Wipe your guitar strings after every practice

Don’t Forget to Wipe… Your Guitar Strings

Last Updated: August 15, 2017




Wiping your guitar strings, fretboard, and neck after you play is one of the fastest, easiest, and cheapest things you can do to:

  1. Clean your guitar strings so they last longer, sound better, and feel better
  2. Reduce buildup of gunk on your guitar’s fretboard
  3. Reduce the buildup of gunk on the back of the guitar neck

Get in the habit of doing this simple maintenance task, and not only will you have to change your strings less often, you’ll extend the life of your guitar and avoid bigger repair/maintenance bills down the road. When gunk builds up in the porous wood of your fretboard or begins to erode the lacquer (if yours has a lacquered fretboard), it’s a lot more expensive to have cleaned and restored.

How Often Should You Wipe?

As with many things, it depends–on how long you play, how much you sweat, and how dirty your hands were when you sat down to play. For now, let’s assume your hands don’t sweat excessively during play.

Tip: washing your hands before you play (if practical) is just one more measure you can take to extend the life of your strings and guitar.

If you you only play for 15 minutes or less, you can get away with not wiping your strings and neck every single time and/or just use “the okay method” I’ll outline below.

If you play for more than 15 minutes, then you’ll want to give your strings and neck a good wipe after each practice/play session. How thorough you need to be depends on just HOW LONG you play.

The Procedure & Supplies

All you really need is a soft cotton washcloth–the same type you use in the shower. I prefer washcloths over old cotton t-shirts because I feel the little terry cloth loops do a better job of grabbing dirt and debris off the strings and fretboard. Store the towel inside the guitar case, or near wherever you tend to play guitar so that it’s handy when you’re done playing.

You may be wondering about string cleaners. Don’t worry, I’ll talk about those later in this article and recommend a few you can try.

The “Okay” Method

Don’t have much time? This method is not only quick, it won’t knock your guitar out of tune (as does “the best method” covered later). The downside is that it’s simply not as thorough–but definitely better than nothing if you want clean guitar strings.

1. Fold the washcloth into a square:

To clean guitar strings, just use a plain, clean washcloth. No need for fancy wipes or microfiber towels here.

Just use a plain ole (clean) washcloth. No need for fancy wipes or microfiber towels here.

 

2. Lay it on top of the strings, and simply rub up and down the strings 3-4 times… from the nut to the bridge. The fretboard gets some contact with the towel as well, thanks to the terry cloth material:

To clean guitar strings, you don't need to wipe very fast nor press hard. Just light pressure is plenty.

Despite the action blur here, I’m not wiping very fast. You don’t need to press hard either–light pressure is plenty.

 

3. Next, do the same on the back of the guitar neck and you’re done! Put your guitar in it’s case and go on your merry way:

You can use a little more pressure here. Again, all the way up and down the neck 3-4 times is plenty.

You can use a little more pressure here, all the way up and down the neck 3-4 times is plenty. Notice the little yellow sticker on the back of my headstock? That tells me when I last changed my strings (helpful if you have a lot of guitars).

And that’s it! Done! Toss the washcloth in the accessory compartment of your guitar case and go about your day.

The “Best” Method

If you’ve got a little more time, or your strings and fretboard are especially dirty, this is the way to go. NOTE: This will knock your strings a little out of tune, so you’ll have to retune afterward.

1. First, pinch a string in the cloth. Be sure you have a secure grip and pull up slightly:

wiping_best1

 

2. Rub the entire length of the string 2-3 times. Do this one string at a time until you’ve done all strings:

As you get close to the nut (where the strings pass over headstock to the tuning pegs), be careful not to pull the string out of the string groove.

As you get close to the nut (where the strings pass over headstock to the tuning pegs), be careful not to pull the string out of the string groove.

 

3. Next, flatten the washcloth and slip it under all 6 strings. Use the soundhole to make it easier to get the cloth under the strings:

This maneuver gets easier with practice.

This maneuver gets easier with practice.

 

4. Slide it up all the way up and down the neck, from the bridge to the nut, 2-3 times:

Do this setting on the floor--it'll be easier to hold the guitar safely. I'm setting on a chair here, but that's just to make the picture easier. It's actually not practical for a real cleaning. You might drop the guitar if you try doing this while setting on a chair.

Do this setting on the floor or couch–not setting on a chair like I am here. I only did this to pose for the photo, and I nearly dropped my guitar.

 

... slide the cloth all the way to the nut.

… slide the cloth all the way to the nut.

 

... then back to the bridge. Wash, rinse, repeat 2-3 times.

… then back to the bridge. Do this 2-3 times.

 

5. Now, carefully remove the wash cloth from under the strings then go back and spot-clean any areas you feel need extra attention:

As a beginner, you'll probably spend most of your time playing in the lower registers, so this area tends to get the dirtiest and warrants some extra attention.

As a beginner, you’ll probably spend most of your time playing on the lower part of the neck, so this area tends to get the dirtiest and warrants some extra attention.

 

6. Lastly, give the back of the neck a good rub from the headstock to the body 2-3 times.

You can use a little more pressure here. Again, all the way up and down the neck 3-4 times is plenty.

You can use a little more pressure here. Again, all the way up and down the neck 3-4 times is plenty.

 

That’s it, really. That’s all you need for clean guitar strings. Toss the washcloth in the accessory compartment of your guitar case and be on your way.

What About Guitar String Cleaners?

In general, you don’t really need an actual “string cleaner” per se. If your strings are 4-6 months old and are really dirty, it’s usually better to just change your strings.

However, string cleaners aren’t a gimmick. They do actually work and are a good option if you want to squeeze every last bit of life out of your strings or otherwise avoid having to change them for a very long time. Here are 3 guitar string cleaners that I’ve tried, and all work equally well and are pretty easy/convenient to use:

Music Nomad String Fuel Cleaner and Lubricant

Music Nomad String Fuel Cleaner & Lubricant

GHS Fast Fret String Cleaner and Lubricant

GHS Fast Fret String Cleaner & Lubricant

Dunlop Ultraglide 65 String Cleaner and Conditioner

Dunlop Ultraglide String Cleaner & Conditioner

 

How Do YOU Clean Your Strings?

Do you clean your strings at all? If so, do you use a string cleaner, or some other method? I’d love to hear how you keep your strings clean and shiny, so let me know in the comments below.

 

2 replies
  1. Matt Williams
    Matt Williams says:

    We recently started recycling our old bath towels that we would have otherwise thrown out – making them into a replacement for kitchen paper. We keep it in a roll in the kitchen and it has poppers at each end so you can make a continuous roll. It turns out that old towels are a great material because it’s so absorbent, and I think it might be the ideal material to keep your fretboard clean too. We sew bias binding all the way round the edge of each piece because otherwise the towelling starts to fall apart.

    Reply
    • Guitar Answer Guy
      Guitar Answer Guy says:

      Soft cotton bath towels, washcloths, etc. are great for wiping fretboards and necks–which is exactly what I’m using in my photos in this post. I like the “terry” material because I feel the little loops get down into the grain of rosewood better.

      Reply

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