Understanding Why Your Guitar Strings Smell Bad

As a guitarist, one of the most frustrating things to deal with is the unpleasant smell that old guitar strings can develop over time. 

It’s a common problem that most players face at some point, but what causes this odor, and how can it be prevented? In this article, I’ll delve into the science behind the stench and provide tips for maintaining your guitar strings to try to stop the problem altogether.

“Why Do My Guitar Strings Smell?”

Have you ever noticed a distinct smell coming from your guitar or your hands after you’ve been playing it for a while? You’re not alone.

It’s not uncommon for old guitar strings to develop a pungent or metallic odor, and a few factors can be the reason behind it. 

This smell is caused by various factors, including the buildup of dirt, grime, sweat, and oils from your hands, the oxidation and corrosion of the metal in the strings themselves, and the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms.

Often, it’s a combination of all of these things!

As the guitar strings age and corrode, they lose tonal quality and become dull and lifeless. This is a natural part of the aging process, making them more susceptible to picking up odors like the one you’re experiencing right now. 

As you keep playing, sweat and oils from your hands, which tend to be acidic and contribute to oxidation and corrosion, can also accumulate on the strings and create a breeding ground for microorganisms, including bacteria.  

The environment where you store your guitar can aggravate this too. For example, a very damp or humid climate can produce mold or mildew.

While you can’t necessarily keep your strings from aging entirely, there are preventative measures you can take to stop this unpleasant scent from occurring.

Tips For Maintaining Your Strings

There are several things you can do to maintain your guitar strings to avoid the problem of smelly strings. They only take a moment to do and can increase your enjoyment when playing the guitar.

  1. First, you should wash your hands before playing to reduce the amount of bad stuff that gets on the strings. This is especially important if you know you have sweaty hands. 
  2. Secondly, use a string cleaner and lubricant to keep your strings healthier. These will disinfect, restore, and help extend the life of your guitar strings.
  3. Thirdly, I suggest wiping down your strings with a clean cloth after each use. This will help to remove any sweat, oil, and grime that may have accumulated on the strings while you were playing. If you’ve washed your hands, you can minimize this, but it won’t stop it completely, so make sure to do this step as well.
  4. Lastly, store your guitar in a controlled environment if you do live in a very humid location. While some humidity is good for the health of your guitar since it prevents the wood from drying out, it should be at a certain level.

For the fourth step, I recommend storing your guitar in a case alongside a humidifier so it stays at a constant yet safe level. Check out my guide to humidifiers to learn more.

JIM DUNLOP 44616582001 Ultraglide 65 String Conditioner
  • Comes with a felt dauber top
  • Dispense enough liquid to soak the bauber before using
  • Model Number 6582

Replace Your Guitar Strings

If you’ve tried everything to maintain your guitar strings and they still smell, it may be time to simply replace them. 

Guitar strings inevitably need to be replaced at some point, and there’s nothing like a fresh set of guitar strings! For acoustic guitarists, I have some acoustic guitar string recommendations here.

While everyone has their preferences regarding strings, coated guitar strings may be helpful for you.

Coated strings are corrosion-resistant, and the coating can slow down their degradation, which is one of the main reasons guitar strings start smelling bad.

These strings can be pricier than your regular ones, though, so if you already have a brand you like, you can easily use those but just be diligent about preventing the smell by following the tips mentioned earlier.

Elixir Strings – Acoustic Phosphor Bronze with NANOWEB Coating – Elixir Acoustic Guitar Strings – Light (.012-.053)
  • Top Rated Coated Acoustic Strings: Features an exclusive featherweight NANOWEB Coating, made with phosphor bronze wrap wire for a rich, full-bodied, and long-lasting tone. Light: 12-16-24-32-42-53
  • Brilliant Tone that Lasts: Often rated the best acoustic guitar strings, Elixir Strings retain their out-of-the-box tone longer than other coated or uncoated strings, ensuring you always sound your best.
  • Superb Corrosion Resistance: The innovative featherweight coating on our acoustic guitar strings provide a defense against corrosion and rust. This keeps the strings safe from factors such as sweaty hands, high humidity, and tone-killing debris.
  • Unyielding Durability: This durable set of acoustic guitar strings can withstand wildly fluctuating temperatures and even the worst of humidity. You can trust all of our strings to consistently deliver a reliable performance and comfortable feel.
  • Greater Tuning Stability: Elixir acoustic guitar Strings deliver unmatched tuning stability. These phosphor bronze strings can stay in tune for longer, keeping your guitar consistently sounding its best.


In summary, the smell of old guitar strings is a common problem that many guitarists face, especially since it’s caused by a few reasons that are often interrelated.

When avoiding the problem of smelly guitar strings, it’s crucial to maintain your strings and replace them if necessary, and hopefully, the advice discussed in this article will be an excellent solution.

Smelly guitar strings can be a thing of the past, and they don’t have to be a distraction any longer, but you’ll need to get in the habit of being on top of your maintenance. However, by making a conscious effort to do it, it will quickly become routine for you.

Also, when putting on new strings, consider recycling your old ones! Click here to learn how to recycle your guitar strings and make a difference in your environment.