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How to clean guitar strings in 5 easy steps

Have your strings lost all signs of life? Maybe it doesn’t even sound like you’re playing a guitar. Well, in that case, save yourself some trouble and get those strings changed!

What if you are in dire straits (not you, Mr. Knopfler) financially? So you need to work with the strings you already have? Or maybe your strings got dirty but didn’t get the life sucked out of them?

In that case, make sure to read on! We’re going to teach you all of the tricks of the string cleaning trade!

dirty, rusty guitar strings

Before we get started, you need to know that you’ll have to buy a special guitar cleaning solution. You’ll see that in step 3.

Step-by-step guide

You will see that these steps are rather intuitive. However, make sure to apply them in the correct order and diligently, so you get the best effect possible.

1. First pass with a cloth

At this point, you are going to roughly clean up the bulk of the residue, without going into too much detail. Save the best for last, right?

For the first pass, you should just swipe away on the outer surface of the strings. Repeat that a couple of times, and you will see a lot of rust on your cloth.

We’ve made the assumption that you’re going to be using a clean cloth.

guitar string cleaning cloth

2. Second pass with a cloth

Now, this time around, use your cloth to wipe the inner surface of the strings. Slide your cloth below the strings and repeat the swiping motion a couple of times.

dirty cloth after two passes

3. Apply the solution

You can’t just use any solution! Especially not a chemical from the household inventory! That is a surefire way to damage your guitar.

Buy a string cleaning solution from your local guitar shop and you’ll good to go!

guitar string cleaner
Formula 65 string cleaner and conditioner Check priceAmazon.com

Apply the solution to one string at a time. While doing this, you want to place your cloth beneath the strings in the position in which you are applying the solution at that specific moment. That way, you are preventing your guitar from getting any more dirty or oily.

Try not to use too much. Excess cleaning product can act as a poison – it will do more damage than good.

As you move across the different portions of the strings, make sure to move the cloth accordingly.

4. Third pass with a cloth

Use your cloth to clean any excess oil both under and on the outer surface of the strings.

5. Fine-tuning

No, no, not that sort of tuning!

Since the majority of the process is now behind you, you can go back and fix some minor issues.

If you see certain spots on the strings which are still rusty, go back and apply the solution to those specific spots. Don’t forget to strip away the excess oils with a cloth after!

Since most of us millennials and zoomers are rather bad readers, we have a handy video for you guys. It is a visual representation of all the things we have covered here.

Cleaning the strings vs. string replacement

When should you do one of the aforementioned?

Well, as we have said in the beginning, if your strings have lost all vitality, you should probably replace them. However, if they still sound acceptable, you should definitely try and clean them.

Also, if you are not able to afford a new set of strings, you can definitely improve the sound of your strings by cleaning them.

Tips ‘n’ tricks

1. Wash your hands before playing

The rust and the dirt on your strings are mostly due to those nasty things that emanate from your skin. Just by washing your hands before you play, you can really prolong the life of your strings.

Make it a habit, and it will do wonders for you in that department!

2. Use cleaner after every use

If you sweat too much, make sure to try this. Immediately stripping away the dirt and oil from your strings can prevent rusting and dirt residue.

3. Avoid humidity

Not leaving your instruments in humid environments (if possible) can really help your string health. If you have the choice, make sure to evade humid places.

In my experience, all of these tips are very useful for getting the most out of your strings. I have prolonged the life of my strings using these tricks for quite some time now.

From all the experience I have gathered, this is a great way of keeping your financial balance in check. It’s also great to learn how different parts of your guitar work!


Although quite simple and intuitive, these steps are really quite effective.

I do remember the days in which I had to save all the money I could so I could make a living in the music business.

Although small, economic practices like this really do build up to greater financial stability.

All in all, there’s not that much philosophy in this. Just keep taking regular care of your strings, and you will have some great loyal servants for quite some time!

Until next time… Swipe away!