How Often Should You Clean Your Guitar?

Guitar maintenance is an important part of owning a guitar and possibly something you’re not too familiar with. It’s not rocket science, but there’s always debate about how often you should be cleaning your guitar.

You should clean your guitar after every session if you have the time. If you can’t clean it that regularly then set time aside at least once a week to clean your guitar.

That’s the general answer at least, but what about specific parts of your guitar? Does every part of your guitar require the same level of care and maintenance? Read on to find out.

Should you wipe your guitar after playing?

Yes. You should wipe your guitar after playing if you can.

A lot of gunk gets onto your guitar while you play, whether it’s oils and dirt from your fingers or a spilled beverage (hopefully not the latter). Even the smoke floating around in your garage on stage at your gig is a contaminant that sticks to your guitar.

All of these contaminants speed up the degradation of your guitar and they’re best taken care of regularly. 

You can’t wipe your guitar with just anything though, you should wipe different the different elements of your guitar with different materials:

  • Strings, neck, and bridge- use a lint-free cloth
  • Metal parts – wipe with a soft, dry polishing cloth
  • Finished wood surfaces (the body of your instruments)- clean with cleaning agents specifically made for guitar

How often should you clean the strings of your guitar?

It sounds so simple, but you should clean your strings every time you’re done playing. It’s a best practice that seems obvious, I’ll admit that I don’t do it that often, but here’s why we should:

Your strings also gather moisture and dirt when you play and it’s a lot easier to clean that before it dries and hardens. That debris also hastens the deadening of your string tone, so cleaning your strings will keep them sounding brighter for longer.

A microfibre cloth is ideal for this as it doesn’t leave behind lint as other clothes will. 

If you’ve been leaving your strings to turn green, you can get that old gunk off by using a bit of guitar string cleaner on a slightly damp cloth. Just remember to dry your strings off once you’re done cleaning them so they don’t rust.

Don’t use household cleaner, get the right stuff and you’ll be glad you did.

How often should you clean your guitar’s fretboard?

We’ve gone over this in quite a lot of detail in another article, even covering how to do this 

In short, most guitar manufacturers recommend cleaning your guitar every six months with a specialty guitar oil. You can go for a year without cleaning it if you want to, but you shouldn’t leave it longer than that.

You also shouldn’t clean your fretboard (or at least not oil it) more regularly than every six months. You can oversaturate your fretboard like that which is just as bad.

How often should you clean your guitar’s pickup?

You don’t need to clean your pickups too often, but as far as good practice goes, cleaning your pickups whenever you change your strings tends to work the best. 

If you change your strings once a year like a savage does, then the timeframe is every three months for guitar pickups.

So how often to clean your pickups is easy, but the question is how to do so without damaging them? They’re an electrical component after all.

The best approach is to use a dry to semi-damp cloth to wipe the most easily accessible parts and then use compressed air to get into the tight nooks. 

If your pickup has to gather rust you can use a metal rust remover, but check that you get something non-abrasive like Evapo-Rust.

How often should you clean your guitar’s hardware?

Guitar hardware refers to all the moving parts on your guitar like bridges, saddles, tuning pegs, knobs, pickup rings, screws, pickguards, strap buttons, and so on.

These parts probably go unchecked for a guitar’s entire lifespan, but they need love and attention too. You should make cleaning your guitar hardware a part of your guitar’s weekly cleaning routine.

Most of these parts are metal so they can be cleaned with a microfibre cloth, but for parts like the bridge or the insides of the tuning pegs, you should use compressed air to blow dust out. 

Would anything bad happen if you don’t clean your guitar?

Wear and tear is often just the symptom of poor maintenance. Think of it like cleaning a room, if you do it regularly, it’s a small task and things look good and last forever. If you leave it to get too dirty, the task becomes herculean and damage can become irreversible.

For the most part, you’ll wind up with a grimey guitar, which isn’t too bad if you’re comfortable playing on grime, but it becomes a real issue when the dust becomes rust and tuning pegs stick because they’ve gone unlubricated.

That being said, don’t be overzealous about cleaning your guitar, it’s also possible to love her to death. Don’t use cleaning liquid and water on your guitar and don’t use weird stuff that you saw on a video made by some guy in a poorly lit basement.

I’ll be more specific:

  • Don’t use steel wool to clean your guitar except for ultra-fine 0000 wool and only for your fretboard, try to keep it away from anywhere else (steel wool will scratch the finish)
  • Don’t use magnets to pick up steel shavings (you’ll demagnetize your pickups if you get magnets anywhere near them)
  • Don’t use grease to oil your fretboard (for obvious reasons)
  • Don’t use industrial-strength cleaners that are meant for cars to clean your guitar (they’re a lot more abrasive and will damage your guitar)

Lastly, don’t cut corners with keeping your baby in good health. Some of the name-brand stuff can be pretty pricey and sometimes there are cheaper alternatives, but often they’re a risk you shouldn’t take with your guitar.