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Last Updated: November 18, 2019
Wiping your guitar strings, fretboard, and neck after you play is one of the fastest, easiest, and cheapest things you can do to:
- Clean your guitar strings so they last longer, sound better, and feel better
- Reduce buildup of gunk on your guitar’s fretboard
- Reduce the buildup of gunk on the back of the guitar neck
Get in the habit of doing this simple maintenance task, and not only will you have to change your strings less often, you’ll extend the life of your guitar and avoid bigger repair/maintenance bills down the road. When gunk builds up in the porous wood of your fretboard or begins to erode the lacquer (if yours has a lacquered fretboard), it’s a lot more expensive to have cleaned and restored.
How Often Should You Clean Guitar Strings?
As with many things, it depends–on how long you play, how much you sweat, and how dirty your hands were when you sat down to play. For now, let’s assume your hands don’t sweat excessively during play.
Washing your hands before you play (if practical) is just one more measure you can take to extend the life of your strings and guitar.
If you only play for 15 minutes or less, you can get away with not wiping your strings and neck every single time and/or just use “the okay method” I’ll outline below.
If you play for more than 15 minutes, then you’ll want to give your strings and neck a good wipe after each practice/play session. How thorough you need to be depends on just HOW LONG you play.
The Procedure and Supplies
All you really need is a soft cotton washcloth–the same type you use in the shower. I prefer washcloths over old cotton t-shirts because I feel the little terry cloth loops do a better job of grabbing dirt and debris off the strings and fretboard. Store the towel inside the guitar case, or near wherever you tend to play guitar so that it’s handy when you’re done playing.
You may be wondering about string cleaners. Don’t worry, I’ll talk about those later in this article and recommend a few you can try.
The “Okay” Method
Don’t have much time? This method is not only quick, it won’t knock your guitar out of tune (as does “the best method” covered later). The downside is that it’s simply not as thorough–but definitely better than nothing if you want clean guitar strings.
1. Fold the washcloth into a square:
2. Lay it on top of the strings, and simply rub up and down the strings 3-4 times… from the nut to the bridge:
3. Next, do the same on the back of the guitar neck and you’re done!
And that’s it! Done! Toss the washcloth in the accessory compartment of your guitar case and go about your day.
Note: Don’t use this same cloth to wipe the body of your guitar–especially if your guitar has a glossy finish. It’s not soft enough, so dedicate this cloth to string and neck cleaning only. If you want to wipe your guitar’s body after playing, use a separate cloth (preferably microfiber or soft suede) instead, and keep that cloth dedicated to just the body.
The “Best” Method
If you’ve got a little more time, or your strings and fretboard are especially dirty, this is the way to go. NOTE: This will knock your strings a little out of tune, so you’ll have to retune afterward.
1. First, pinch a string in the cloth. Be sure you have a secure grip and pull up slightly:
2. Rub the entire length of the string 2-3 times. Do this one string at a time until you’ve done all strings:
3. Next, flatten the washcloth and slip it under all 6 strings.
If it’s an acoustic guitar, you can use the soundhole to make it easier to get the cloth under the strings.
4. Slide it up all the way up and down the neck, from the bridge to the nut, 2-3 times:
5. Now, carefully remove the wash cloth from under the strings and take this opportunity to spot-clean any areas on the fretboard that are especially dirty:
6. Lastly, give the back of the neck a good rub from the headstock to the body 2-3 times:
That’s it, really. That’s all you need for clean guitar strings. Toss the washcloth in the accessory compartment of your guitar case and be on your way.
Note: As I said up above, don’t use this same cloth to wipe the body of your guitar–especially if your guitar has a glossy finish. It’s not soft enough, so dedicate this cloth to string and neck cleaning only. If you want to wipe your guitar’s body after playing, use a separate cloth (preferably microfiber or soft suede) instead, and keep that cloth dedicated to just the body.
Do you clean your strings? If so, do you use a string cleaner, or some other method? I’d love to hear how you keep your strings clean and shiny, so let me know in the comments below.