7 Easy Steps to Clean an Acoustic Guitar

You’ve probably wondered so many times if the way I clean the guitar is a proper one. Though a simple process that doesn’t require any special skill, cleaning of this beautiful instrument could be tricky in some way. It is definitely a task that you can do by yourself, though it is always good to know a few more useful things about what you should and what you shouldn’t do when doing this easy job.

In this article, I will try to explain the whole process in the simplest way. In just five or six steps, you get cleaned your favorite toy, which will be shining on the wall or stand. What is more important, you will keep your acoustic guitar from damaging and keep it in perfect condition for many years, I would say decades.

How to Clean an Acoustic Guitar

First of all, here is the list of things that you’ll need to get if you want to clean an acoustic guitar properly:

  • Sandpaper
  • An old toothbrush or steel wool
  • Fretboard conditioner or lemon oil
  • Cotton swabs
  • Paper towel
  • Guitar polish
  • Microfiber cloth

Once you get all this, you can start with the cleaning. I would say there are 6 or 7 steps in total:

Step 1: Unstring your guitar

Of course, the first thing you should do is to unstring the guitar. Most of the players practice this cleaning session along with strings replacement. Simply, it is the most convenient way. If you play your guitar on a daily basis, you probably replace your strings every month or two. I would say this is a perfect interval for a detailed cleaning.

On the other side, if you’re not such a dedicated player but still want to keep your instrument perfectly clean, you should clean your guitar once in a month or two. Those who play the guitar occasionally usually change string every 6 months or even rarely. Fortunately, you can use the same strings over and over, after cleaning sessions. Once you take off the strings, you can put them back after you finish cleaning, and it works just fine.

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Step 2: Clean the inside of your acoustic guitar

Once you’ve removed all six strings, you can start with cleaning. I usually clean the inside of the guitar first, though you can clean in any order you feel most comfortable. It really doesn’t matter. This is probably the easiest part of the cleaning. You’ll have to find a piece of microfiber or any other cloth that is a good dust collector. Just squeeze through the guitar whole and swing for several times should be enough.

For this step, you won’t need any kind of cleanser. A dry piece of cloth would be enough, Moreover, the inside of an acoustic guitar features unfinished wood, so damp cloth could actually cause damage. Moisture could easily cause wood distortion, unfix glued areas and also affect the sound quality.

Step 3: Clean the bridge

Though it’s not necessary to go in this order, the bridge is next part of an acoustic guitar in my routine. For this part, you will need a new piece of cloth. You can use a specially designed conditioner, though water would do just fine. You’ll need nothing more than a slightly soaked piece of cloth to deal with dirt in this area. Also, many guitars have a bridge that is full of hardly accessible surfaces. Cotton swabs work perfectly in this case.

How to Clean an Acoustic Guitar

Step 4: Clean the fretboard

Cleaning the fretboard is probably the hardest part of the whole process. Once you’ve done with the bridge, you can move on to the fretboard, which is quite different compared to other parts of a guitar. On an acoustic guitar, the fretboard is usually made of rosewood. This wood has some pretty interesting characteristics, but the most important thing about it, in this case, is that there is no varnish. Unlike the rest of the guitar, this part stays unfinished.

This makes the wood vulnerable to aggressive chemicals, but to many other things as well. This piece of the wood is in the closest touch to your fingers, which means a lot of sweat for sure. After a few months of playing, you will already notice a kind of a sticky layer on your fretboard, which doesn’t just affect the visual appeal, but can also damage the wood.

So, how to clean this filth?

You will need two things. The first one is to find an appropriate cleanser. Today’s market offers plenty of guitar conditioners, designed especially for the rosewood and other unfinished wood surfaces. These products aren’t expensive at all, though you can use other chemicals as well. You can even use some furniture cleaners, though you will have to read the product’s description carefully, to make sure that the cleanser doesn’t consist of some aggressive ingredient like alcohol, strong acids, silicone and similar things.

A good alternative to guitar conditioners would be lemon oil. Though many think of this oil as something too aggressive for your fretboard, I will have to disagree. Years of experience showed me that lemon oil is absolutely safe to use on for fretboard cleaning. Moreover, it is beneficial in many ways, including the fact that this oil consists of few ingredients that will hydrate the fragile rosewood fretboard and keep it from cracking.

The second thing you’ll need is an old toothbrush. Also, you can use a steel wool, though you must be very gentle. Personally, I would go for an old toothbrush since there is a less chance to go too far with the scrubbing and damage the wood. In both cases, put some conditioner/lemon oil on steel wool/toothbrush and start with scrubbing. It should go pretty smooth, though it could take some time.

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Once you’ve finished, find a piece of an old cloth or towel paper and wipe the fretboard.

Step 5: Clean the headstock

In terms of cleaning, this part of an acoustic guitar isn’t much different than the bridge. Once again, you will need a piece of cloth. Wet or dry, it isn’t that important. In this area, you will find nothing more than dust. Tuning machines, as well as some other areas,  could be tricky. Just like with the bridge, these hard accessible areas could be successfully cleaned with cotton swabs.

While you are in this area, you could also clean a nut. Though not necessary too dirty, this part is very important for your playing. It doesn’t affect that much on guitar’s visual appeal, but it could be critical if you want to keep your instrument always in tune. The lowest possible adhesion is the essential of staying in tune, especially if your playing style includes a lot of bending.

So, what should you do with your nut? This piece is usually made of plastic or some similar material, so a sandpaper will do just fine. Just put it in those small nut channels and scrub for a bit. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

Additionally, you can put a few drops of hydraulic oil or something similar on each tuning machine, to make sure your restringing will go smooth.

Step 6: Clean the finish

Once you’ve done with all those tricky parts, it is time to treat large surfaces. Fortunately, most of the acoustic guitars feature lacquered finish, which provides a good wood protection, both from scratches and atmospheric influences. Still, years of use can leave a mark on your beauty.

One of the most common issues is sweating. In summer days, you probably wear nothing more than a T-shirt. Your arms are in direct touch with the guitar’s surface, which causes a lot of sweat. As you probably know, human sweat is pretty much salt and water. A combination of these two is capable to do many bad things, including lacquer solute. Fortunately, it won’t damage your finish immediately, but if it stays for too long, it can damage your acoustic guitar very badly.

So, what would be the solution? An elbow grease obtrudes itself as a logical move. Find a piece of cloth, wet it lightly, and you can start with work.

Of course, you can find a lot of products that can be used for guitar polishing. Moreover, there are many fancy guitar polishes around, though they might be expensive. Fortunately, there is one cheap and pretty convenient alternative. If you own a car, you will probably find some car wax in your garage. It might sound strange, but this thing actually works amazing. Not only that you’ll get a nice glossy look, but a good protection as well. Interestingly, many guitar builders recommend car wax for guitar polishing.

Step 7: Restring the guitar

One more step and you are done with the cleaning. Restring your guitar, tune it, and your beauty is ready.

These would be some of the most important steps in the process of detailed acoustic guitar cleaning. Of course, you don’t need to follow this order. Do it in any way you want. Just make sure to practice this routine frequently enough, I would say every few months, and your guitar will keep the original look for years.

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