Equipment and Steps to Clean an Electric Guitar and a Vintage Guitar

guitar cleaning guide how to clean a guitar

If you are a professional guitarist, you must know to clean your guitar regularly to keep it in proper working condition for your band shows. With time, your guitar accumulates sweat, dirt, dust, and grime, all of which affect its sound.

To avoid situations, you must clean your vintage guitar or modern guitar with the right equipment and regularly.  

Common Queries before Going Ahead for Cleaning Guitars 

What can I use for cleaning my guitar?

You must only use white distilled vinegar as a household product for cleaning your guitar safely. 

How can I clean a guitar without damaging it?

If your guitar has a maple fretboard in unfinished form, you should use a ball of ultra-fine steel wool. In this way, you will remove dirt without damaging the guitar frets. However, you may use a damp cloth for satin-finished guitar maple. 

Preliminary Steps to Clean a Guitar

Collect the essential cleaning materials 

Whether you have an acoustic guitar or electric guitar, cleaning it requires using a few easily available materials. In particular, you need soft cloth, like an old sock or a t-shirt piece and a bucket of water. However, never use any paper towel, as it may scratch your instrument’s body.

Besides, you need a glass cleaner and a good quality guitar polish containing carnauba wax in pure form. 

If you want a heavy-duty guitar cleaning, you may use white vinegar in distilled form, as it does not damage your guitar finish. You should strictly avoid any household cleaning product, which contains heavy waxes, silicone, and lacquer thinner.

Moreover, you must avoid using furniture polishes and all-purpose cleaners, as these products may damage your guitar finish.

Remove the guitar strings carefully

Before you start the cleaning process, you must remove the guitar strings. Doing so will ease the cleaning of its fretboard. Furthermore, when you remove the strings while cleaning other parts of your guitar, they stay safe.

The reason is that the strings remain free from polishes, oil, and damp clothes used during the cleaning and/or polishing process.

Handle vintage guitars with extra caution

Vintage guitars with nitro finish often change color or develop sheen with time-based on their normal aging process. Unlike other models, these guitars do not require applying polishes, as they may remove the original finish.

Hence, you must clean your vintage instrument with a piece of cloth and apply only a small amount of water.

Steps to Clean a Guitar

Clean the neck and fingerboard/fretboard 

If you play guitar as your hobby, you must clean the guitar fingerboard or fretboard at least once a year. In contrast, if you regularly play electric guitar, you must clean the fingerboard three to four times in one year.

Dirt and oils may accumulate due to the frequent contact of your fingers on the instrument. You must use a lightly damp cloth with distilled vinegar or plain water. Wipe the solution gently to remove the grime or dirt on the fretboard.

Clean the guitar body parts

While moving down the guitar length, you should take steps to clean the guitar body parts i.e. its sides, front, and back. You may use the same wet cloth but rinse it properly to avoid spreading the dirt to any other area of the guitar. You have to move the damp cloth in circular motions.  

As you move ahead while cleaning the guitar, you may notice a few spots, which may not go by simply wiping out with a cloth. Smudges and fingerprints with dirtier spots need moisture for removal. Hence, we suggest you huff warm breath on your instrument before applying the cloth.

If the stain is too obsessed, you may use water and a mild detergent. Once you clean the obsessed spots, use a dry cloth to buff and remove steaks.

Clean the guitar bridge

The guitar bridge is present below its sound hole. It supports your guitar strings. You may use a damp cloth and wipe down the guitar bridge to wipe dirt, dust, and grime. Moreover, use a pipe cleaner or a toothbrush to scrub the dirt from difficult spots of your instrument.

Wipe the tuning keys

Tuning keys are present at the top area of a guitar’s neck and on its headstock. You may spray a dry cloth and a glass cleaner for cleaning these keys. Later, you must polish them to retain their glow and shine.

Polish the guitar pickups

Pickups are often present on the body of an electric guitar and in place of sound holes. If the guitar pickups look dirty, you may clean them with a damp cloth. However, if you find rust on the pickups, you should remove them carefully and clean them by using a rust-dissolving solution.

Alternatively, you may apply a lighter fluid and rub it with a cotton ball to remove rust-related spots. Once you complete the procedure, screw the guitar pickups back on your instrument. 


Cleaning guitars is a simple and easy process. It involves a few basic things available easily at your home. Only, you should take caution while cleaning it and ensure to polish your instrument with safe products.

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