooth surface by cleaning the strings regularly, allowing for effortless playing and bending.


Benefits of Cleaning Guitar Strings

1. Improved Tone

Accumulated dirt, grime, and oils on the strings can dampen their vibration, resulting in a lackluster and muffled sound. However, cleaning the strings removes these contaminants and allows them to vibrate freely. This leads to a brighter, more vibrant tone with better clarity, sustain, and overall sound quality.

2. Enhanced Playability

Dirty strings can become sticky, making gliding your fingers along the strings challenging. This friction hinders your ability to play and bend notes effortlessly. Cleaning the guitar strings ensures a smooth surface that reduces friction, facilitating easier finger movement and improving playability. It enables you to navigate the strings with greater ease and precision.

3. Prolonged String Life

Sweat, oils, and environmental factors contribute to the degradation of guitar strings over time. If left uncleaned, corrosive substances can cause rust, discoloration, and a shorter string lifespan. Regular cleaning removes these corrosive elements, preventing damage and extending the overall life of your strings. Keeping them clean reduces the need for frequent string replacements, saving time and money.

4. Hygiene and Maintenance

Cleaning your guitar strings promotes proper hygiene. When you play, sweat, oils, and dirt from your hands transfer onto the strings, creating an environment for bacteria and germs to thrive. Regular cleaning minimizes the buildup of these contaminants, ensuring a cleaner and more hygienic playing surface. This is especially important if you share your guitar with others or perform in public settings.


5 Tips and Tricks You Should Consider

1. Wash Your Hands Before Playing

displays a guitar player Washing hands before guitar playing

Before playing your guitar, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. This helps to reduce the amount of sweat, oil, and dirt on your fingers that can transfer onto the strings while playing.

2. Store Your Guitar Properly

Store it in a case or gig bag if you not playing for a while. This protects it from dust, excessive humidity, and accidental damage. A proper storage environment helps to maintain the integrity of the strings and extends their lifespan. For shorter-term storage or if you play really frequently, a guitar stand or wall hanger is a great storage method, but these won’t protect your guitar from dust. Learn more about strong your guitar here.

3. Change Your Strings Regularly

How often you should change your strings depends on factors like how frequently you play and the type of strings you use. Generally, we recommend you change them every few months or when you notice a significant loss of tone, clarity, or tuning stability. Fresh strings ensure better sound quality, durability, and playability.

4. Boil Your Strings Occasionally (With Caution)

Boiling your guitar strings can help remove accumulated oil and debris from the string windings, extending their lifespan. However, exercise caution when doing this. Remove the strings from the guitar and place them in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. After boiling, carefully remove them and let them cool down before wiping them dry and reinstalling them. Remember to follow proper safety measures and handle hot strings with care.

5. Clean Your Guitar Regularly

Besides cleaning the strings, it’s essential to regularly clean your entire guitar. Use a soft, dry cloth or rag to wipe away dust and smudges from the body, neck, and fretboard. This keeps your guitar in good overall condition and helps prevent dirt and debris from transferring to the strings.


FAQ

What household items can you use to clean guitar strings? 

Household items used to clean guitar strings include microfiber cloths, soft cotton cloths, or even an old t-shirt. These materials are gentle on the strings and effectively remove dirt and grime without causing damage.

Can you clean guitar strings with WD-40? 

We don’t recommend cleaning guitar strings with WD-40. While WD-40 is a product designed primarily to repel water, it is not recommended to clean guitar strings with it. Although it can dissolve waxes and grease like many organic solvents, it is not intended for general cleaning purposes. WD-40 has an oily consistency and a strong smell, which can potentially cause dirt to stick to the strings rather than effectively cleaning them.

How do you lubricate guitar strings?

You can use a specialized guitar string lubricant or a small amount of guitar-specific oil, such as lemon oil, to lubricate guitar strings. Apply a small drop to a cloth and gently rub it along the length of each string, allowing the lubricant to penetrate and reduce friction.

Should you wash guitar strings?

Washing guitar strings is generally not advisable, as it can lead to corrosion or damage. Water and moisture can cause the strings to rust, impacting their sound quality and lifespan. It’s best to focus on regular cleaning and maintenance instead.

Can I use alcohol to clean guitar strings?

We don’t recommend it. Alcohol can effectively remove grime and oils from the strings, but at the same time it can damage string coating, fretboard, and other parts of the guitar.

Does boiling guitar strings clean them?

Boiling guitar strings for 5 minutes in a pan of hot water can remove a significant amount of grime, improving tone and playability. However, it is important to note that while boiling can somewhat clean the strings, and it does not completely restore them to a “like new” condition. The process may remove dirt and debris, but it cannot reverse the natural wear and tear that occurs over time.

Check if boiling guitar strings actually matter:

YouTube video

Can you clean and reuse guitar strings?

Cleaning guitar strings often is smart. And while it’s technically possible to also reuse guitar strings, it is generally not recommended. Over time, strings lose their elasticity, corrode, and accumulate dirt that cannot be completely removed. Reused strings may have a compromised tone, reduced playability, and are more prone to breaking. We recommend you replace worn-out strings with new ones for optimal sound and performance.


Conclusion

Cleaning your guitar strings is crucial for the string’s durability and for your tone. We’ve discovered effective methods that involve using microfiber cloths and specialized cleaners & lubricants. Now you just need to include string cleaning in your routine after each session or at least twice a week.

By adopting this habit, you’ll enjoy the freshness of your strings, improved playability, and an overall better playing experience. 

If you have any questions, just leave a comment down below, we are here to help!

Keep rocking!


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Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I also noticed that most guitar websites don’t do a really good job, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website. I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar. I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog(I guess that went the right way…). Expertise: guitar learning techniques, electric guitars, and guitar amplifiers. You can connect with me on LinkedIn or just email me.
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Gary

I’ve always used Lemon Pledge

Edward Möwes

Hi ,my name is Eddie from Namibia.I have an acoustic electric guitar (Sanchez)Can you tell me how to set the amplifier on the guitar correctly for a good sound from the speaker box.Thanks for the tips on cleaning my strings.

Todd

What cleaners are safe to use on steel strings, you Corporate Tool!?!

Tyler Connaghan

While I wouldn’t recommend WD-40 for cleaning strings, necessarily, when you use a tiny amount sprayed directly on a cloth and wiped down, it can remove grime. Of course, don’t substitute it for legit cleaner, but it CAN be used!