How to Clean Guitar Strings


Authored by Sharon Roney in Music 
Published on 10-22-2009

If you are strapped for cash, time, or a nearby music store, cleaning your guitar strings can help extend the life of your strings so you can get through your next gig or practice. For those guitarists with the tendency to get pretty sweaty during shows, cleaning your guitar strings can also help extend the life of your strings by removing those lovely sweat-dirt stalactites from their undersides.

Cleaning guitar strings is a pretty simple process and basically consists of just wiping them down, focusing on the underside. Some people loosen their strings to be able to reach the underside more effectively, but some attempt a cleaning tactic that tries to keep the guitar in tune. Either way you’ll want to tune your guitar before you start playing again so loosening your strings is completely the player’s choice. If you want to clean and condition your fret board at the same time, you’ll probably need to loosen the strings.

You’ve got quite a few options as to what sort of cleaner you can use. Some recommend string cleaning products that are made and marketed for the purpose of cleaning guitar strings, but most long time guitarists simply use rubbing alcohol or WD40, or even water. With any of the household items it’s important to keep the substance away from the rest of your guitar – especially water. You can ensure this easily by not using too much of the liquid on whatever cloth you are using and being careful with your application. The cleaning agent you use can affect the way your strings feel post-cleaning. If you want oiled, slippery strings use a branded string cleaner or the WD40. If you don’t like the oily feeling, use the rubbing alcohol or water.

For those who loosen their strings, simply put a little bit of your preferred cleaning product on a cotton cloth, wrap it around the top and bottom of the entire set of strings or, if you prefer, one string at a time, and rub up and down the length of the string. You’ll notice that your string appears brighter and that the dirt will rub off on the cloth. Simply tighten and re-tune and you will be ready to play.

For those who want to keep retuning to a minimum, balance your guitar on a headstock holder or a book or block of some kind so that the tuners are not touching the ground. Moisten a thin cotton cloth slightly with your cleaning agent and slide it under the strings. Take hold of the cloth on each side of the guitar neck and lift up slightly to get some sort of friction between the cloth and the guitar strings. Run the cloth down the length of the guitar neck and repeat as necessary until you are satisfied with the cleanliness of the strings. Then wipe the top of the guitar strings with your cloth and check your tuning before playing.

Many guitar players simply change their strings when they start to get dirty. Strings are inexpensive and the sound of new guitar strings can be quite different from the sound of older strings. Much of the time the sound of guitar strings distorts before the strings even have a chance to get that dirty. That being said, cleaning your guitar strings has its place for people who have string cleaner laying around but no cash or desire to drive to a music store, or those guitarists who are very physical when they play.

You’ll find guitarists who believe in cleaning and those who don’t. Test the waters for yourself and see if you like the way your guitar strings feel and sound after cleaning as opposed to just putting on a new set. Sound is everything, and your sound is your choice; always remember that.


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