How To Care For Your Guitar: Basic Cleaning & Maintenance

If you’re a proud guitar owner, you’ve probably noticed that after a while your instrument just doesn’t feel brand new anymore. With periodic attention, you can get your guitar to look and feel like a million bucks, without actually costing that much. This instructional guide will teach you how to take care of your guitar by giving it routine cleanings and maintenance so you’ll always be at peak performance.

Here’s What You’ll Need

Regularly checking up on your guitar isn’t particularly tricky, but you’ll need some things to do a thorough job. If you intend on giving your guitar a full cleaning from top-to-bottom, and perhaps some extra adjustments and maintenance, including guitar setups, consider picking these items up:

  • Guitar Polish
  • Fretboard Cleaner
  • String Winder/Cutter
  • New Strings (I recommend getting them in bulk)
  • Allen Keys/Wrenches
  • Microfiber Cloths (You’ll want at least 3 to 5 of these)
  • A Neck Cradle (Optional, But It Makes Life Easier)

Luckily for you, you don’t need to buy every single one of these individually. You might have to for some, but fortunately, I have an amazing guitar care kit that I highly recommend, so that you save some time on searching for a bunch of stuff.

The Best Guitar Cleaning And Maintenance Kit

Elagon saved me a lot of trouble with their fantastic guitar maintenance kit, which you can also find on Amazon. I had individual guitar cleaning products from random and different brands, and I had Allen wrenches that just kept going missing, kind of like my guitar picks. I always tried to remember to throw them in my guitar case to try to prevent them from disappearing into the void, but I digress.

With their kit, I am always able to have all (or most) of my guitar maintenance accessories in one spot where I can easily find them. I’m probably a bit more conscientious about where I put my stuff these days, but I think the nice case that it comes with really helped with my problem of always misplacing things.

Let’s take a look at some of the goodies that you get with the best guitar cleaning kit of all time:

  • Guitar Polish
  • Microfiber Cloths
  • A String Winder
  • A String Cutter
  • 8 Allen Wrenches
  • String Cleaner
  • A Ruler (For Guitar Setups)

That’s actually most of the stuff in the list from earlier! One of the things that are missing is a fretboard cleaner. I’m honestly unsure if the guitar polish is good for the fretboard, so to be on the safe side, I only used it on the guitar’s body and purchased a separate fretboard cleaner, which I will talk about shortly.

The string cleaner is pretty useful, in my opinion. If you don’t feel like replacing your strings right away, you can try to restore a little bit of life back into them with it. However, if you’re going to do a full cleaning, you’re probably just going to want to put some new ones on. To adequately clean your fretboard, you’ll want to remove your strings or at the very least loosen them to the point where you can get underneath them easily. Though, if you’re going to do a complete job, it doesn’t make much sense to save them, so you should have a new set of strings ready if this is your plan. 

If you’ve been looking for a kit for under 50 dollars, you won’t go wrong with this one for your guitar cleaning and care needs.



What Is The Best Fretboard Cleaner?

There has been some fuss over what the best kind of fretboard cleaner is. A lot of people like to use lemon oil products, but is cleaning the guitar fretboard with lemon oil a good idea? It depends.

You absolutely do not want to use 100% pure lemon oil on your fretboard, it is extremely acidic and will dry out your fretboard. Similarly, you’ll NEVER want to do any guitar cleaning with alcohol. This rule applies to all parts of the instrument, not just the body. 

The lemon oils that you may have seen in stores aren’t actually lemon oil in most cases. Usually, it’s substituted with mineral oil, but they just add a scent and keep the lemon oil branding, or it will contain very minimal amounts of lemon and is diluted with something else. It’s a little misleading, and it can be bad for a beginner who sees “Lemon Oil” guitar products and tries to do a DIY project and having the opposite effect that they want.

Also, keep in mind that such products are only applicable to rosewood and ebony which are the darker woods you see used on fingerboards. You may risk causing damage if you use these on a maple fretboard. If you have to, stick to something natural for your maple fretboards. 

That being said, the best fretboard cleaner for all guitar types is Music Nomad’s MN144 fretboard kit. Here’s what it has:

  • The Finest Oil, Made From Natural Sources (No Lemon or Petroleum)
  • Fret Polish
  • Fret Guards
  • A Microfiber Cloth

While it isn’t specified what these natural oils are exactly, we know that it comes from trees and seeds. The most crucial thing here is that it doesn’t use lemon whatsoever and also doesn’t have petroleum, so it is safe from drying out. It effectively cleans any gunk off your fretboard, without leaving any sticky residue.

The FRINE Fret Polish is used to clean the metal fret wires, not the wooden part. Over time, the metal will oxidize and lose its sheen. By utilizing the fret polish, you can clean your frets and restore the shine that they once had. To make it easier, this package comes with 3 different fret guards, which fit on your frets to allow you to clean them effortlessly.

Of course, it comes with a decent-sized microfiber cloth that is made out of suede, but you should consider getting some extra ones.  They could come in handy if you need a dry one to quickly clean up any accidental spills. You can safely wash it in a machine, but I’d advise keeping the temperatures cool if you do just so you can preserve it. Also, avoid using fabric softener and don’t wash them with your clothes, especially ones made from cotton, since it can ruin the cloth.

While microfiber cloths are easily replaceable, but it’s better to take care of the ones you already have so that you don’t have to keep buying new ones.

With that in mind, I believe that this is the best guitar polish or fretboard cleaner, not only because it gets the job done, but because it doesn’t exclude any woods. It is safe to use on all fretboard types – including maple, and it will make them look good as new.


How To Clean Your Guitar

Now that I’ve given you a rundown on the stuff you’ll need, including kits that have what you’ll need, I can talk to you about how to give your guitar a good cleanse. Each part will have its own section so you can follow along with it more naturally.


The First Steps

First and foremost, before we start with cleaning your guitar, especially the body, it is a good idea to wash your hands first to remove any sweat, oil, and dirt from them. Since you’re trying to give a complete cleaning, you don’t want to add to the problem or make it less effective. If you have one, set your guitar on the neck cradle, it will make working with your guitar during this whole process painless. This one on Amazon comes with a mat, making it a complete maintenance station.

Next, you’ll want to remove your strings one by one. Doing so will make reaching the nooks and crannies between your pickups easier (if you’re using an electric guitar), but you’ll also have to take them off to adequately access your fretboard. It’s not practical to clean your fretboard with strings on it still, so you’ll want to start to remove them one at a time by loosening your tuning pegs, clipping the strings, and slipping them out from your bridge.

If you have a Floyd-style bridge, like a Floyd Rose, Edge, or a Kahler, to do this, you’ll need to find the correct-sized Allen key to loosen the locking nut and/or the saddles on the bridge. If you have a fixed bridge, this isn’t something you’ll typically have to worry about. Once this is done, you can either use your string winder to loosen them off the tuning pegs, or you can just use the clippers to cut them -whichever is more comfortable for you.

These are just a few small things you should do to make the rest of your job more efficient. Once you have removed the strings, we can start on actually cleaning stuff.



Cleaning The Body Of The Guitar

What I like to do before applying guitar polish is to just give a quick cleaning with a dry microfiber towel, just to try to remove fingerprints and some oil and dust from the surface. Realistically, this will probably clear most of the blemishes on it, but to make the guitar really shine, you’ll need to do a little bit more.

Once you have done that, we can start working with the guitar polish. I personally prefer to spray it on my microfiber cloth, then start buffing it in with a circular motion. I think that this method covers more evenly than spraying on the guitar then wiping it after.

It is urgent to point out that you should NEVER use furniture polish on your guitar. The wood on your guitar is delicate, and using the wrong stuff can cause irreversible damage to your guitar and its sound. Just use guitar polish which is specifically designed for this purpose, which could be found in the first kit, or you can use Music Nomad’s All-In-One cleaner.

After you’ve thoroughly buffed the guitar polish in, it should dry fairly quickly, and you can now move on to the next part – the fretboard.



Cleaning The Fretboard

It’s inevitable that after so many hours, weeks, and months of playing guitar, all kinds of unwanted stuff from your fingers will accumulate on your fretboard. This is probably the most time-consuming aspect of how to clean a guitar, but once it’s over with it, it’s pretty much smooth sailing. Since your strings are already off, you can already jump right into it!

Just like with cleaning the body, you will want to spray your fretboard oil onto one of your microfiber cloths. I’d advise against using the one you used for your guitar’s body, just because it’s probably not ideal to mix the two. Just use a separate one.

What I and many others like to do next is to start from the very first fret and buff each individual fret adequately as you work your way to the last one. Apply more oil to your cloth if you need to. You can also temporarily cover up your nearest pickup with electrical or duct tape just so you don’t accidentally get oil on it. Afterward, you can just use a dry microfiber cloth to remove any excess oil that might remain on the fretboard.

Next, we can work on tidying up the metal fret wires. As mentioned before, these will oxidize over time and will need a little bit of attention. Some people like to use steel wool to handle this, but I prefer to use the fret polish and guards that came with the Music Nomad Fretboard Care Kit.

There are few guards to choose from in the kit. My guitar uses jumbo frets, so I use that one, and it fits perfectly. Just put a little dab of the FRINE fret polish on a microfiber cloth and rub it against the metal fret and the guards should prevent you from spilling onto the wood. You shouldn’t have to use too much force on it to get the gunk off either. Once you have completed one, you can work your way until you’ve finished them all and reapplying the polish as necessary.

Learning how to clean a guitar fretboard at home is pretty simple and straightforward, it just takes some time and a little bit of elbow grease. You can choose to do it whenever you want to, but I tend to do it whenever I change my strings. You don’t need to do it this as frequently as I do, but just don’t let it get out of hand either.

Here’s a video from the guys at Music Nomad showing you exactly how to clean your metal frets:


The Final Touches

The last parts you’ll need to clean on your guitar are very quick to do, and in most cases, can be done with some ordinary household items.

If your guitar isn’t a fossil, you can typically just wipe down oils and fingerprints off of your tuning pegs. However, if your guitar is on the older side and there is a ton of oxidation, you’ll probably want to use your guitar polish to remove the excess grime. Brass polish is also another good option.

The same goes for your bridge and your volume and tone knobs. Usually, a toothbrush can efficiently clean out all of the dust in those hard-to-reach places on a bridge, but if it’s in a kind of rough state, you can use your best guitar polish on these too.

Finally, the pickups! If you’re looking to know how to clean guitar pickups, you usually can tidy them up with a Q-tip and remove lint and dust trapped in the cavity, but if that isn’t enough, a light amount of guitar polish that you used earlier, on a cloth will safely remove the oxidation from your guitar pickups. Whatever you do, do not use water on your electronics! I think it goes without saying that mixing the two is never a good idea.

Here’s another clip from Music Nomad showing you how to properly polish your pickups, they’re so flawless at the end that you can see his reflection!




Once you have gone through and performed all of the steps to how to clean a guitar, you can now confidently restring your guitar, tune it up, and it’ll be ready to play again. 

You can use whichever strings that you like, but I recommend getting them in bulk because not only will you save money in the long run, you’ll want to keep up with maintaining your guitar, and always having a pack of strings handy is always reassuring. I use 11s nowadays, but I used to get the Ernie Ball 10s for years! Feel free to go lighter though if that’s what you’re used to right now.

Hopefully, this guide to how to care for your guitar has been informative, and your guitar is now in pristine condition again. Remember, grime, rust, oxidation, and everything else not only make your guitar ugly but can also negatively impact your sound. Keep up with regular guitar cleaning and maintenance, including routine setups, and you’ll probably never run into any significant issues. A guitar humidifier can also help keep your guitar in great shape by preventing the wood from drying out and changing the way it feels and plays. 

Being proactive matters, and by staying on top of your guitar’s condition, you and your instrument will be a lot happier in the long run!