5 Ways On How To Clean A Guitar Fretboard With Household Items

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Steps for Cleaning A Guitar Fingerboard with Conventional Household Items

Apparently, there is a lot of advice on how to clean a guitar fretboard with household items. Most of the suggested steps are good, while others are not. But, in general, most experts in the guitar industry agree on the recommendation to only use those cleaners that are formulated specially for cleaning up the fingerboard.

The main reason for this is that the fingerboard is usually not finished which basically means that they are not coated with varnish which would otherwise protect it from scratch, bugs and other damages

In addition to that, fretboards are usually made up of very dedicate Rosewood, and therefore it is essential that you utilize only specialized cleaners that are formulated specifically for this type of wood. Furthermore, it is also crucial that you employ the correct cleaning process, so you don’t damage the natural look and texture of your fretboard. Let’s start with what should not be used and then check the steps to clean the fingerboard with the most exceptional care:

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What You Should Not Use to Clean A Fretboard Guitar

If you decide to clean the fretboard yourself, it is recommended not to use any of the wood polish cleaners ordered by the shop, including Pledge and similar polishes. Although many guitar owners will tell you that they have used Pledge, according to many experts, it may not be an ideal polish and may lead to a build-up of polish with wood damage after continuous application.

Abrasive cleaners that can remove dirt and impurities should be avoided as they can cause scratches and damage to the top of the fingerboard. Bleach or other cleaning agents containing heavy chemicals should be avoided at all costs. Dishwashing detergent is designed to degrease grease and essential oil, and while cleaning the fretboard, it can also destroy natural oils inside the wood, causing it to dry and decompose.

Natural household items such as vinegar, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and baking powder should be avoided. These are usually acidic and abrasive and irreparably damage the fretboard. However, vinegar and liquid hand dishwashing detergent can only be used to remove stubborn dirt if they are diluted.

Usually, do not use wax or polish on or around the fingerboard, but instead you can use oils to polish the wood surface. Essential lemon oil in its natural form affects the look and feel of the wood. Use a concentration of less than 1% and familiarize yourself with other components of the product that may severely damage your fretboard.

Steps for Cleaning A Guitar Fingerboard with Commercially Available Household Items

So, now that you know what you should not use to clean your fretboard, let’s get back to our main question – how to clean a guitar fretboard with household items.

Step 1 – Removing the strings

There is debate concerning which technique is best for removing strings. Some experts say that removing all strings at the same time affects the use of tension, while others say that it cannot do any damage. If you are worried about the tension, then its suggested first to remove only half of the strings, then replace them and then repeat the process.

Step 2 – Cleanup

Use a soft flannel cloth soaked in warm water to warm the water and wring out as much as possible. If you don’t have flannel, you can use your old t-shirt for this cleanup job because they usually have a fine texture and will definitely not cause any scratches. While cleaning its suggested to always move from top to bottom. The wetted cloth should dissolve all surface dirt but won’t be able to help you to get rid of any dirt or oily stains.

Finally, before the water dries up and leaves any marks, you should clean the surface with a dry cloth.

Step 3 – Steel Wool

The question of whether using steel wool for cleaning fretboard is a good idea or not is a topic of discussion among guitar users. Run your hands over the fretboard and feel for any grime that the wipe-down didn’t remove. These are the areas that you need steel wool for. Use only superfine steel wool – 0000 grade is the only choice. Anything else will scratch the wood. It is recommended to use a fretboard conditioner with the steel wool to condition the wood and protect it as you clean.

Cut a small piece to fit over the tip of your finger and very gently wipe at the grimy patches. Do NOT rub or scrub. Be careful to stop when the grime is removed and not to damage the wood surrounding the grimy patch. Use a soft paintbrush to brush away any steel wool fibers that remain.

Step 4 – Q-Tips

Use a q-tip dipped in warm water to remove dirt in hard to reach places such as along the frets or the saddle. If this fails to do the job, dip it in some of the fretboard conditioners or use a couple of drops of vinegar or liquid hand dishwashing detergent diluted in a cup of warm water. Wipe the fretboard with a damp cloth to remove the excess detergent and then a dry cloth to remove excess moisture. Always make sure to use a soft cloth. Microfiber cloths are great but can leave fibers behind which should be removed with the paintbrush.

Step 5 – Feed the Wood

Cleaning the fretboard will remove some of the natural oils from the wood resulting in dry wood that will crack or become damaged easily. Even if you are just wiping it down with a dry or damp cloth, you will be removing those essential oils. Wait for the fretboard to be entirely dry and apply a small amount of oil to the wood to feed it. Linseed oil as a great choice as is almond oil and mineral oil.

In some cases where there is little or no built-up grime, the oil will be sufficient to clean as well as feed the wood on the guitar fretboard. Allow the oil to draw into the wood for a few hours or even a day or two before replacing the strings. Do NOT use too much oil as this will simply make the fretboard oily. If the oil is not soaking into the wood, you have used too much. Wipe it down with a clean, dry cloth to absorb as much of the excess oil as possible. You may need to repeat the process a couple of times until the fretboard is no longer oily to the touch. Replace the strings.

If you are using a professional guitar fretboard cleaner or conditioner, you should not need to feed the wood after cleaning. If you are concerned about causing damage to the fretboard, have the guitar professionally cleaned.


I hope you will find this guide on how to clean a guitar fretboard with household items useful. As most of the steps and methods I have discussed in this guide are usually recommended by professional guitarists, you can try them without worrying about compromising the look and feel of your guitar.


Also Read: The Best Guitars for short fingers

Hi, I'm Red, the Chief Editor of Red Diamond Audio.