How To Clean Your Guitar For a Professional Finish

How To Clean Your Guitar For a Professional Finish

One of the most essential parts of taking care of your guitar is to clean it. In fact, you should do the cleaning on a regular basis as dust, dirt and grime can gradually build up in your guitar and affect its appearance and more importantly, its functionality.

How Do You Clean Your Guitar For a Professional Finish? To clean your guitar for a professional finish you need to go through a process of using different techniques when cleaning the different components for the best results.  This includes:

  1. Cleaning The Guitar’s Body
  2. Cleaning the Guitar’s Hardware
  3. Cleaning the strings  
  4. Cleaning the fretboard

In this article, I’m going to bring you the instructions on how to remove dirt from parts of your guitar, including: the body, the fretboard, the strings, and the hardware.

1. Cleaning The Guitar’s Body

Sweat from your hands might leave the guitar’s wood surface with marks of dirt and fingerprints over time no matter how hard you try to keep it clean. But don’t worry, the body of your guitar is probably the easiest part to clean up. However, before you go ahead and bring back its original shiny look, remember to take notice of the type of finish of your guitar’s body, as each type requires certain cleaning techniques.

Note: for all finishes I mention in this part, you can use a lightweight soft cotton cloth to wipe down your guitar’s body. Besides, you must clean finished wood surfaces with cleaning agents that are made specifically to use on guitars, which you can easily find at musical instrument stores.

Polyurethane / Polyester Finish

The most common type of guitar’s finish is polyester or polyurethane, which gives your instrument’s body a fine protection layer and a glossy look. With this finish, it’s super easy to clean your guitar’ surface with any polishes or waxes.

You can choose from a variety of guitar polish products to wipe away dried sweat, dust and grease built up on your guitar’s body. However, remember to avoid applying the liquid directly onto the surface. Instead, spray the cleaning fluid a couple of times onto a soft cloth first, then use it to wipe down the guitar body.

Finally, you can finish its “like-new” look by putting on a light coat of wax, which will later harden on your guitar’s wood surface, forming a great protective barrier and keeping your guitar clean for much longer.

Matte & Satin Finish

One specific feature of matte finish is that spots where your hands and body have the most contact with will gradually turn shiny over time. Therefore, these guitars should be left alone as polishing them can damage the surface. To clean it, it’s best to just use a soft, dry cloth to wipe down the surface very gently and avoid using any cleaning agents.

The same method applies when it comes to cleaning guitars with a satin finish – only a dry cloth should be used.

Nitrocellulose finish

Nitrocellulose is currently the preferred finish on High End and Vintage type guitars. It is considered to be more porous than polyester or polyurethane, which allows a guitar’s wood to “breathe” better.

This finish wears away over time, so only a dampened, soft cloth would suffice to clean it. Make sure you wring the cloth out before applying it on the guitar’s surface, and avoid using any strong polishes on this finish in any circumstances.  

2. Cleaning the Guitar’s Hardware

Cleaning the hardware of your guitar might demand you to be a little bit more careful, as various metal parts on your guitar are prone to corrosion and can turn rusty over time due to both humidity and contact with our sweat. 

Rubbing these parts with a soft cloth is all you need to do to clean them, or you can spray a small amount of guitar polish onto this cloth, then use it to wipe down the hardware. Polish not only removes grimy buildup easily (which a simple wipe won’t do), but also brings the shine back. Make sure there’s no polish residue left on the guitar hardware, as it can corrode the metal parts.

If there are any parts that are corroded badly or super rusty, then it’s best to remove these pieces from your guitar before cleaning them thoroughly so that you won’t damage the guitar finish while applying cleaning substances onto the hardware.

3. Cleaning Guitar’s Strings

Cleaning your guitar’s strings regularly is one of the easiest ways to make it last longer and sound better.

All you need to do to remove all the grime from your strings is apply cleaning lubricants onto a soft washcloth, then lay it on top of the strings and wipe up and down the strings a couple of times from the nut to the bridge. And that’s it!

By doing this simple maintenance task, you can extend the life of your guitar’s strings and therefore, have them changed much less often.

4. Cleaning Guitar’s Fretboard

The Fretboard is probably the guitar part that needs cleaning the most frequently, as its where all the gunk, dirt and sweat often build up.

If your fretboard is just a little dirty, it can be easily cleaned when you wipe down your guitar’s strings thanks to contact with the washcloth. However, if you ever get to clean a really filthy fretboard, then it’s definitely going to need more work than just a simple wipe with a damp cloth.

In this part, I’m going to show you how to clean the fretboard based on its type of wood, as each type requires a different cleaning method.

Note: Remove the guitar strings before cleaning the fretboard.

Rosewood and Ebony Fretboard

When it comes to this type of wood, only use #0000 steel wool for cleaning. It is the finest grade available that can remove any dirt without scratching the wood. 

However, when you use steel wool, its little steel particles are going to fall everywhere and may make your guitar a mess. Therefore, make sure to cover your guitar’s metal parts (especially the pickups) with low-tack masking tape to prevent the small particles from sticking to the magnets before you go head and rub between all frets with #0000 steel wool. You can press the steel wool piece with a little pressure while rubbing to remove the remaining oil, dirt and sweat down in the wood better.

Once you’ve finished rubbing, the steel fibers might have fallen around the fretboard and maybe all over your workplace, so make sure that you clean up every last bit of it before we move to the next step. You can sweep them off or use a vacuum cleaner and make sure that stuff no longer lingers anywhere.

The process of rubbing using steel wool in fact have sucked all moisture out of your fretboard’s surface, so next, we are going to use some fretboard oil on it to rehydrate the wood and bring it to a luster. You can apply this with a soft damp cloth, but remember not to oversaturate the wood.

Finally, go back to the first fret and wipe off any excess oil so that the fretboard will not feel oily then you are done!

Maple Fretboards

Marks of dirt and grease are more visible on Maple fretboards than Rosewood and Ebony boards due to their lighter wood tone. However, it is advised that no fretboard oil should be used on Maple.

So, what should we use? Similar to Rosewood and Ebony, one of the best methods to clean an unfinished Maple fretboard is to use 0000 steel wool. With satin-finished Maple boards, a slightly damp cotton cloth will also do.

However, if you own a glossy Maple board, steel wool is not a wise option as it will essentially knock the gloss off the lacquer and turn your glossy finish into satin. Bear in mind that this kind of finish should be cleaned only with a slightly damp cotton cloth, and nothing other than this.


Putting in some effort to clean your guitar will not only prolong its life, but also save you from having to change its parts often. A clean guitar simply looks awesome and feels better, so it’s always worth giving your guitar a bit of attention, isn’t it?

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