There’s nothing like a fresh set of guitar strings. They feel great, sound great, and hold their tuning well. But, over time, dirt and grime builds up on your strings causing them to become dirty, and eventually rust and break.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Simply taking two minutes to clean your strings before and after playing will keep them fresh and sounding better for longer.
To me, it’s a no-brainer. But, you’d be surprised at how few people clean their guitar strings. In fact, no one I know does – but, I bet every single one of them wishes that their strings lasted longer!
In this guide, I’ll teach you my method for how to clean your guitar strings, including my top tips to make them last even longer.
Affiliate disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links for products that I’ve tried and tested. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. Learn more here.
Why do guitar strings get dirty?
Before we tackle cleaning your strings, it’s important to understand what causes them to get dirty in the first place.
Everytime you play your guitar, any dirt or sweat from your hands transfers onto the strings. Over time, this builds up to form a sticky, grimey coating.
While your hands are the main problem, how you store your guitar is another key factor. Leaving your guitar out of its case between playing exposes it to dust, which settles on the strings. Again, this mixes with your sweat to form even more grime.
Take a quick look at your guitar’s fretboard. If you’ve not cleaned it in a while, you’ll see this yucky build up wherever you play most!
Gross, right? Not only is it unsightly, but it also affects how your guitar sounds and feels to play. Moisture from the sweat causes your strings to rust, which makes your guitar sound dull and lack sustain, and eventually snap. Likewise, dirt builds up between the coils of your wound strings, stopping them from fully ringing out.
So, do yourself a favor and take the two minutes needed to clean your guitar strings. Your guitar (and hands) will thank you for it!
How to clean your guitar strings
Cleaning your guitar strings is super simple, and takes no time at all. But, you need to use the right tools for the job.
It’s very important not to use household cleaners or water. Household cleaners are either wax based (like furniture polish) which builds up and dulls your strings, or contain harsh chemicals which will damage the strings. Water is also a big problem for strings as it speeds up the rusting process.
So, only use products that are designed for cleaning guitar strings.
To clean your strings, you’ll need the following:
- A lint-free microfiber cloth
- A guitar string cleaning product (e.g. GHS Fast Frets)
Make sure that the cloth you use is lint-free. Otherwise, small pieces of lint will get caught in-between the coils of your strings and dull their sound – exactly what we’re trying to prevent!
For the cleaner, I recommend using GHS Fast Frets. I’ve used Fast Frets as part of my cleaning process for around 10 years.
It’s specially designed to both clean and lubricate your strings, which not only removes dirt, but also protects the string against grime. It’s also pretty cheap and will last you a while. You can pick up a bottle here on Amazon.
- Before playing your guitar, wipe down the top and underside of your strings with a clean, lint-free microfiber cloth
- After you’ve finished playing, wipe down both sides of the strings again with your cloth
- Then, apply your guitar polish to your strings and wipe them down firmly to remove loosened dirt and any excess cleaner
Pretty easy, right? The tricky part is actually getting into the habit of doing it!
Ideally, you’d do this every time you pick up and put down your guitar – but I know that this isn’t always possible. As long as you clean your strings every few plays, you’ll help to prevent and remove at least some of the built up grime (I find it helpful to keep my cleaning supplies on top of my guitar case to remind me!).
But, there’s only so much a clean will do. If your strings are already rusty, then there’s no saving them. It’s time to take them off and swap them out for a new set. Once you’ve done that, follow this easy cleaning routine and you’ll get much more life out them.
Pro tip: Washing your hands before you play and storing your guitar in its case after playing will help make your strings last even longer.
Boiling bass strings
Bass strings are more expensive than guitar strings, so understandably players want to get even more life out of them.
One way players have done this over the years is to remove the strings and place them in boiling water. According to Sweetwater.com, leaving them in the water for 10-15 minutes is enough to remove the dirt and refresh the string, giving it a cleaner, punchier sound.
If you do this, make sure to use the proper safety precautions around boiling water, such as using tongs. Also, make sure to thoroughly dry your strings afterwards, at a low temperature in your oven for 10-15 minutes.
Personally, I’ve never had the need to boil my bass strings. Instead, I focus on wiping them down before and after playing. This prevents the dirt build up in the first place and helps get more life out of them. Also, boiling your strings won’t fix any existing damage – it might even make it worse!
Frequently asked questions
Conor is a music producer, multi-instrumentalist, and all-round enthusiast from the UK with over 15 years of experience. He’s the founder and sole-content creator for the roundtable audio blog and YouTube channel.