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How to Clean and Polish a Guitar

Step by Step With Photos

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Last Updated: January 7, 2018


If you want to
learn to do you
386 " 374 # 12 $ own basic guitar
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care and
maintenance,
you’ve come to
the right place.
Before you squirt any polish on your guitar,
I’m here to teach
you need to clean it first. you how to work
on and maintain
your own guitar
Wait! Don’t squirt polish on that guitar yet!
and show you
Revolutionary concept, right? what the best
tools and
Well, if this was common sense I wouldn’t be products are, but
also let you
seeing legions of people, day after day,
know when you
reaching for a bottle of guitar polish to “clean” really should
their guitars. take it to a pro
instead. [More
About Me]
If there’s any significant dust or dirt sitting
on your guitar’s glossy (or satin) finish, you’re
just going to smear it around–essentially
micro-sanding your lacquer or, worse, NEED
outright scratching it. This is why dark- SOME
HELP?
colored guitars can develop dull, hazy areas
after a few years of well-intentioned
polishing.

So, don’t use a guitar polish as your very first


(or only) step in cleaning. First, remove any
significant dust, dirt, sweat, and oils. In this
post, I’ll show you how easy (and cheap) it is
to clean your guitar without any specialized
cleaners.

Behold! Lurking Dust and


Dirt
So, that guitar in the photo up there? The
surface looks pretty clean, doesn’t it? Seems
like it would be safe to just spritz on some
polish and give it a quick wipe, right? Don’t
count on it. Let’s remove the strings and
adjust the lighting so you can see exactly
what’s lurking on that seemingly clean
finish:
Get that otherwise clean-looking guitar under the right light
and all kinds of crap is revealed. Not only did I find a ton of
dust, I found a small metal flake, dog hairs, and a smudge from
my dog’s nose. And this is just the front of the guitar!

Whoa! If I’d just squirted guitar polish on


there, I’d have been smearing all that stuff
around on my finish. The dusty stuff and dog
hair probably wouldn’t have done any
obvious damage that could be seen with the
naked eye, but that mysterious flake of metal
definitely would’ve scratched my pristine,
glossy finish.
Quick Note About “Natural”
Wood Finishes
The basic cleaning method I’ll outline here is
for guitars that have a hard gloss or
matte/satin lacquer finish of some sort. If
your guitar has what appears to be a natural
finish, skip to the end–to the section titled “If
Your Guitar Has a Natural Finish.” You do
NOT want to use water or cleaning products
on a guitar that has some type of natural
(non lacquer) finish, because they can soak
right into the wood and permanently stain it.

Cleaning Your Guitar’s


Finish
I’m not going to go into heavy-duty, advanced
cleaning or finish restoration techniques in
this article. This outlines “basic cleaning” of
a guitar that’s dusty, smudged with
fingerprints, and may have some minor
sweat and oil build up where you’re forearm
and hands have been touching it. I also won’t
be covering fretboard cleaning. That’ll be
another blog post… coming soon.

The Supplies You’ll Need

Despite all the great guitar products on the


market, you probably already own (or were
born with) everything you’ll need for basic
guitar cleaning:
Bottled water. Home-filtered water may
work too, I’ve just never personally tried it.

Cleaning cloth. I prefer the a microfiber


cloth for its high pile and extra softness.

A very soft-bristle brush. I love my Music


Nomad Tool (pictured here), but a sable
makeup brush works well too.

Your hot breath. Don’t worry, I’ll explain


below.

Saliva. Seriously, stay with me here.

Really, this is all you need for basic cleaning. Bottled water, a
microfiber cloth, and a very soft-bristle brush. I use the Music
Nomad String, Body, & Hardware Tool.

1. Remove Loose Dust and Dirt

Remove your guitar strings and use a very


soft brush to gently sweep over the entire
guitar to remove larger particles of loose dust
and dirt. Be sure you get between the pickups
(if it’s an electric guitar) and between all the
tuning pegs. Use the bristles to get down into
little crevices and corners.

I want to clarify what I mean when I say “soft


brush.” A standard paintbrush from the
hardware store just won’t do here–regardless
of how soft they may feel to you. My favorite
type of bristle is soft, natural sable. For years,
I used a women’s makeup brush–the biggest
type, which I think is used to apply blush.

Or, an even better tool is the Music Nomad


String, Body, and Hardware cleaning Tool. It’s
actually 2 cleaning tools in one, and I love
mine for sweeping away dust and dirt, as
well as getting into hard-to-reach places
while the strings are still on the guitar.

One note of caution: because they’re so fine,


these sable brushes can occasionally shed a
bristle here and there. If this happens, just
blow them off the guitar before moving on.

So, grab that brush:

Grab your soft-bristle brush and get ready to go to town.


Sweep briskly over all areas, regardless of
whether you can actually see dust or not. Be
sure to sweep the dust all the way off the
edge of the guitar–don’t just blindly flail the
brush around:

Take advantage of the soft bristles to get into


little cracks and crevices. On Strat-style
electric guitars, don’t forget to dust inside the
guitar’s horns:

Don’t forget about your guitar’s headstock.


Use the bristles to get between the tuners on
both the front and back of the guitar’s
headstock:

2. Remove Remaining (Stubborn) Gunk

Now that we’ve removed all the loose stuff,


let’s remove any remaining fingerprints,
sweat, and oils (and, in my case, a dog’s nose-
print).

This is where your microfiber cloth, hot


breath, water, and maybe even a little spit
come in. However, never spit on someone
else’s guitar. That’s just gross. Only use saliva
when cleaning your own guitar.

When removing stuck-on gunk with a cloth,


don’t use a rubbing or buffing motion–we’ll
do that later. At this stage, use the microfiber
cloth in a “scooping” motion, like this:
Don’t rub or buff yet. Use a scooping motion to safely LIFT and
pick up dirt.

I like to try using the cloth completely dry


first, but I’ll occasionally fog spots with my
hot breath. 90% of the time, simply fogging a
dirty spot then immediately removing the
condensation with a microfiber cloth will
remove the gunk:

A microfiber cloth and your hot breath are often ALL you need
to clean a guitar.

If that’s not working and you’ve got


something that’s really refusing to let go,
slightly dampen a spot on the cloth with a bit
of bottled water. Let me emphasize again:
slightly damp.

1. Wet a microfiber cloth with bottled water.


2. The cloth should only be slightly damp.
3. Blot the damp spot against a dry spot on the towel.
4. Use the damp towel in a scooping motion to remove gunk

Finally, if water isn’t doing the trick, you can


moisten the cloth with a bit of your saliva.
Though it grossed you out, mom was onto
something when she licked her finger and
wiped that sticky smudge off your cheek.
Saliva is nature’s universal gunk remover,
and it makes a pretty good solvent for
removing organic buildup like the sweat and
oils.

Continue this routine until you’ve removed


all obvious dust, sweat, and oil from the
guitar. Once you’ve done that, it’s now safe to
give your guitar a light buffing with a
different/clean microfiber cloth. Once all
that’s done, THEN it’s safe to use your
favorite guitar polish.
Okay, NOW You Can Polish
Your Guitar (Gloss Finishes)
NOW you can safely apply your favorite
guitar polish. However, I generally advise
using polish only a few times a year (about
every 3-4 months if you play your guitar a
lot). My favorite polish for gloss finishes is
Music Nomad’s Guitar One
Cleaner/Polish/Wax. However, if you’re guitar
has a matte or satin finish, you’ll want to use
Music Nomad’s Guitar Detailer for Matte &
Gloss Finishes instead.

For polishing my glossy finish, I’m using Music Nomad Guitar


One and my favorite type of polishing rag: a well-washed
cotton cloth baby diaper. If your guitar has a matte/satin finish,
you’ll want to use Music Nomad Guitar Detailer instead.

If Your Guitar Has a Natural


Finish
As I mentioned at the beginning of this
article, do not use water, polish, or cleaners
(or saliva) on your guitar if it has a “natural”
finish. Though these natural finishes have
been sealed with an oil or oil-varnish
mixture, it only gives the wood a basic level
of protection. This means that whatever you
put on the wood could potentially find its
way in… permanently.

Now, I
Sweat and oil stains from my forearm and
love a fingers. Any attempt to remove these will just
make those areas lighter or darker than the
natural
surrounding wood.
finish,
but over time the areas that come into
frequent contact with your body will begin to
discolor (get darker), and there’s not a whole
lot you can do about it. You can use a dry
microfiber cloth to wipe the guitar down after
you play, but that’s about it. Sometimes, plain
(clear) mineral oil can be used to remove
superficial stains on smaller areas. However,
just about anything you use to try and
remove stains from a natural finish can
potentially make that spot darker or lighter
than the surrounding areas.

This is just the nature of natural finishes. If


you buy a guitar with a natural finish, do so
accepting the fact that the guitar is going to
pick up some mojo over the years. Be proud
of that mojo.

Final Thoughts
Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security
and think you can use JUST guitar polish as
a cleaner. You might get away with it for
awhile, but eventually it’ll bite you–as your
guitar gradually develops a dull haze or very
fine scratches that you can’t remove.

But what about the products labelled as


“cleaners” you ask? After all, the Music
Nomad Guitar One I recommend here says
it’s an all-in-one cleaner, polish, and wax.
What the heck? Technically, you can use the
Guitar One product as a cleaner, but you
should still dust-off your guitar first. Then,
when you’re using the Guitar One to do the
heavy cleaning, just be sure to use the
“scooping” motion I outlined above. That’ll
ensure you’re lifting dirt off the guitar, and
not just smearing it around.

Send Me Your Questions


What questions did I leave unanswered? Let
me know in the comments section down
below and I’ll do my best to help ya out.

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14
REPLIES

Barbanne
October 21, 2019 at 5:38 PM

Hi there I hope you can help. I wish

I read your post first. I cleaned my

gloss acoustic guitar the way you

said I shouldn’t have. So basically

now I have a haze that’s been

rubbed in. The haze was from my

arm leaning on guitar while

playing it. So not knowing better I

used a Martin guitar polish and


rubbed the grime in. Im so upset.

Can you pleeeaasse help? I sure

hope there’s a fix that I can do

myself. Thanks so much in

advance. Barbara

Reply

Guitar Answer Guy


October 22, 2019 at 6:26 PM

Hi Barb. I received your email

and replied, so get back to me

and hopefully we can get this

resolved. Once I know the

nature of this “haze” you’re

describing, we can go from

there.

Reply

Adam
October 4, 2019 at 7:09 AM

Hi there! Thanks for the article. If

you have a moment to answer

some questions, I’d be much

obliged!

1) Can the Guitar One be used for

cleaning the fretboard?

2) Can it also be used to remove

oxidation from pickups?

3) On the Music Nomad website it

says that Guitar Polish is good for

removing oxidation from metal


elements, but can it also be used

for cleaning the body of the guitar?

How about the fretboard?

Too many products out there!

Thanks!

Reply

Guitar Answer Guy


October 4, 2019 at 3:31 PM

Hi Adam. Here are the

answers to those questions:

1. You shouldn’t use the

Guitar One on your fretboard,

unless your fretboard is

covered in thick, shiny

lacquer (like some Strats are)

and the lacquer hasn’t been

worn through in any spots. If

your fretboard is like most,

it’s essentially bare wood,

and in that case you should

use Music Nomad F-One

Fretboard Oil instead. I love

that stuff for fretboards, and

talk about it in many places

throughout this website.

Highly recommended.

2. I don’t know if the Guitar

One is the best for pickup

oxidation. I do use it on my

metal parts, but mine aren’t

badly oxidized. Guitar One is


more of a gentle, all-around

cleaner for glossy parts that

aren’t heavily soiled. If your

pickups are badly oxidized,

use the Pro Strength Guitar

Polish for those instead.

3. Yes, the Pro Strength

Guitar Polish can definitely

be used for cleaning the body,

but it’s slightly more

aggressive than their Guitar

One cleaner. So, only use it on

a very dirty guitar, and only

once or twice a year. For the

fretboard, what I said in #1

above applies here too. If you

have a glossy, lacquered

fretboard, you can use polish

on it. Otherwise, use the F-

One Oil instead for the

fretboard.

If you’re unsure whether your

fretboard is lacquered or not,

get in touch with me through

my contact form and I’ll give

you my email address to

send me a photo of your

fretboard, and I’ll let you

know for sure.

Reply
Adam
October 5, 2019 at 12:02
AM

Holy cow! Thank you

so much for such a

quick reply! I guess

their line of products

has some overlaps…

they advertise the

Guitar Polish, the

Detailer, and the

Guitar One as

cleaning and

polishing products

and there’s not a

whole lot of

difference between

them based on the

description on their

website.

Thanks again!

P.S. Do you happen to

answer questions

about music

theory/harmony?

Reply

Guitar
Answer
Guy
October 5, 2019
at 2:26 PM

As much as I
enjoy playing

guitar, I’d

classify

myself as

“just okay.”

I’m primarily

an ear player

and definitely

not qualified

to teach. My

theory

knowledge is

pretty

minimal too,

I’m afraid.

Reply

Joe
June 26, 2018 at 9:07 PM

hello,Bobby..a very great article

here..thanks..but i would like to

ask few questions:

1.after applying that nomad guitar

one..considering that it has

cleaner, polish and wax..do we still

need to apply nomad guitar polish

and guitar wax? i want to remove

minor scratch on my guitar body

and then protect the finish too..

so,can “guitar one” alone

accomplish those tasks or should i


buy also the guitar polish and

carnauba?

2. have u tried planet waves 3

steps..if u have, how is it compared

to nomad’s products?

thx u so much..

with regards,Joe

Reply

Guitar Answer Guy


June 27, 2018 at 8:04 PM

The Guitar One is meant to be

an all-in-one, so you wouldn’t

need to follow it with a

separate wax. It already has

wax in the formula, so it

shines and protects. I

personally don’t use it to

“clean”… unless my guitar’s

not very dirty. If my guitar’s

pretty dirty, I like to clean

first with water and/or hot

breath, and then finish the

whole job with the Guitar One

to put the finishing shine on

and leave a protective layer.

However, Guitar One won’t

remove scratches. For that,

you’ll need something more

aggressive like a fine buffing

compound or swirl remover,

but you have to be careful


with those, as they actually

remove a microscopic

amount of finish. If used

incorrectly, they can leave a

hazy spot where you rubbed.

Sometimes, you have to use

multiple grits (each

successively finer) to first

remove the scratch, then get

the lacquer back to an even,

mirror-like shine.

Can you describe to me how

big/deep this scratch is? Can

you actually feel it when you

(carefully and lightly) run

your fingernail over it?

Once I have a better idea of

how bad this scratch is, I can

tell you what kind of product

you can try. If it’s a really

deep scratch, it may not be

something you can do

yourself.

I’ve not tried the Planet

Waves 3-step system, so I

can’t say whether it’s any

good or not.

Reply

joe
June 30, 2018 at 9:34 AM
hi,thx u so much for

the reply..

i can’t feel it with my

fingers..however, i

can see it only if i

bring it under the

light..oh,btw,the color

is black.

anyway,i asked Rand

and he said that his

“guitar polish” can

help remove minor

scratch..so,i want to

give it a try too

actually..but is it not

too much?..i mean

guitar one already

has a polish

too,right?i did ask

Rand for this and he

said that it is fine..do

you think so?

thx u for being

helpful

Reply

Guitar
Answer
Guy
June 30, 2018 at
10:08 AM

Rand is the

owner of
Music

Nomad, so I’d

definitely

follow his

instructions

over mine.

I’m familiar

with some of

their

products, but

certainly not

all of them,

and Rand

knows his

products

better than

anyone else.

That said, I

still wouldn’t

use the Guitar

One as a

scratch

remover. I

think it’s just

too mild.

Rand is

probably

referring to

the Music

Nomad Pro

Strength

Guitar Polish,

which may
indeed

remove that

fine scratch.

I’ve not used

that product,

so I can’t

comment, but

I’d trust

Rand’s

recommendation.

I see in the

description

that it has

“micro fine

polishing

compounds”…

which is

what you’ll

need.

Reply

joe
July 1,
2018 at
2:08
AM

thanks

for

the

reply.

Yes,

he

did

mean
MUSICNOMAD

PRO

STRENGTH

GUITAR

POLISH

in his

IG

reply

to me.

He

said

to put

the

PRO

STRENGTH

first,

and

then,

put

the

GUITAR

ONE

to

clean

and

protect.

so, i’ll

use

them

both..GUITAR

ONE

for

routine
(once

every

one

or

two

months)

and

probably

just

use

PRO

STRENGTH

ocassionaly

(probably

only

if i

need

to or

only

twice

year)..i

hope

it is

ok.

thx

again,Bobby

with

regards,Joe

Guitar
Answer
Guy
July 1,
2018 at
8:24
AM

Yep,

that’s

the

process

would’ve

recommended:

buff

the

scratched

area a

few

times

with

the

polish

first

to

(hopefully)

eliminate

the

scratch.

Once

the

scratch

is

gone,

use

the
Guitar

One

to

finish

and

protect–

as

well

as for

ongoing

regular

maintenance.

Farha
November 15, 2017 at 10:48 AM

thank you Bobby..loved reading

every bit of it more so bec I own

like you,an Ibanez and a natural

finish semi- acoustic Cort…have

never unstrung my Ibanez electric

and am pretty scared to do so coz

it’s pretty new..

very useful blog for electric

beginners like me..who would hv

thought about saliva being of so

much use on a guitar?

thanks once again..

Reply

Guitar Answer Guy


November 29, 2017 at 2:09 PM
You’re welcome Farha! Feel

free to message me anytime

if you have specific questions

Reply

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