How To Clean A Guitar Fretboard With Household Items

The Guitar Songs Masters Editorial Team

(Last Updated On: April 14, 2022)

When you buy a new guitar, it’s an exciting way to start new music lessons if you’re a beginner and explore various playing styles and songs. 

While it’s generally easy to wipe down the guitar body with a microfiber cloth, the fretboard requires a bit more care to ensure it doesn’t become covered in dust and debris.

It's relatively easy to clean your guitar’s fretboard with some easy-to-find household items, so you don’t have to invest in expensive cleaning equipment and solutions for quality guitar maintenance. There are a few essential items you’ll need when you get ready to clean a guitar fretboard, such as:

  • Cotton swabs and tips are essential for reaching in between the strings and the smaller parts of the fretboard. These allow you to reach without using your fingers, so you can easily remove and wipe down dust and build-up in these spots
  • You don’t need any cleaners, dish soap, or solutions, as cotton swabs and Q-tips work sufficiently with warm water to remove dust and dirt. There is an added risk if you use rubbing alcohol or chemicals, even if they appear to work more effectively than plain water, because they can damage or ruin the fretboard and guitar body over time.
  • Vegetable oil soap (not the oil used for cooking or frying) is a great option to clean your guitar. This product is typically made with coconut, water, and plant-based ingredients, generally safe for your instrument, and it’s ideal for polishing the wood body of your guitar.
  • In small quantities, Lemon oil is another excellent option for guitar fretboards.
  • Mineral oil is good if your fretboard is clean of any gunk. Before replacing each guitar string, you can use mineral oil. Apply a small amount of mineral oil to a dry paper towel or soft cloth and wipe it over the surface. Mineral oil can be used to wipe the frets.

Mineral oil is very gentle on wood and can work wonders for moisturizing your fretboard.

Items to Avoid When Cleaning Your Fretboard

A few items should be avoided entirely when it comes to guitar maintenance, as these products may damage your guitar fretboards and impact sound quality. 

  • Bleach can easily damage your fretboard and guitar and should be avoided to prevent this from happening. If you’re planning to change the color of your fretboard with bleach or a lightening agent, it’s best to consult with a music instrument professional that can recommend which options are best for this purpose.
  • Distilled vinegar may seem harmless, as it is natural and works well to clean many surfaces, which is mostly accurate. Distilled vinegar should be avoided when cleaning your guitar due to the pungent odor that lingers long after maintaining your instrument, which can be off-putting and difficult to remove.
  • Acetone is a powerful cleaner, though it can be harsh against your guitar’s fretboard and cause damage. While some guitarists may use it sparingly, it’s best to skip this option and stick with a mild vegetable oil soap and water.
  • You should not use steel wool on a maple fretboard with a glossy finish. Steel wood used on any surface can cause it to become hazy. If you have to use steel wool, only use 0000-grade steel wool. 
  • Furniture polish should also be avoided. Furniture polish can easily dry out any exposed wood. It can cause cracking and other kinds of damage to your guitar. It can also permanently stain parts of your guitar. 

Steel wool products – avoid these.

Step-By-Step Process to Clean Your Guitar’s Fretboard

  1. Choose a flat, clean, and dry surface to place your guitar. Place a clean cloth or towel underneath. It’s essential to ensure no items can damage or scratch your guitar during the cleaning process. Also, make sure there is plenty of room to place equipment and cleaning supplies required.
  2. Gently remove all the strings from the guitar and place them on a cloth or paper towel. You may decide to keep them in place if you’re not looking too deep to clean your fretboard, though it’s best to remove each guitar string to ensure full access to clean all dirt and debris.
  3. If you notice any build-up or debris around the fretboard, you can gently remove them with a cloth or plastic card. 
  4. If desired, use a cotton swab or Q-tip, wet with water and a bit of soap, and gently wipe down the fretboard. You’ll want to ensure that any significant build-up is removed entirely before wiping the more delicate parts of this section.
  5. If you have a specific product recommended by a music instrument store, such as a fretboard conditioner, this is ideal for applying once you’ve thoroughly completed cleaning your fretboard. It’s important to avoid using any sprays or additional products, as this can cause dirt and dust to stick to the guitar and fretboard.

To keep your guitar clean between uses, also remember to clean your hands before playing. This is something not many people think to do. However, simply cleaning your hands before playing can go a long way in eliminating sweat and oil from ruining your guitar's finish. 

Sometimes you should also take some time after playing for some easy and quick guitar maintenance. Use a clean cloth and wipe down the areas you touch the most. This will help keep your guitar in great shape.

Finally, a good guitar polish can make your guitar look better. Find a guitar polish that contains pure carnauba wax because it is the safest. 

A guitar polish like this one from Dunlop can add a nice finishing touch to your maintenance session every once in a while.

Summary

It’s relatively easy to clean your guitar’s fretboard, and you’ll find it’s only necessary once every two weeks. If you travel, play frequently, and store your guitar in various climates or places, you’ll want to invest in a well-padded storage case and a fret guard to protect your fretboard. 

With just a few items from home, you’ll find it’s simple to keep your guitar’s fretboard in excellent condition, which ultimately improves your instrument’s life and durability over time. In the long term, you’ll save time and money with a quick and easy care routine.

The Guitar Songs Masters Editorial Team

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