Can Dust Damage a Guitar?

Even if you play your guitar regularly, it’s bound to build up dust. 

The question is whether you should be concerned about the effects of dust on your instrument.

Overall, dust doesn’t damage your guitar. It builds up and can feel odd on your fretboard, but that won’t damage it. The only exception is in how you remove dust from your guitar since some methods recommended online could do more harm than good.

Dust is still an abrasive substance to a degree and wiping dust off your guitar’s body can cause small scratches if you don’t take proper care. 

Read on to find out more about how to handle dust build-up on your prized possession.

What are the most sensitive parts to dust on a guitar?

The most sensitive parts of your guitar are the moving parts, but depending on how you store your guitar, you can prevent dust buildup.

Storing your guitar in its case when not in use will keep dust build-up to a minimum if you worry about it. For the most part, you can leave your guitar on its stand and it’ll be fine.

The first place I notice dust build-up tends to be the fretboard and strings and while it makes playing a little more difficult, removing the dust is as simple as wiping everything down gently with a soft microfibre cloth.

When you change strings, you should check the nut and bridge saddle for dust build-up as these two areas can affect the longevity of your strings.

The tuning pegs on your guitar, being that they’re moving mechanical parts, can be susceptible to dust-related problems. The best way to handle this is to give them a check from time to time and wipe them down.

You may think that electronic parts are susceptible to dust damage and usually that is the case, but most of the electronics on a guitar are stored inside the body. 

The last part to keep dust-free would be the pickups on your guitar. While dust won’t destroy your pickups, the excessive buildup can lessen their ability to receive vibrations from your strings. 

Can dust buildup affect a guitar’s performance?

Not really.

However, excessive buildup of dust and grime on your guitar is never something you should welcome. Too much dust can lead to grime and rust, which will at least affect the tone of your guitar pickups over time.

More important is how you remove dust from the pickups. There are bits of advice floating on the internet that recommend using steel wool to remove dust and then using magnets to pick up the leftover steel shavings.

Don’t do either of these! Steel wool can scratch your guitar and the shavings can get into all sorts of places, you may also affect the polarity of your pickups while scrubbing them.

The same can be said for the use of a magnet, it will change the polarity or demagnetize your pickups and render them useless. Don’t follow this advice.

Can dust damage a guitar body?

Dust can cause tiny scratches on the finish of your guitar if you’re not careful. You’re actually better off avoiding wiping it with a cloth in this case. The cloth will just rub the dust over your body and cause those small scratches we talked about.

A better option is to use pressurized air to remove the dust. You can get cans of pressurized air with extended nozzles and use those to blow the dust off when it builds up.

After you’ve blown the majority of the dust off, you can then safely wipe it down gently with a microfibre cloth.

How to prevent dust from building up on your guitar?

Other than just caring for your guitar, you can buy guitar polish, but try to get a wax and silicone-free one. You also get polishes for the fretboard which moisturize the wood there as well.

I’ve seen a recommendation to use Mist-N-Shine by Wizards on Quora. The claim was that it kills static to keep the guitars from attracting dust, however, this is something you’d be trying at your own risk.

The last product is what’s called a Ghost Cover. They’re made of Tyvek, a soft, breathable, tear-resistant, non-woven fabric and the covers come in a shape that sits nicely over any guitar. They’re a nice alternative to having to stick your guitar in its case all the time.

The absolute best way to prevent dust on your guitar though is to always be playing it. 

How to clean a dusty guitar?

So there are some products on the market that help to prevent dust build-up on your guitar, but before you buy anything, there are a few general maintenance tips you can use to make dust build-up less likely:

  • Store your guitar in its case when you’re not playing (it’s cumbersome, but it works).
  • Wipe your strings down with some alcohol after you’re done playing, this will remove dust and help them last longer.
  • Wipe down your guitar whenever you change your strings.

There are a couple of places we often don’t think to clean, because they’re pretty small and out of the way, but these places are just as important to keep clean.

For one, you should keep your guitar nut clean. Whenever you replace the strings, wipe the grooves of the nut down gently and when you lay the strings in, run them through the groove a few times to gently remove dust they may have built up in there.

This will help your strings last longer.

The frets and fretboard are other common places where dirt builds up and there are a couple of good videos on cleaning them.

This one is from Gibson: 

this one is for Rosewood fretboards: 

I hope this has helped provide some clarity on dust and its effects on your guitar and also given you some guidance on how best to treat dust.