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How to Clean a Guitar Fretboard With Household Items (2022) Tips

Learn How to Clean a Guitar Fretboard With Household Items with these amazing Tips and Tricks.

A guitar is a fun instrument to have, but also an expensive hobby. Most people will only consider the initial investment, which can be doable. But then, no one thinks about the long-term expenses that will come by later – such as maintenance. If you think dusting the guitar every now and then will do, you are wrong. Sadly enough, fancy or professional cleaning is an expensive job.

How to Clean a Guitar Fretboard
Luckily, you can learn how to clean a guitar fretboard with household items without too much hassle. Forget about saving for months to take it to a professional cleaner. Forget about sophisticated stuff that will, indeed, give you good results. Most of these things will drain you. Here are some of the tips and tricks you can use to keep your guitar clean using nothing but items you may already have around.

Prepare the guitar for maintenance

Prepare the guitar for maintenance

The body of your guitar is probably the most important thing to consider. Sure, dusting it every now and then can help, but maintenance goes further than that. The guitar body tends to attract dust, but also grime and dirt – not to mention all the fingerprints all over it. The fretboard tends to get dirtier than any other part of the guitar.

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 Think about it for a minute – you always have your fingers on it. Your fingers touch it, slide all over it and hold it. It is perfectly normal to get a bit oily and covered in fingerprints. The same issues affect both electric and acoustic guitars. Even if you clean your hands prior to playing the guitar, the truth is your mineral oils will inevitably get on it.

 The fretboard should be cleaned on a regular basis. To ease your job on maintenance, you can do it whenever you are restring. You are about to mess about with all the strings anyway, so you might as well give it a thorough cleaning. You will notice the difference straight away. There are a few things you need to do while learning how to clean a guitar fretboard with household items – the preparation.

 First of all, remove the strings. If you think you can do it with the strings on, you are wrong. You are about to damage them. This is why it is highly recommended to clean the fretboard before restringing – you are about to mess with them anyway. Once they are off, remove all the dust. Finally, find a clean and safe place to get the job done.

 Keep in mind that the preparation depends on the type of guitar you have. For example, those with floating tremolo bridges require more care. Getting rid of all the strings at once will get the bridge to collapse because it is held in place by the tension. You will need to remove some of them, clean the exposed part, put them back, and do the same for the rest.

How to Clean a Guitar Fretboard With Household Items

Double-check the type of wood

Different types of woods come with different characteristics and requirements. There are three common types of wood used in this industry though, so chances are your fretboard is made of one of them.

How to Clean a Guitar Fretboard With Household Items

Dealing with rosewood

Rosewood is by far the most popular choice on the market. It has a deep and vibrant brown nuance. It is responsible for the warm tone of your guitar. Many manufacturers leave it an unfinished – bad idea, but very common. It means there is no lacquer on top to keep it clean. However, rosewood does have some natural oils, meaning the finishing is not the most important thing in the world.

Understanding ebony

Ebony is another common material used by guitar manufacturers. Whether it is Asian or African, it has the same overall properties. Just like rosewood, manufacturers tend to leave ebony unfinished. This rule varies from one brand to another. In terms of color, it is slightly darker than rosewood. It has a clean sound.

How to Clean a Guitar Fretboard With Household Items

Discovering maple

Maple is the last most popular type of wood used by guitar manufacturers. It is becoming more and more popular because it is sustainable. It is easy to find in commerce, inexpensive and durable in the long run. It has a light appearance and may even have yellow hues. Maple does not have so many natural oils in its composition, so finishing is critical. Without finishing, it will warp. Its sound is rich and bright.

Considering other types of woods

The type of wood depends on the brand you choose, the type of guitar, quality standards, and price. Apart from the above-mentioned options, you can find many other types of wood. Do not make any assumptions, but double-check the guitar specs – or just get in touch with the manufacturer. Other common types of wood include walnut, padauk, laurel, ovangkol, or Pau Ferro.

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 Knowing what type of wood is essential because different products are effective on different types of wood. At the same time, some of them can damage particular types of wood while being perfectly safe for other alternatives. If you have a bit of experience, you might be able to tell at a glance – otherwise, research the guitar.

How to clean a guitar fretboard with household items

Ideally, you should contact your guitar manufacturer for ideas, recommendations, or suggestions. Most manufacturers will recommend taking the guitar to a pro or using a professional product – quite expensive and hard to find. When it comes to preparing for this project, get a bunch of baby wipes (natural scent, no alcohol), cotton balls, earbuds, and microfiber cloths.

How to clean guitar fretboard at home?


Water is by far the most common choice when not sure how to clean a guitar fretboard at home. You can use tap water, yet some of it may have some mild chemicals. To make sure you do not damage the guitar, use some bottled water. You do not have to soak your guitar or take it under the shower. Use a bit of water on a microfiber cloth instead.

 Water should never go directly on the fretboard. Use the cloth to clean one fret at a time. Make sure you dry the guitar thoroughly or moisture might gather by the neck. Water can get the job done without too much hassle if you look after your guitar. If you have never cleaned it again, it might be a bit too grubby, so you will need more than that.

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Lemon oil

 Lemon oil can be good or bad. Generally speaking, it works wonders on unfinished fretboards. It helps restore the natural oils associated with the wood. Oiling the fretboard is another common maintenance operation and it should be done a couple of times a year. While lemon oil is a good cleaner, do not add too much oil to the fingerboard.

 With these thoughts in mind,  pure lemon oil is good for ebony or rosewood fretboard – even if unfinished – once every three or four months. If the fretboard is finished, such options do not require oiling. Therefore, you do not have to worry about using a different oil for your guitar. Finally, make sure you use lemon oil with a relatively low concentration – not lemon juice.

Distilled vinegar

Distilled vinegar is your main cleaning solution when it comes to household items. You can clean pretty much everything with it around your home. It does work for guitar fretboards too, but not for all of them. At this point, you need a bit of research – it pays off considering the manufacturer’s recommendations too. Some brands advise against vinegar.

 Distilled vinegar can be safe for the guitar fretboard, but it depends on the type you use. For example, full-strength vinegar will most likely damage the fretboard if you use it on a regular basis – you should not even do it once. Instead, stick to distilled vinegar and only in small quantities – again, never soak the guitar.

 As for how to use it, perform the same steps as if you had water. Get a clean microfiber cloth or a Q tip into it. Make sure it is not fully soaked, but just a bit wet. Clean one frets at a time and dry the guitar thoroughly. Avoid pouring distilled vinegar onto the frets – it is simply not worth risking to damage your guitar.

Lighter fluid

Lighter fluid is often overlooked when it comes to guitar fretboard cleaning tips. It is not unusual though, and it will surprise you with its efficiency. Professional guitarists and even professional cleaners rely on lighter fluid to keep guitars in excellent condition. When used the wrong way, it can cause damage though.

 Use lighter fluid like you would use water. Find a clean microfiber cloth, get a bit of fluid on it and gently clean the fretboard. Clean one frets at a time and avoid pouring the fluid directly on the guitar. Once cleaned, make sure you dry it properly – use another dry microfiber cloth to spread it around and help it dry.

Vegetable oil soap

It is better to stay away from vegetable oil soap if you are confused – avoid taking any risks at all. This is vegetable oil soap and not vegetable oil. It is soap and not oil. It is, indeed, based on pure vegetable oil, but it is often mixed with water and coconut as well. Make sure you opt for a fully natural type of soap – it will also give your guitar a nice shine. Use it just like you would use water.

Household items to avoid when cleaning the guitar

There are a bunch of good solutions when trying to figure out how to clean fretboard with household items. But at the same time, there are many things you need to avoid too.

Household items to avoid when cleaning the guitar

Olive oil

Olive oil works for many things, but not for cleaning your guitar. It will feel slimy after a few uses, but it can also get pretty sticky. Olive oil can be categorized as food. With time, it might go bad and can actually give you a pretty bad smell – right under your nose. Furthermore, it may damage the frets, so stay away from it.


Bleach works for a lot of things, but not for guitars. It is so strong that apart from clearing all the dirt, it will also clean the finishing of the guitar and even the top layer of wood. It will kill the natural color of the wood and may even get the respective piece of wood to go thinner.


Sandpaper is great for rough woods, but not to clean them. It is mostly used to finish wood or perhaps make pieces thinner. When used for guitars, keep in mind that most of them are not made of rough wood. Therefore, you will destroy the finishing and even the construction of the guitar.


Acetone may look like a great idea because it can remove sticky residue. However, it is an abrasive liquid that will also damage frets. If the guitar is in a terrible condition, a drop of acetone in a glass of water might work, but it is still highly contraindicated – do it only if you are willing to give up on the guitar.


Finally, ammonia – as well as other similar cleaners based on isopropyl alcohol – is another household cleaner that may feel alright. The bad news is it is not – in fact, it is quite dangerous for guitars. Ammonia is rich in abrasive agents. They will scrub away grime and stubborn dirt, but they also work on the finish of your guitar. You will end up with nothing but plain wood, so stay away from it.

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Bottom line, you do not have to be a professional to learn how to clean a guitar fretboard with household items – just like you do not have to spend a fortune on a professional cleaning procedure or product either. Household items can do a pretty good job, as long as you have the patience to do it yourself. Pay attention to what you can use for the respective type of wood, as well as what you cannot use.

Simon Mattav

I am the owner of The Cook Trio, a three-piece band that has been performing in the Chicago area for over 10 years. I have a passion for music – everything from guitar to songs. I graduated from the music University of Chicago! My passion is writing songs about my life experiences, feelings and emotions through different genres. My inspirations are some of today’s popular songwriters such as Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Selena Gomez among others.

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